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Joanne Cunningham of Delmar will lead Albany County Legislature in 2024; first woman in the role

Joanne Cunningham of Delmar will lead Albany County Legislature in 2024.
Bethlehem Democratic Party
Joanne Cunningham of Delmar will lead Albany County Legislature in 2024.

A county legislator from Delmar has been chosen by fellow Democrats to serve as the new chair of the Albany County Legislature.  

On December 20th, Joanne Cunningham was picked by the Democratic majority to replace Andrew Joyce as the body's chair, ending Joyce's six years in that role.

Cunningham entered local politics in 2010, securing a seat on the Bethlehem school board. She ran for her first term in the legislature in 2015. Just days prior to Cunningham's election, it was announced that longtime legislator Wanda Willingham was preparing to challenge Joyce for his leadership role. Cunningham numbered among Willingham's supporters.

"I was initially part of a coalition, a county wide coalition with strong support from the Legislative Black Caucus, and some city of Albany legislators that were backing Wanda Willingham, and really believed in Wanda, and was working hard to help her actually achieve this goal," Cunningham said. "In the end, you know, everything, everything is a matter of, you know, the number of votes cast, including, you know, the Albany County chair's selection. So within the Democratic caucus, there were folks that were continuing to support Andrew Joyce, who, of course, is the current chair, and then folks like me, who were supporting Wanda, and our coalition of 13, was very strong and very, very much intent that, we certainly have appreciated Andrew's leadership, but wanting certain things, lots of ideas for some changes. And in the end, our coalition could not generate enough votes to get there. And so the coalition kind of shifted gears to another member of the coalition. And that was me, that could draw a couple of additional votes from the town of Bethlehem. And so that's kind of the pathway that that led me to, to secure the caucus support."

Cunningham, of the 34th district, says that although Joyce had a good run, legislators are ready for fresh ideas. "A lot of ideas came to the surface, and then it was a question of 'who can deliver on those on those ideas?' And that's where I would say Wanda got super close. And in the end, you know, she unbelievably, graciously, knowing that she would not be able to get there, she shifted gears and said, 'You know what, this change is so important to me. I want another member of my coalition to, to kind of, you know, I'm supporting her now,' that would be me. 'And we can achieve the change we want by shifting gears and kind of moving to Joanne,'" said Cunningham. 

At a Democratic caucus meeting, Cunningham was able to muster the support of the 15 or more party members necessary to make the change of leadership. Willingham says because Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly three-to-one, the recent vote for Cunningham seals the deal.

"January 1st, we will come in front of the full legislation have organizational meeting. And then that organization meeting, that's when the whole body votes, including the Republicans," said Willingham. 

Willingham says Cunningham will be the first woman to lead the county legislature. "People need to know that we made history, and we will make history on January 1st when Joanne Cunningham takes her seat in front of the legislature," Willingham said. 

Cunnigham's election also marks the first time that a legislator from a suburban town takes the reins as chair.

"There's a lot of trailblazers before me that didn't get there. And I think it's worth reminding your listeners that, you know, there's a lot a lot of women. I mean, Wanda is a perfect example, that, you know, almost or nearly got there," said Cunningham. 

Cunningham cites economic development, green technology and other sustainability initiatives as among her priorities. She is executive director of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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