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Tuesday 28 September 2021
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Candidates for Monroe County Legislature State Positions on Five Key Questions

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Candidates for County Legislature districts within the city answer questions from Minority Reporter/La Voz staff. Candidates appear in the order in which their names are on the ballot.

21st District

Rachel A. BarnhartRachel Barnhart

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

Right now, we have five Democrats working with the Republicans to undermine the Democratic Party. This GOP-led supermajority has voted 20 to 9 many times, including to table ethics reform and create an election-year slush fund. This alliance has nothing to do with bipartisanship and good governance; it is all about power. I have been able to deliver more for my district by working with the administration instead of the GOP. This situation is toxic and shocking, and it is hurting all Democrats in Monroe County.

I’m working hard to win my primary to stop the supermajority from growing. After my primary, I will work to flip the Legislature from Red to Blue. I am also more than willing to welcome the breakaway Democrats back into the Democratic Caucus.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how will you address it?

We have got to address income inequality. I am working with the County Executive to pass his budget, which will raise the minimum wage for all county workers to $15 an hour. We must bring good jobs to Monroe County, locate them near where people live, and provide workforce readiness and job training programs that are accessible to everyone. We must support universal basic income programs. Many issues must be addressed at the federal and state level, but the county can play a role with its economic development and human service policies.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

Monroe County has one of the weakest ethics codes in the state. Ethics codes ensure that county employees and officials are acting with integrity. I worked with the administration on legislation that would have strengthened the ethics code by including provisions against sexual harassment and conflicts of interest. The bill would have provided a way to investigate and penalize elected officials accused of misconduct. Unfortunately, the GOP-led supermajority tabled the bill with less than 10 minutes of discussion. I do not see a path forward for ethics reform unless Democrats regain control of the Legislature.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

I voted against creating a $2.5 million slush fund during a pandemic. There is no plan to spend the money. There is no criteria for using the funds. There is no application process. When spending the public’s tax money, we need to be more responsible.

This fund was created to help the GOP-led supermajority spread money around their districts in an election year. I have found other ways to drive resources to my district. I worked with the administration on the Fast Forward Monroe program, which sent more than $1 million in grants to small businesses in my district, with a special focus on women and minority-owned businesses. I worked with the administration and philanthropic partners to secure funding for upgraded internet devices for RCSD students. I also worked with the sheriff to provide free calls to people who are incarcerated, a plan that unanimously passed the Legislature.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc. What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

No. That’s why I supported the creation of the new Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as the appointment of the dynamic Chief Diversity Officer Deanna Kimbrel. I have great confidence that Dr. Kimbrel will bring the innovation and oversight we need to make sure Monroe County is a place where everyone can access opportunity and thrive. This work will be challenging, and I expect Dr. Kimbrel to keep the Legislature posted on our progress and any support she needs to succeed.

Wanda A. Ridgeway

The candidate did not respond.

 

22nd District

Mercedes V. Simmons

The candidate did not respond.

Vincent R. Felder

The candidate did not respond.

 

24th District

Albert BlankleyAlbert A. Blankley

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

Healthy debate on the merits of policy is warranted and expected, personal attacks and scoring political points through legislating does not serve the people of Monroe County. I believe that the best legislation flows from robust facts and trust. Building that trust across the legislature is something I hope to begin doing immediately upon being elected, and something I am working toward at the moment. Beginning with conversations and finding common ground, we can begin to build on victories and work toward being a more collaborative body.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how will you address it?

There are so many needs that the residents of Monroe County have it is difficult to narrow those to a single priority. However I believe that until we address the economic disparities in our county, it will be impossible for all citizens to reach their highest potential. One way to address those disparities would be with a universal basic income. The first step toward implementing such an effort would be a pilot program, studied rigorously, to explore the risks and benefits of implementing such a program across the entire county.  I would be eager to introduce legislation that establishes that pilot program.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

Yes, the ethics reform bill introduced by the county executive and Democratic caucus (referral 21-056) amends the ethics code to include sexual harassment as a violation of that ethical code is appropriate and necessary. All county employees, including elected officials, serve the public and this type of behavior towards anyone, let alone a citizen of Monroe County is unacceptable and should be explicitly disallowed to foster transparency and accountability.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

I will request items from that fund only if they are grounded in requests from the constituents in my district. I believe that funds like this can be beneficial, in that legislators know best the needs of their communities. I plan to constantly be communicating with my constituents and if a need arises that might be solved through utilizing some portion of those funds then, and only then would I submit a referral to utilize that money.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc. What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

One thing the county can do to enhance county diversity efforts would be to create a program to support minority and women owned businesses in the county getting the state designation of a minority or women owned business (https://esd.ny.gov/doing-business-ny/mwbe). There are a number of businesses in Monroe County that would qualify but are not aware of the program, or do not have the means to navigate the bureaucratic process. I would introduce legislation that instructs the office of diversity to create an education and support program for businesses that qualify for that designation in Monroe County.

 

Rajesh BarnabasRajesh Barnabas

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

Monroe County is facing an identity crisis, and the fractious nature of the legislature is a symptom of this. Typically a county is more dominated by one party or the other, but Monroe is unique in that Republicans have had the majority of elected positions despite having a disadvantage in party enrollment. Even where you may not expect it in nearly all the suburbs of Rochester, Democrats hold a voter registration advantage. So whenever the power structure beneath a political party is unstable, relying on tricks and apathy rather than popular power, you will have instability and a contentious political atmosphere. Everyone knows you are not serving the will of the masses but rather that of a smaller rich, less informed, but better organized political mob – a.k.a. the Republicans.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how will you address it?

Hyper segregation and inequality. The two are greatly intertwined in Monroe County. The rich have way too much and the poor have way too little. We live in the most racially segregated County in the most segregated State. In addition, we have the greatest income inequality, with Pittsford, a southeastern suburb of Rochester, the only upstate community with a median household income above $100,000. The typical household in Pittsford earned $106,285 in 2012. That’s twice the national median of $53,046 for the same year. (https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2014/06/25/rochester-suburbs-lead-upstate-affluence-rankings.html). Post-recession Monroe County has seen an increase in millionaires, which now exceed 600, while simultaneously there has been an increase in homelessness and poverty, proving that the poor are so poor because the rich are so darn rich.

The solution is simple: increase the taxes progressively on property taxes and income taxes on the wealthy CEO class. And if any free market zealots complain, tell them that the epicenter of entrepreneurialism just did it. In Silicon Valley, a new tax law was passed where any company whose top executive earns 100 times more than their average worker will pay an extra 0.1% surcharge on its annual business tax payment. If a CEO makes 200 times more than the average employee, the surcharge increases to 0.2%; 300 times gets a 0.3% surcharge and so on. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/05/san-francisco-voters-approve-new-taxes-wealthy-ceos-tech-companies)

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

Yes and every politician goes in having a set of ethics but often rather than reforming the system becomes part of the machine. The only reform that will get to the root of this will be publicly funded elections, where officials rely on their ideas, science and morals to gain political power rather than their pocketbooks.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

It would be disingenuous to call for ethics reform, then turn around and accept/request money from a fund that was set up undemocratically by corrupt officials. The criteria must be set up at a higher level, when the fund was created in the first place.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc. What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

No it is not doing enough historically, that is the reason why the Black & Asian caucus came to be. Although fetching for crumbs from the Republicans is not the right strategy, it has to be understood in the context of Democrat County Committee serving crumbs to Black and brown communities instead of substantive employment and actual diversity. We get an assortment of Black faces in high places, as County Executive Adam Bello’s latest creation of a Chief Diversity Officer indicates, yet this has no real effect on the percentage of diversity employment overall. Like the election of Obama, it keeps us looking up to the sky for progress, rather than noticing around us that there is none. The analysis must be kept on the actual numbers hired rather than a few names of black faces in high places.

 

25th District

Carolyn D. Hoffman

Carolyn Hoffman

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

I take a trauma-informed perspective to conflict and have a professional relationship with all of our Democratic county legislators because of my work in the community. I believe that because I am focused on the needs of the people and committed to my own integrity, my colleagues can trust that if we disagree, it comes from a place of honor and respect and not a place of political grandstanding or bitter feuds. I don’t presume to take on the trauma of the former generation and am ready to work with anyone who is ready to work for the people.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how will you address it?

The most pressing need for all county residents is the poverty caused by racism at every level of our society and exploitation of the labor of poor and working people. Even for those not in poverty, as long as anyone in our community is targeted by our criminal justice system, does not have access to adequate housing, schools, food, or health care, none of us are living safe, peaceful, abundant lives. I propose a county basic income, expanding and strengthening organized labor, expanding home ownership and improvement grants, expanding and simplifying social services, and more support for those entering the MWBE or LLC processes.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

We can never have too high a standard of ethics for our elected officials. I am glad the county legislature is looking into this and I support any efforts to establish clear standards of conduct, review and accountability processes. This builds trust and transparency with the community and clear boundaries for our elected officials.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

The criteria for the “slush fund” should be, who will it benefit? Will it be the community?  Will it be for a select organization?

Neighborhoods in District 25 have been intentionally divested from, whether it was through redlining or other structural racism and exploitation of labor. My priority is shifting funds into our district. These funds should prioritize marginalized people, living wage job creation and be evaluated against the seven research backed strategies found by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to reduce violence without police – “improve the physical environment, strengthen anti-violence social norms and peer relationships, engage and support youth, reduce substance use, mitigate financial stress, reduce the harmful effects of the criminal justice process, and confront the gun problem.”

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc. What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

The county is not doing enough to hire Black and brown people. One of the most important jobs of a county legislator is to provide accountability for funds that come into our community from the state and federal level and to rigorously ensure that when tax breaks or grants from any level are disbursed, businesses are hiring from marginalized communities, prioritizing organized labor, and paying a living wage. We also need to actively diversify COMIDA and MCIDC immediately and increase representation from District 25 on these boards.

I want to see us recruiting from HBCUs and creating more nuanced hiring practices than simple civil service exams. These tests are racist, we know they are racist, and they should not be the foundation of our hiring practices. When it comes to procurement, it’s a classic example of how color-blind laws perpetuate a racist system. On the surface, it seems like everyone has equal access to these contracts but substandard education, redlining, loan discrimination, less social capital, and little meaningful investment are just some of the factors that limit the success of Black- and brown-owned businesses. I would like to see us develop a procurement system based on the Government Alliance on Race & Equity’s “Contracting for Equity” report.

I also think that with the federal government’s stated intent of getting dollars into the hands of Black and brown entrepreneurs, we will need to very closely watch that money to make sure it actually gets where it is most needed.

Dorian HallDorian L. Hall

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

I will vote for our community’s interest first. I’m not playing the Democrat vs. Republican game. My job as a legislator is to inform, support and obtain feedback from our community. People are smart and tired of folks not working together. Our 25th legislature district seat is so important for democratic control, gentrification, and development projects that folks are running a suburban implant against a neighborhood born and raised grassroots community organizer. I will build relationships with legislators and make sure we sit at the table and enjoy a piece of the pie.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how will you address it?

The most pressing need for everyone is a livable wage job. All I hear from folks is I need a job can you help me? Even a paid mentorship for youth employment is needed. This is how you can curve poverty in Monroe County. It’s important for me to find companies interested in locating their business into the 25th district. The new trend nationwide is inner city walkable job locations. I’ m currently working on the first green community solar farm project in PLEX- Plymouth Exchange neighborhood. We will be training folks on how to maintain and install solar panels. This is preparing our community for green jobs opportunities.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

Yes, there is a need for ethics reform among elected officials. I am experiencing great disappointment with current elected officials. This is why I am running for a legislative seat. These untouchable back door deal policies need to stop. I would suggest pulling money out of politics and requiring more transparency ethics reform. It’s very hard for someone who really cares about their community to get into politics. A prime example is looking at this current race and money raised for this 25th legislative seat. You will see suburban dollars, union support, and even Blacks supporting someone implanted in our community. I’m shocked that people are “NOT WOKE” and allowing folks to take advantage of our community using this BLM Black Lives Matter movement. I guess an outsider from a different culture is a better role model than someone from our community. I support people raised in a community running for their community. We need role models our children can look up too. I look forward to stronger ethics reform.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

I am a computer data driven person and the data says dollars are not hitting our communities. I would require dollars be given to neighborhood associations. Neighborhood associations are the backbone of our communities. These are folks involved at the grassroots level where I come from rubbing two pennies together for the benefit of many. Neighborhood folks are taken advantage of and need to be respected. I feel it is disrespectful to be running for any elected official seat without neighborhood support. Politicians are quick to forget they work for the home owners who pay taxes. It’s time to give back and I would require a minimum $10,000 dollars given to neighborhoods. This is how you get more people involved and build better communities for our county. Let’s require 50 percent of the slush fund targeted at neighborhood association. Neighborhoods know what their community needs.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc. What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

The county is not doing enough. I can speak about Monroe County development projects for an example. I don’t see people from our communities working on Monroe County development. I would introduce a CBA – community benefit agreement. This is a contractual agreement between a neighborhood and developers were both parties agree on items that benefit their organization. I can’t see someone from outside our community advocating for people in our community because there is a cultural disconnect. I will fight for diversity efforts by creating new or updating old employment policies. Please call me the pen to paper Legislator candidate getting things done for our communities.

 

Kenneth MuhammadKenneth Muhammad

What will do you to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

The first thing I would address with regard to this behavior will be to point out the damage this fractious nature has caused both parties. Second thing is to remind lawmakers they are in office on behalf of the people.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how will you address it?

The county needs to address its past and make the necessary steps to move all of the county forward not just those part of the county that are on the outskirts of the city. We will remind the legislators of what affects one part of the body eventually effects the whole.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?
Yes.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

I don’t know enough about the slush fund. However, when I need to use discretionary income, I definitely inform my wife.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etsc. What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

The county and the city of Rochester both just hired diversity officers and has appointed them to manage a department dedicated to equality. I agree with County Legislator Ernest Flagler the department is way overdue. The only thing I would add is enforcement of that department. Having a structure with function and no enforcement is like having the keys to a car with a tank full of gas, but it’s not moving.

 

28th District

Frank KeophetlasyFrank Keophetlasy

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

My goal is to continue doing the work for the constituents of the 28th Legislative District. The fracture highlights the decades of neglect for our inner city districts and I want to continue to highlight that by giving my district the representation and fighter they need to get things done.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how to address it?

I think the most pressing need for County residents is equal access to opportunity and jobs. Not just any jobs but good paying jobs with benefits. In our current state through my work with the RASE commission, statistics prove the disparities are tremendous especially for the inner city residents. I will continue to fight to change the system that is in place to hold those communities down by advocating for equity, diversity, and living wages in Monroe County.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

Ethics is important and must be truly independent and impartial.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request money from that fund?

I do not consider it a “slush fund.” The contingency fund has already been used to fund a Democratic Caucus proposed Language Access position, Republican Caucus proposed ecotherapy veterans program and now a Black and Asian Caucus proposed local arts funding. I want to continue focusing on the needs of communities in Monroe County that may not be addressed by the county executive.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc.? What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

The county is not doing enough. Meeting after meeting we always ask if there is an MWBE that applied or what is your demographic breakdown. The responses vary and we need to move toward the goals in place. I would continue to support and introduce legislation like our Diversity Action Plan and the Gantt bill to keep pushing for diversity and inclusion throughout County government. A move toward transparency in the process is needed.

Ricky FrazierRicky Frazier

What will you do to address the fractious nature of the legislature?

Since I’m running as a Democrat and endorsed by the Working Family Party (WFP), I will work with my fellow Democrats. If I desired to be a Republican, I would have run as a Republican. I’m collaborative but have a responsibility to represent the diverse citizens of the 28th district.

What is the most pressing need for all county residents and how to address it?

The pandemic has certainly put the spotlight on many issues; including the racial injustice, health care, jobs, education and crime. Taking the issue of crime from a county perspective, we need to evaluate the effectiveness of the new Forensic Intervention Team (FIT) working with the Monroe County’s 11 law enforcement agencies. We also need to work collaboratively to address the issue of illegal guns and work together with our families, schools, community agencies, governmental agencies, community groups, social justice organizations, mental health partners, youth and faith community to talk with and address the root causes of shootings and car jackings in Rochester among young people to begin to heal our communities, especially in the city of Rochester.

Is there a need for ethics reform among elected officials and what changes do you suggest?

The proposed amendment proposed by County Executive Adam Bello is a good start to get passed by the county. We should continue to compare and update our ethics policies in comparison to other counties and governmental agencies in New York state and beyond.

Legislators created a discretionary fund that some claimed was a “slush fund.” What criteria will you use to request from that fund?

I would propose that the discretionary fund has some guidelines on what the funding can or cannot be used for any legislator that would want to get money out of this fund. If myself or any other legislator would request from the fund it would become public information for Monroe County citizens on what it was used for.

Is the county doing enough to address diversity in hiring, procurement, etc.? What legislation would you introduce (if any) to enhance county diversity efforts?

The answer is that they are least making a good start but certainly more can and has to be done. I would propose that an annual diversity dashboard be shared out of the office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on different diversity metrics, such as hiring, the make-up of employees in different departments, etc. to be shared with the Monroe County legislature as well as the citizens of Monroe County for transparency and accountability. We also need to diversify the Monroe County Civil Service Commission to have at least one member that reflects the diversity of Monroe County.

 

29th District

Ernest Flagler-Mitchell

The candidate did not respond.

William Burgess

The candidate did not respond.