Thursday, June 11 update

Onondaga County update: Neighborhood violence in Syracuse has risen to horrific levels since the pandemic and its associated economic consequences started to hit hard. Today there was a shooting of an armed man by police, a 10-year-old girl hit with a bullet, and an astonishing eight murders in two weeks. I’ll be blunt — if you think we need to break up the United States in order to pass stricter gun control laws locally, I’m listening.

That isn’t going to solve any problems right now. Our local BLM marchers are planning to march for 40 days straight, and it’s still a pretty impressive turnout.

There was no county briefing today, but Onondaga County has reached 164 COVID deaths. No new trends in the data are visible. And upstate NY continues to be invisible, because we’ve reached Phase 3 as of tomorrow, “normal life” is coming back steadily (except for neighborhoods where lead is flying), and the rest of the country is headed in the wrong direction.

What a world we live in, when Republicans dangle 200 government jobs over the cliff — not to throw them over the side, but to force the county legislature to pass a tax:

McMahon has proposed reviving a 4% county sales tax on residential energy sales. The tax was discontinued in 1982. But legislators voted 15-2 last week to put off until July 7 a vote on reviving the tax, which would raise about $12 million per year and cost the typical household $6 per month. Knapp said the layoffs will be offered as an alternative to imposing the residential energy tax on utility customers. He supports the tax, which would expire after two years. “I was prepared last month to vote for the energy tax,” Knapp said. “I prefer that to laying off at least 200 folks, or probably more.” Under the county charter, the county executive cannot impose layoffs without the approval of the legislature.

So this energy sales tax has been lying in the county’s attic unused since the Reagan years; supposedly, many if not most other counties in the state already have one. Aside from the specter of Onondaga County becoming even more addicted to sales tax (what can you do, when no corporate tax break is too large) — I want to step back and observe how Onondaga County’s GOP seems to be turning into my favorite metaphor: “not so much a party, but party parts flying down the road in formation.”

My wild theory of the moment is that the end of the Republican Party could be on display (in one of the places) where it began — right here in CNY. We think of the cultlike rot and corrosion of Trump, and assume that this party which has been caught in the cult is going to do something righteously spectacular and explode over our heads like a hellish meteor, never to be seen again. After the show is over, it will be Greens vs. Dems, or something like that.

But in that light, it’s fascinating to observe the Onondaga County GOP and the range of characters they have these days are a pretty motley crew. The scion of the local Walsh dynasty, the mayor of Syracuse, is an independent (and, supposedly, was never Republican at all) who didn’t like the Trump brand. (Disclaimer: I am descended from a cadet branch of the Syracuse Walshes. My grandfather became a secret Democrat during the 1950s and cautioned my mother to register Republican as well. And it was a big deal if your friends and family on Tipp Hill found out you were leaving the Party.)

Then we have our county executive, who many believe has gone full RINO. I don’t think that’s so. A couple months ago he was outraged that his fellow Republicans (“my Federal friends”) in Washington did not follow the tenets of fiscal conservatism. When I stopped laughing, I started to think he really believed that was a thing in today’s national GOP. As with the mayor, the fact that he is even in this position right now is wild. He started off in the minority on the Syracuse common council, then got elected to the county legislature, where he was named chair on his first day, then Joanie up and quits and suddenly he’s county executive and, as of 2019, elected to the position. (For those unfamiliar with the CE or the Celtic knot of Syracuse politics, here’s some background.)

Then there’s the DA (say his name seven times and he appears behind you). He’s been in office since time immemorial (but not really). He has opinions, and gets to air them a lot. I was just glad that marchers were too busy marching last weekend and probably not paying attention to his media appearances.

Fitzpatrick has played an outsize role in this community for far too long, injecting politics into justice in his multiple stints on right-wing talk radio shows. He intimidates defense attorneys, berates his critics, uses his campaign war chest to prop up local politicians. During the tenure of our most recent past police chief, Fitzpatrick regularly denigrated Police Chief Frank Fowler, an African American, dismissing him as “irrelevant”. The District Attorney all but called the Chief of Police “boy” (a man with “a juvenile mind” was the precise phrase). This is the man who would ask our community to trust him? To call him out of touch is perhaps too kind.

And the county GOP chair is still down with Trump wholeheartedly. The less said the better, except to acknowledge the continuing existence of that kind of reactionary tent peg.

I come neither to praise nor to bury the Onondaga County GOP (and indeed, I’m not sure if anyone would really think it was “in trouble” as long as it keeps winning local elections). I just want to point out that political evolution never stops. The Republican Party didn’t exist until rapidly changing times gave them a reason for existence.

I only offer this as one more alternative theory about What Happens Next. R. rockefelleri is extinct; we know this to be true. But what if the Republican Party… doesn’t die? What if it just melts into a puddle of different, out of which something new arises? Could be something awful. Could be something interesting. You just never know where the action might actually be.