The Democratic field for the 137th state Assembly District is at five and counting.
Demond Meeks, an organizer with 1199SEIU, prepared to announce his candidacy Feb. 19 at an event in the 19th Ward.
“If we’re claiming to be the voice of the people, we actually have to take time and meet the people throughout the district and have real conversations to find out exactly what their concerns are and move forward and advocate on behalf of those concerns,” Meeks said.
He said that as an organizer, he can bring people together in the spirit of transparency. “If you don’t have to make an executive decision, why make one? If everyone is afforded the opportunity to have input, for better or worse we have to take ownership for the outcomes.”
Meeks joins other announced candidates Ernest Flagler, Ann Lewis, Silvano Orsi and Natalie Sheppard in the quest for the seat held by for decades by David Gantt, who on Feb. 7 announced he would not seek reelection.
Meeks said the power of incumbency often discourages new people from running for office. He said Gantt’s retirement may have motivated others, even though Flagler has been endorsed by the Monroe County Democratic Committee and by Gantt.
“Individuals believe they have a better shot,” Meeks said.
Candidates can begin Feb. 25 to gather 500 valid signatures to petition to be on the ballot. Petitions are turned in from March 30 through April 2. Other candidates still can emerge before the June 23 state primary. Candidates also can petition to run as an independent in the general election.
The Republican Committee did not designate a candidate for the 137th at its convention Feb. 15. Several calls and texts to Republican Committee officials were not immediately returned.
“There’s a need to get out to the polls,” Meeks said. “I think all too often there’s a sense of the same old thing and my vote doesn’t matter, my vote doesn’t count. We have to change that.”
In the 2018 primary, 8,150 voters cast ballots for two candidates, according to the Board of Elections. The vote this time will be split in more ways.
Residents who have moved since they last voted need to register again with their new address. Only registered voters can sign a petition, and they can sign for only one candidate. Residents can call the Monroe County Board of Elections at (585) 753-1550 for information.
The number of candidates is the most in recent memory. “I think it’s good that the voters have choices,” Flagler said. “It keeps us at the doors and in their face.”
Lewis lost to Gantt by fewer than 1,400 votes in the 2018 primary. In 2016, she lost to Republican incumbent Joe Robach in the 56th Senate District. “This is a democracy, everyone has the right to run,” she said.
Other candidates also said that the robust field was a good sign.
“That means the seat is important and that voters should vote wisely for the right person and consider all their options,” Orsi said. “I welcome him to the race and I look forward to meeting him.”
Sheppard also welcomed Meeks to the field. “I wholeheartedly support our community’s right to choose their representatives.”
Meeks said that candidates may find themselves in an uphill battle. “For me, it’s a major leap of faith. I’ve been with the union for some time. We continue to do what we feel is to the betterment of our membership. I believe there is so much more I can do … as it relates to the community at large.”
He said the community needs a conversation about poverty and the working poor. He recounted stories from health aides about how they meet the needs of others but can’t afford to care for their own families. He said that Rochester does not receive the same per capita spending as Buffalo or Syracuse.