Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner faces voters for the first time since making waves with pointed policy critiques aimed at fellow Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Miner faces two challengers in a primary Tuesday, joining incumbent mayors in Buffalo and Rochester who are seeking to secure Democratic lines in the general election Nov. 5. Albany and Binghamton are holding mayoral primaries for open seats.
Miner became a high-profile spokeswoman for the financial pressures facing cities this year when she called Cuomo's proposals to help localities insufficient and described his proposal to tame pension costs as an "accounting gimmick." The sharp criticism against the most powerful person in Albany was notable not only for coming from a fellow Democrat but also from the co-chairwoman of the state party.
The first-termer said she wanted Cuomo to start a conversation about the ballooning financial burdens on cities. That didn't happen. Instead, administration officials said if Miner couldn't fix Syracuse's problems, she could request a state control board to take over its finances.
"I would not do anything differently," Miner said this past week. "It's an important issue that needs to be addressed."
On Tuesday, Syracuse Democrats will choose among Miner, City Councilor Pat Hogan and businessman Alfonso Davis. Hogan alludes to Miner's public complaints in a campaign video in which he says, "We don't need Albany to fix our problems — we can do it, ourselves."
Davis, in a recent debate on radio station WRVO, said, "the governor is not in the business of bailing out cities, he wants to know that you have a plan, a vision, to move your city forward."
But it's not clear what effect, if any, the flap will have in the city's primary. A YNN/Siena College poll released Aug. 20 showed Miner with a wide lead over her challengers: 56 percent of likely Democratic voters supported Miner compared with 22 percent for Hogan and 10 percent for Davis.
Miner, a 43-year-old former labor lawyer elected to her first term in 2009, believes voters like her outspokenness.
"They think that I'm right in standing up for the interests of the city of Syracuse. They think I'm right in not wanting to kick the can down the road," she said. "And they like the fact that I'm willing to publicly address problems, even if it's the proverbial David or Goliath on the other side."
Jeffrey Stonecash, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, said that Miner can be confrontational at times but that a lot of voters are sympathetic to her arguments.
"She's clearly irritated some people with her style, but it really doesn't matter," he said. "She's doing a good job in a city with limited resources."
Miner's comments raised her profile beyond this central New York city, but there are still hints of a chilly relationship with the governor. Cuomo this week said he would not be endorsing Miner in the primary.
Here is a look at other primary races in upstate New York's largest cities:
— In Buffalo, two-term Mayor Byron Brown faces a Democratic primary challenge from political novice Bernie Tolbert, a former head of the FBI's Buffalo field office. Brown has wide backing from local Democrats and had more than $880,000 million in his campaign account. The winner of the race in this Democrat-dominated city will face Republican Sergio Rodriguez in the general election.
— Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards faces a primary challenge from City Council President Lovely Warren as he seeks his first full term. Richards, a former utility executive, won a special election in 2011 after Mayor Robert Duffy was elected lieutenant governor on the ticket headed by Cuomo. Republicans are not fielding a candidate in November in this heavily Democratic city. Alex White is running on the Green Party line.
— The retirement of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings after two decades means this Democrat-dominated city will get its fourth elected mayor since 1941. Albany city Treasurer Kathy Sheehan boasts heavyweight endorsements from the likes of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and the state Public Employees Federation. Former City Councilman Corey Ellis is making his second mayoral run. The winner will face Republican candidate Jessie Calhoun.
— In Binghamton, three Republicans are running for a seat left open with the exit of Mayor Matt Ryan. The winner of the three-way primary race among Richard David, Douglas Drazen and Edward Hickey will face Democratic City Council President Teri Rennia in November.