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Two Democrats are running for the Cayuga County Legislature's chair position, with one reaching out to the Republican minority for support.

Legislators Benjamin Vitale and Patrick Mahunik, who represent Districts 3 and 12 respectively, are seeking the chairman seat with current Chairman Keith Batman announcing that he will not consider a third year.

Vitale has received the majority of Democrats' support, gathering five of eight votes so far. Mahunik said he has two other Democrats' support, as well as the support of Republican legislators.

Minority Leader Paul Pinckney confirmed to The Citizen Friday that most if not all Republicans plan to back Mahunik, though he said that's always subject to change when the final vote comes through.

"We had a couple of people that said they'd be interested (in chair) if we had enough votes," Pinckney said. "All of our votes, we would still need some Democratic support. I don't think anybody is going to cross over to support a Republican when we're in the minority, so we looked at all angles, and at this point in time, we would move ahead with Pat and work in bipartisanship and get some things accomplished."

The 15-member Legislature will be comprised of seven Republicans and eight Democrats in 2018.

Batman said he's backing Vitale. Following the previous county Administrator Suzanne Sinclair's resignation in early 2017, Batman, Vitale, Majority Leader Aileen McNabb-Coleman and Cayuga County Treasurer Jim Orman became the interim administrators as a management team. 

Batman said that experience Vitale has will be invaluable for new county administrator J. Justin Woods, who starts full-time with the county on Dec. 18. 

Mahunik said he's running because he's not agreed with some of the ethics behind how the body has operated in his approximate decade of service. For example, he said, every year whoever is running for chair offers committee chair positions in return for support. That's something he said he will not do.

"I just think it's unethical, and I put my name out there," he said. "If I get beat on the floor, that's fine with me, but at least it's not by five people in a room," he added of the Democratic caucus.

According to local law, the chair position is a full-time job and earns a $30,000 salary. Batman said he's concerned that Mahunik will not have the time to devote to the post, considering Mahunik is the principal of Dryden High School. 

Mahunik said he would not run if he didn't think he could do the job. 

"I have a great crew around me, and if I need to step away, I can," he said. "I think we have a great administrator that doesn't need to be micromanaged at this point."

Mahunik pointed out that Vitale, too, has a full-time job. Vitale is the executive director of the Central New York Regional Market Authority. Vitale said his day job has very flexible hours, adding that he'd just worked at 3 a.m. on Friday. He added that his staff always helps him out, and he's considering retiring or semi-retiring. 

"I've been part of the operations for almost a year or so, and it might be handy for the new administrator to be able to take a few steps and ask a couple of questions," he said. "I'm not looking to get my fingers in the day-to-day operations. I know the difference between policy and day-to-day stuff, but I do think it requires the time, and I understand how much that is, and I have that ability. I'm going to at least give the legislators that option."

In an interview with The Citizen on Wednesday, Batman cautioned that whoever takes on the role will have a lot to tackle. He highlighted the body's consideration of redistricting, increasing legislators' salaries, upgrades to Emerson Park, and resuming communication with the Cayuga Nation, among many other things. 

"It's very important that the chair have a physical presence in the county office building," he said. "'Out of sight, out of mind' is cliche, but unfortunately it's very true. ... I guess if I had one piece of advice, don't come in every day. That communicates that you're too involved, too operational. Two or three days a week, absolutely, so people see you and talk to you, and particularly, the administrator can pop in."

The Legislature's reorganization meeting will take place 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4. A chair is picked by a weighted majority vote, and if one is not chosen by Feb. 1, Cayuga County Clerk Sue Dwyer, a Republican, will be tasked with appointing one for the remainder of the year. 

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Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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County Government Reporter