Take me to your leader 

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Greater Rochester saw a lot of changes in its political scene in the last year.

For decades, the area mirrored the electoral pattern of the country, with urban centers strongly favoring Democrats, and rural and many suburban communities leaning Republican. The city of Rochester could have been described as a blue blotch in a sea of red that was Monroe County.

But the area could today best be described as purple, or at least purplish.

Democrats have for many years held an enrollment advantage over Republicans in Monroe County, but that was solely due to a heavy concentration of Democrats in the city of Rochester. In recent years, though, Republicans have lost a lot of ground in the suburbs, spurred by a dramatic uptick in voter registration there among Democrats.

As of January 2020, there were 3.5 percent fewer enrolled Republican voters in the county than there were in 2016, according to the county Board of Elections. Meanwhile, Democratic enrollment grew over the same period by 5 percent. The bulk of that shift was in towns that had long been Republican strongholds. Some of them, such as Penfield, Perinton, and Webster on the east side of the city, and Chili and Greece in the west, now stand at relative party parity.

The result has been that Monroe County this year swore in a Democratic county executive for the first time in 32 years and saw the Republican majority in the 29-seat County Legislature dwindle to a single seat. Several Republican state senators from the area have said they won't run again this year.

If you pay attention to the local news, you'll notice a handful of elected officials make headlines. Here is a primer on the politicos you'll be hearing more about this year.

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Monroe County Executive Adam Bello (Democrat)

Bello is a darling of local Democratic circles who got his first job in politics as a 12-year-old boy signing in attendees at a fundraiser for the man who would become his mentor, Representative Joe Morelle. Bello, a married father of three, turns 40 this year.

Before becoming the first Democratic county executive to be elected since 1987, he was the county clerk, the supervisor of Irondequoit, and the executive director of the county Democratic Party. Bello has signaled that he intends to brush partisanship aside to focus on priorities like early-intervention child care services, combating the opioid crisis, and, of course, the usual trifecta of jobs, economic development, and public safety.

How effective his administration will be at pushing his agenda through a Republican-controlled Legislature that seems hell-bent on hobbling him remains to be seen. Before he took office this year, Republican legislators attempted to ram through a bill that would have curtailed his authority in several areas. The legislation was withdrawn amid a public outcry.

Adam Bello
585-753-1000 (office)
[email protected]

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Monroe County Legislature President Dr. Joseph Carbone (Republican)

A foot doctor by profession, Carbone entered politics in 2012 when he was elected to represent the northeast portion of Irondequoit in the County Legislature. He has since been re-elected twice and steadily rose through the ranks to be appointed president of the Legislature by his Republican colleagues.

Carbone has mostly flown under the radar during his tenure, but that was a result of his presiding over a Legislature that was a rubber stamp for Republican administrations. That is expected to change this year with the county having a divided government for the first time in 30 years.

Late last year, Carbone became the public face of a controversial bill that, among other things, sought to limit the authority of the incoming Democratic county executive in a variety of areas. He hastily withdrew the legislation after a fierce public backlash, but in doing so pledged to raise some of the provisions in the measure in 2020.

Joseph Carbone
585-753-1922 (office)
[email protected]

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Monroe County Minority Leader Legislator Vince Felder (Democrat)

The Monroe County Legislature's Democratic minority has been an afterthought for a generation.

But with Democrats coming within a seat of controlling the house in last year's election and taking the executive's office, the minority is expected to play a much larger role in shaping policy going forward — and Felder will be the face of that shift.

Early this year, for instance, he brokered a bipartisan deal to undo a much-criticized law making it a crime to harass first responders.

Felder represents the 22nd Legislative District, which covers most of the Upper Falls and Marketview Heights neighborhoods, along with the eastern half of downtown.

Vince Felder
585-753-1940 (office
[email protected]

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Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart (Democrat)

A first-year Monroe County legislator wouldn't typically make a short list of local politicians you'll be hearing more about this year. But, then, Barnhart isn't a typical first-year legislator.

A former television journalist who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly, Rochester mayor, and Congress before winning a seat in the Legislature last year, Barnhart has a knack for unearthing newsworthy issues and using her extensive social media following to get out the word. Much of her focus has been on establishing good government practices and rooting out corruption.

She represents the 21st Legislative District, which includes the Rochester neighborhoods of Beechwood, North Winton Village, and the Neighborhood of the Arts.

Rachel Barnhart
585-753-1940 (office)
[email protected]

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Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (Democrat)

Warren broke barriers with her election to the mayoralty in 2013. Not only was she the first woman to hold the job, but she smashed what had been regarded as the local Democratic Party establishment when she handily beat the party's chosen candidate — the incumbent mayor — in a primary.

Her victory caused a schism within the party that has yet to heal, although there has been some closure as she has consolidated her power. On one side are the old-guard Democrats who nurtured the rise of the likes of Rep. Joe Morelle and County Executive Adam Bello. On the other side are up-and-coming progressives, mostly people of color, who had been underrepresented in the local party and local government.

A married mother of one who has since been re-elected to a second term, Warren has focused on creating jobs, police services aimed at making neighborhoods safer, and improving, to what extent she can, the city's public education system, which is widely regarded as the worst in the state.

Lovely Warren
585-428-7045 (office)
[email protected]

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Rochester City Council Member Mary Lupien (Democrat)

Lupien translated her active support for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016 to a successful campaign for City Council in 2019. She represents the east side of the city.

She brought a welcome focus to transportation to the campaign, demanding the city develop a more aggressive and comprehensive plan for adding bicycle infrastructure, like lanes and racks.

Lupien has also called for ending subsidies to high-end residential developments, saying that money could be better spent helping small businesses invest in their neighborhoods.

Mary Lupien
585-428-7530 (office)
[email protected]

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Rochester School Board President Van White (Democrat)

A lawyer who made his name suing the Rochester City School District on behalf of the family of a 13-year-old girl who was stabbed to death by a student outside her public school in 1995, White was first elected to the Board of Education in 2006 and became its president in 2014.

His tenure has been marked by a high turnover of superintendents, student achievement that falls well below the state average but has increased incrementally, and a scathing report by a state-appointed watchdog who accused the board of micromanaging and concluded the district needed a "total reset" in the way it operates.

White, whose salary of nearly $35,000 is the highest by far in a state where most school board members are unpaid, is likely to be in the news this year, as Governor Andrew Cuomo looks to implement a state-appointed monitor to oversee the school district.

Van White
585-262-8525 (office)
[email protected]

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Assemblyman David Gantt (Democrat) 

The longest-serving elected official in Rochester, Gantt is informally known as the "dean" of the area's delegation in Albany.

Gantt started his 37th year in the state Assembly in 2020, but has since announced his intention to retire. At 78, Gantt is confronting a variety of health issues and, records show, he was in attendance in the Assembly on just two days last year.

His absence has fueled speculation that he won't run again this year, although he has yet to declare his intentions. Last year, he was in a car crash that injured several people when he ran a stop sign in his Rochester neighborhood.

At times controversial, Gantt has been known in his decidedly Democratic district as a champion for poor and vulnerable people. Regardless of his departure from politics, his presence and influence will be felt as Democrats position themselves to succeed him.

David Gantt
585-454-3670 (office)
[email protected]

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Assemblyman Harry Bronson (Democrat)

Bronson was first elected to the Assembly in 2010 after five years in the Monroe County Legislature. His 138th Assembly district includes portions of Rochester, and the towns of Chili and Henrietta.

A longtime LGBTQ activist, Bronson has been focused on ensuring access to affordable health care, reforming campaign finance regulations, and closing the workforce skills gap.

He is expected to face a tough challenge for his seat this year from Alex Yudelson, the 27-year-old chief of staff to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. Bronson has been at odds with Warren over how to best intervene in the troubled city school district, and that fight is likely to carry over into the Assembly race.

Harry Bronson
585-244-5255 (office)
[email protected]

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State Senator Joe Robach (Republican)

Robach is a legacy Democrat-turned-Republican politician, with his father, Roger Robach, having served in the Assembly from 1975 until his untimely death in 1991.

He took over his father's seat in a special election the year his father died and served the district as a Democrat until 2002. That year, he switched parties to become a Republican and run for the state Senate.

His 56th Senate District mostly encompasses the west side of Rochester, but stretches, as gerrymandered districts tend to do, into parts of the city and the eastern suburb of Brighton. Like several other Republican state senators, who recently lost their majority in the Senate, Robach announced that he would not run again in 2020. Because he has been a fixture on the political scene for so long, though, it is hard to imagine Robach, 62, disappearing altogether.

Joe Robach
585-225-3650 (office)
[email protected]

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House Representative Joe Morelle (Democrat)

Rochester tends to breed long political lives. Once a politician is in office, they're in politics for life, it seems. Morelle is one of those politicians.

He was first elected to the Monroe County Legislature in 1983, became a state Assemblyman eight years later, and won a pair of special elections in 2018 to assume the congressional seat that had been held for more than 30 years by Louise Slaughter, who died earlier that year.

The 25th Congressional District seat encompasses the vast majority of Monroe County.

Although he is a freshman in Congress, Morelle has proven himself adept at raising his status. He ended his time in the Assembly as the majority leader.

Joe Morelle
585-232-4850 (office)

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