By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
Broome County Executive Jason T. Garnar (ISED ‘97) never hesitates to share his status as a SUNY Broome alum. While most know that he is a graduate of SUNY Broome, they may not be aware that Garnar’s SUNY Broome story began when he was just a toddler.
Garnar was born in Binghamton, NY, but spent his formative and teenage years in Smithville Flats, NY. As a toddler, Jason and father, Professor Emeritus Douglas Garnar, would commute together to campus. Doug bound for his history classroom, Jason bound for daycare at the B.C. Center. Some of Garnar’s earliest memories are of tagging along to college with his father. He can vividly describe the smell of the copy machines and easily rattled off the names of all of his dad’s colleagues who offered him candy and gum during each visit. He even enjoyed being part of his father’s cross country coaching days, squished between Hornets in rickety vans en route to meets across the state.
Even with all of those fond memories of life at SUNY Broome, when it came time to select a college, Garnar needed some convincing. At Greene High School, Jason was a self-admittedly average student, who thrived in the classes that he enjoyed, and did just enough to get by in the classes that he didn’t. As he contemplated attending a private university, his parents sat him down and laid out the facts. SUNY Broome was his best choice financially, academically, and extracurricularly.
He could compete as a college athlete, study abroad, and, if he was dedicated to his studies, would have a great chance to transfer to a top university. Sure enough, everything that Garnar’s parents promised, came to fruition. He played baseball as a Hornet, spent a semester studying in England, and transferred seamlessly to Binghamton University.
“The most important thing that I learned at SUNY Broome was how to actually be a responsible and successful student,” reflected Garnar.
In addition to teaching him how to study and write effectively, Garnar credits SUNY Broome with first exposing him to some of the gems of Broome County, thanks to experiential learning opportunities within the College’s backyard.
“I can identify the trees in Otsiningo Park because of Professor Rick Firenze’s biology class. Professor Firenze also took our class to the Broome County Landfill and the Sewage Treatment Plant,” shared Garnar. “As a student, I never would have believed that one day I would oversee those places as county executive.”
After graduating with an Individual Studies – Elementary Education degree, Garnar transferred to Binghamton University to study history. While working as a history and government teacher, a chance encounter pulled him from the world of education, to the world of politics.
“A man running for city council knocked on my door looking for support. While I followed politics in the national arena, I didn’t know anything about local politics,” Garnar said. “All of a sudden, I was bitten by the political bug. I wasn’t even affiliated with a party, so that was step #1.”
In 2004, Garnar ran for a Broome County Legislator seat, but was narrowly defeated. He ran again, and served in the county legislature for the following 8 years. At the end of his term as legislator, Garnar had to decide if he wanted to turn his part-time job in public service into a full-time career. He did, and proceeded to win the 2016 Broome County Executive election, becoming the youngest county executive in the history of the region.
Not fully sure what a county executive does? Simply put, Garnar manages the 40+ departments and agencies of Broome County, 2,000 county employees, and a budget of over $400 million. While the pressure of those statistics alone seem enormous, for someone with a passion for public service and a love of Broome County, every day at work is a privilege.
Jason Garnar isn’t supposed to have favorites in the county, but he can’t deny that he has a special soft spot for the community’s college. As the father of three boys, two of whom are high schoolers, Garnar often finds himself reiterating the same selling points of SUNY Broome that his parents shared with him over two decades ago – affordability, academic rigor, and endless opportunities.
“I would love for my boys to go to SUNY Broome and so would my father. We have a history on this campus and I would love for my sons to be a part of that as well.”
Were you inspired by Jason Garnar’s story? Read more stories about our civically engaged alumni in the digital edition of BROOME Magazine!