Field Widens in Local State Senate Race Candidates Enter Central New York State State Senate Race

The winner of last year’s Senate election is moving on, leaving an open seat.

SYRACUSE, N. Y. (NCC News) — One of the most competitive Senate districts in the Empire State is already heating up.

With John Mannion (D-Geddes) vacating his 50th state Senate District seat to challenge Brandon Williams (R-Sennett) for the 22nd Congressional District, a trio of candidates have stepped up to fill the looming void.

“A lot of people are kicking [the] tires, feeling their support,” said Dustin Czarny, the Democratic Elections Commissioner for Onondaga County.

A pair of Democrats have announced their candidacies since last Wednesday: State Assemblyman Al Stirpe and former Oswego County Legislature member Tom Drumm. 

Stirpe has represented Cicero, Clay and Manlius in the State Assembly’s 127th District for 14 of the last 16 years.

Drumm was the state’s youngest county legislator in 2015 after he was elected to the Oswego County Legislature — less than a year after graduating from Keuka College. He rose to become the Democratic minority leader, but decided not to seek reelection in 2021. 

But, hailing from Oswego, which represents just one-third of the 50th District, Drumm’s political profile might not be big enough to upset a better known quantity like Stirpe. 

“It would be hard for Drumm to pick up Onondaga County,” said Nina Tamrowski, a political science professor at Onondaga Community College. “He might do fine in Oswego County, but he probably won’t win down here.”

The Republican side of the aisle has been a one-horse race since July, when Jim Rowley, the chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, announced his bid for Senate. Rowley has also served as the chief fiscal officer for Onondaga County in addition to a number of administrative positions for the Town of Clay.

“I think we can expect it to be a Stirpe-Rowley race,” said Tamrowski.


The late afternoon sun shines on the Onondaga County Courthouse building in downtown Syracuse.
One of the candidates for the 50th District seat is Jim Rowley, who serves as the chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, which operates out of the courthouse in downtown Syracuse.
© 2023 Peter Elliott

With the Republican and Democratic primaries slated for April, Czarny expects the full slate of candidates to take shape by January or February.

But, while the candidates are making a splash with their entrances, there’s one factor that could really shake up the race: redistricting.

Democrats, who control the statehouse, are looking to redraw the district maps again. Some say the current maps — drawn by a court-appointed special master — favor Republicans, who picked up three House seats in the 2022 elections.

Mannion’s race last cycle against Republican challenger Rebecca Shiroff was made more challenging by the district makeup, according to Tamrowski.

Mannion won, but not on election night. The race was decided by a manual hand count of all 95,104 ballots, the largest in Onondaga County history. It took until mid-December for a judge to certify Mannion as the winner — by just ten votes.

The current 50th District covers the Western half of Onondaga County, including Clay, Manlius, DeWitt and Oswego.

Czarny calls it “purpleish,” for its large “blue” towns and “red” rural areas.

“We’re definitely not the blue you see downstate, and we’re definitely not the red of many of the upstate counties,” said Czarny. “We have a nice diversity in our electorate, and that’s why we see Democrats and Republicans being elected countywide here.”

The 50th District was long represented by Republican John DeFrancisco, who served in the state Senate for 25 years, until 2018. In a number of cycles, DeFrancisco ran unchallenged in the general election.

But, if last year’s hotly contested election was any indication, it may be a while before another candidate sleepwalks to victory in the 50th District.

“I always anticipate and prepare for close elections nowadays,” said Czarny.

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