OSWEGO — Today marks two weeks until Election Day. If you have a mailbox or watch television, you may have noticed.
New York’s own President Donald Trump will meet former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware at the ballot box Nov. 3 — but there’s much more going on the farther down the ballot you go. Some of the most compelling races to watch this year won’t be running TV ads during “Monday Night Football,” but will impact your children’s education, your tax bills and your everyday life far more than who ends up in the White House.
We strive at The Palladium-Times to bring you important information about topics of local consequence, and we can think of no time of the year when that responsibility falls on us more squarely. Over the next week, we’ll be featuring different down-ballot races and information on each candidate. For our first edition: New York State Supreme Court.
The offices to be elected on New York ballots go in descending order by population represented; directly below the presidential race, you’ll find state Supreme Court. Oswego County is part of the Fifth Judicial District, one of 13 around the state, along with Onondaga, Lewis, Jefferson, Oneida and Herkimer counties. Several dozen justices serve in each district, and where they serve roughly corresponds to the justice’s county of residence but that unwritten rule has faded in recent years.
Onondaga County’s Rory A. McMahon, a Syracuse City Court Judge, and former Lewis County District Attorney Michael P. Young, will contest one open justice position.
Supreme Court races can often get lost in the shuffle during any election, but especially in a presidential and congressional year. Justices serve 14-year terms and are prohibited from taking part in any political activity while on the bench, making election night their last public partisan appearance for nearly a decade and a half. They must also retire at age 70, so the number of justice positions contested each year is not uniform.
In 2018, Volney’s Scott DelConte was elected to the Supreme Court out of a crowded field with four spots contested. This year, McMahon and Ryan will both be seeking just one opening. Fundraising for judicial candidates is also extremely constrained by election law, so advertising dollars are hard to come by and spending of those dollars is unfortunately sometimes swallowed by campaigns for higher-profile offices. Even the candidate nomination process is byzantine: delegates from each state Assembly district collect petition signatures in hopes of earning enough votes in a primary (between the potential delegates) to represent their district at their party’s judicial convention. It’s at these conventions — entirely run by the parties, who make their own rules yet often end up fighting over them — where delegates cast their votes for the judge hopefuls to make it on the general election ballot. Got all that? Mix those circumstances with a sprawling district that includes multiple media markets and the result can spark confusion for voters.
RORY A. MCMAHON
Ballot lines: Democrat, Conservative
Now: Syracuse City Court Judge
Previous: Assistant District Attorney, Onondaga County; corporation counsel, city of Syracuse; Syracuse Common Councilor
Education: SUNY Plattsburgh (BA), Syracuse University School of Law
Family: Wife Shannon; three children
Who he is: After a successful career as a prosecutor and private attorney, Rory McMahon has served as Syracuse City Court Judge since 2011. He’s maybe best known as one of the founders of the McMahon-Ryan Child Advocacy Center, a Syracuse-based organization that works with law enforcement and victims to “heal abused children and raise awareness that prevents child abuse.”
Why he’s running: “We have the honor of being able to change people’s lives, and we’ve learned that the old white judge yelling at defendants doesn’t work.”
“Everybody needs to be heard. A Supreme Court Justice needs the wisdom to look deep into a case, listen objectively and fairly to all parties. That’s the temperament you need, and the one I have. I want to get across to people I’m energetic, but the voices of people have to be heard so you need the temperament to sit back and listen”
MICHAEL F. YOUNG
Ballot lines: Republican
Now: Principle, Young Law Office PLLC
Before: Litigator, Lewis County District Attorney, Lewis County special prosecutor, Lewis County Department of Social Services attorney
Education: SUNY Albany (BA), State University of New York at Albany School of Law
Family: Wife Kathleen; six children.
Who he is: Michael F. Young comes from a dynastic North Country political family, and fondly remembers accompanying his grandfather (Fred. A. Young, 1904-1973, a state Assemblyman, Senator and judge) to Albany on business. His personal practice encompassed civil and criminal cases and he has argued before state Supreme Court and county Family Court in Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Oneida Counties. In 1999, he was appointed Lewis County District Attorney by Gov. George Pataki and served in that role until 2007.
Why he’s running: “I learned from my grandfather, who wanted to help people and do the right thing, and I feel I have the experience to provide fair and equal justice to all citizens. I’m a good listener, I know I can’t make everybody happy, but I’m there to interpret the law and apply it fairly. I’m not interested in making laws, that’s for the legislative and executive branches.”
“When you’re a small county District Attorney, you’re bouncing back and forth between being at the office by yourself, doing trial work, doing criminal work — I have that experience. Am I an expert? Not even close, but I have the knowledge and I’ve worked at all the different levels. I’m not from the big city — my training and background was formed from the environment I come from. In 42 years of practicing law, it’s given me the opportunity to see a broad range of things and I’ll bring a broad perspective.”
Election Day is Nov. 3. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Palladium-Times previously published longer, individual profile articles on both McMahon and Young.