SYLVAN BEACH — Former county legislator and Sherrill city commissioner Michael Hennessy is starting what he admits is an uphill effort in running for Oneida County executive as a Democrat.
Hennessy announced his campaign Tuesday evening at a gathering of about two-dozen friends and supporters at the Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Sylvan Beach. He pledged to seek a change in attitude in the county by reducing spending and taxes and creating an economic climate that will keep young people who are otherwise moving to more promising places.
“You can call me a fiscal conservative with a soft heart for those less fortunate,” Hennessy said.
Hennessy was not listed on a slate of candidates the Democratic Committee of Oneida County issued earlier Tuesday. He said today he met with the party’s executive committee and was told he is too conservative to be endorsed.
“I’m attacking the satus quo, a group of people that run this county,” Hennessy said. “I’m perfectly happy the way I did it. It’s best for this community to have an independent Democrat who has no ties to the political bosses and will work hard to turn around this county.”
Instead, he is seeking an opportunity to ballot through petitions and told supporters Tuesday he has gathered 1,000 signatures. He thanked supporters for helping obtain them in the past several weeks, and said he is also seeking the Conservative party line.
He is seeking to unseat Anthony J. Picente Jr., who is seeking a fourth term after filling an unexpired term. Picente’s campaign said he’s also been endorsed by the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties. Former county legislator David Gordon of Utica is seeking to get on the June Republican primary ballot and said he’s submitted more than twice the required number of signatures.
Hennessy, a financial advisor, said he’ll stress his private-sector experience, in contrast to Picente, who worked in state government before becoming county executive.
Hennessy stressed fiscal issues as he outlined his platform. He said he would reduce county-government employment by 5 percent and eliminate county support for Mohawk Valley Economic Development Growth Enterprises Corporation, or EDGE, the not-for-profit organization that coordinates economic development. It’s been ineffective and has other sources of support, he said.
He criticized county legislators for taking an increase in pay, which is now $16,000 a year. He noted that Board of Legislators’ votes are almost always unanimous or nearly so with little if any debate.
He also pledged to double money from the county’s share of the agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation to localities most affected by the Nation, operator of the Turning Stone resort casino in Vernon, such as Verona, Vernon and Sherrill, while working with other communities throughout the county to benefit from the rest.
He said Picente has used some $100 million sent to the county over the life of the agreement. “What is the result of it? Have you seen any cut in your property tax or sales tax?”
And he said he will not engage in hidden political deals, accusing many elected Democrats in the county of having gone along with Picente and Republicans. District Attorney Scott McNamara and Sheriff Rob Maciol were among Democrats at Picente’s announcement event in February.
Hennessy was also skeptical of county involvement in helping finance a parking garage in Utica at the site of the planned combined Mohawk Valley Health System hospital. He said he would need to see details of MVHS finances to be sure the county benefits. Even at a low interest rate, the county would face significant costs each year in paying back the debt, which would total about $200 million with the added hospital costs, Hennessy said.
“All I ask for is to see the numbers to make sure we can pay for this, that the hospital’s balances will protect us, that the bonding that we do is not backed up totally by the taxpayers of Oneida County as Utica benefits from the program.”
Similarly, a new Oneida Nation casino proposed for Utica should be subject to a referendum, Hennessy said.
Picente issued a response this morning through his campaign:
“As county executive my record is clear. We’ve cut discretionary spending, increased our credit ratings multiple times, held the line on county property taxes for six years in a row, invested in essential infrastructure all while outlining a positive vision for this community to move forward ... I’ve dedicated my life to public service and I’m proud of my experience. I have served in roles ranging from County Executive Ray Meir’s Chief of Staff to serving in the Department of Labor and Empire State Development during the Pataki Administration and now I’m honored to serve as Oneida County Executive. Running a county government with a $400 million budget day in, day out is firsthand experience hard to duplicate anywhere else.”