After serving the past 16 years in the state Senate and almost that long in the state Assembly, Joe Robach will not run again.
Part of the reason is the upstate/downstate divide.
“ … I, like many others, am now suffering from the divisive New York City politics that have engulfed everything in the State Capitol,” he wrote in a statement Dec. 11 announcing his decision. “This has impacted my decision not to seek re-election.”
Robach’s decision opens the race for the 56th District, which encompasses the towns of Brighton, Clarkson, Gates, Greece, Hamlin and Parma, and the Charlotte, Maplewood and University of Rochester neighborhoods of the city.
The Republican Committee has not yet announced a candidate.
The Democrats have at least three who will compete in a primary in June – Sherita Traywick, Hilda Rosario Escher and Jeremy Cooney.
Traywick is an adjunct instructor at Rochester Institute of Technology and a member of the Greece Central School District board. According to her website, she is an advocate for education, criminal justice reform and for addressing the price of prescription medications for seniors.
“I’m hoping to be the voice of the people,” she said. “I’m an average, everyday person but I’m tired of the status quo. We have an opportunity as a Democratic candidate to push forward some of the things that we need as it regards to education, jobs agenda, health care. There are a lot of things on the table. We need someone to say upstate matters.”
After a few months exploring the possibility, Rosario Escher in November announced her candidacy. The former president and chief executive officer of the Ibero American Action League is running on a platform of economic development, health and education. “These impact each other,” she said.
Rosario Escher said she considers Robach a friend and described him as a committed public servant. “He really did a lot of great things for this community. We have to be thankful for everything he’s done.”
Robach has worked to expand economic development in Rochester, to increase funding for education, to reduce taxes, to secure funding for school districts and to improve health care, according to his biography on the New York State Senate web site.
He has written bills that increased protections for victims of domestic violence, passed legislation to help breast cancer patients and survivors and secured funding parity for upstate roads and bridges with the downstate Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to the statement announcing his decision to retire.
Asked if there are big shoes to fill in representing the 56th, Rosario Escher said “I have my own shoes to fill. I think I will fill them very well. I have the same relationships that he has. I have been dealing with government for so many years. I have gotten to know senators, assembly (members), the governor, the governor’s staff.
Cooney ran against Robach in 2018, collecting 44% of the vote to Robach’s 55%. Cooney’s campaign said it was Robach’s closest margin of victory in the past decade against the longtime Albany incumbent.
In a statement about Robach’s decision, Cooney thanked Robach for his years of service and wished him health and happiness in the future.
“We look forward to building on our two year campaign and earning the support of the voters of the 56th Senate District in 2020,” he said. “This community wants the opportunity to bring progressive values to our neighbors, and to represent Rochester and Monroe County’s needs in the Democratic Senate Majority. It’s time to end the division in Albany and carry the voices of today’s families onward.”
Cooney lives in Rochester and has worked as an aide to the late U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, worked for two governors and was the first chief of staff for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. His platform includes health care, affordable housing and combating climate change.
Before Robach won a Senate seat in 2003, he served in the Assembly from 1991 to 2002. He initially filled the seat after the death of his father, Roger.
“It has been an honor and privilege to represent Rochester and Monroe County in the state Senate and state Assembly,” he said in his statement. “I have had the opportunity to accomplish much, meet many great people and assist thousands of residents in our community throughout my tenure in elected office. …”
Robach has been a fixture in Rochester-area politics.
“I have always made my service to be of purpose and have spent my entire career ensuring that Monroe County, Rochester and upstate has a strong voice in state government,” his statement said. “It is imperative that any Senate representative from our region, regardless of political affiliation, be willing to stand up to the New York City power brokers that now control our state capitol, and put our region and people first. I hope that my performance has reflected my deep appreciation for the opportunity to serve in elected office and the continued support I have received from the community that I love.”
Monroe County Republican Commitee Chairman Bill Napier said the county was better off for Robach’s time in office. “I am grateful for Senator Robach’s tireless leadership, fighting against the excesses of Albany politics and on behalf of the residents of Monroe County. On behalf of the Monroe County Republican Committee, we thank him for his service to Monroe County, the State of New York, and the Republican Party.”