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David Gantt, Monroe County’s first African American elected to state office, passed away July 1.
Mr. Gantt was 78.
His family and staff announced at 5:30 p.m. that he had passed.
In February, Mr. Gantt announced he was retiring from the 137th New York State Assembly District, where he had served since 1983. A civil rights pioneer, he represented a district with boundaries that he helped draft through a lawsuit brought under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Mr. Gantt also mentored many in the current generation of elected leaders.
“Assemblyman David Gantt was a father to me,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a news release. “He loved me unconditionally and inspired me to be who I am today. He saw something deep within me and did everything he could to help me, and countless others, achieve their dreams.
“ … He inspired me, took care of me when I was sick, guided me as built my career and my family. And, he will always be part of my family. He has not only lifted me up, but countless people throughout our community. I am proud of him for all that he did to lift as he climbed. He may be gone but he will never be forgotten. I will always remember his undying love for the Rochester community.
“He fought a good fight, finished his race and now he has gone home to be with the Lord. I will do all that I can to live up to the expectations he had for me. He was not just a father to me, but also my political mentor. I will forever miss him, and on behalf of the City of Rochester, I extend my deepest condolences to his family. May he rest in peace with the Lord.”
Through his work in Albany, Mr. Gantt touched lives in neighborhoods.
Over four decades, he worked to develop affordable housing; health care and services for the young and elderly; voter registration and education; the promotion of Black and Brown businesses; and as chairman of the Transportation Committee he led bills that maintained the safety of the state’s roads and bridges.
Of particular note in Rochester, with a large community of people who are deaf, Mr. Gantt wrote a bill requiring all new public theaters, auditoriums and meeting places to be equipped with systems to aid people with hearing impairments.
Tributes to Mr. Gantt came from across the community.
Dr. Janice Harbin, president and chief executive officer of the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center, said Mr. Gantt was a champion of the work. Mr. Gantt was an administrator at what was the People’s Health Center, and in 1971 he recommended the center be named for Dr. Jordan. Earlier this year, Jordan Health Center named its $3.4 million expansion the Honorable David F. Gantt Pavilion.
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello called Mr. Gantt a “voice for the voiceless” and a mentor to everyday citizens as well as community leaders and elected officials.
City Council President Loretta Scott said that Mr. Gantt “changed the landscape of our community and gave a voice to the disenfranchised.”
Scott said that Mr. Gantt was a “close and trusted friend” for more than 50 years.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote that he’d known and worked with Mr. Gantt for decades.
” … We shared a mutual respect for one another, in part because we both came from strong mothers who taught us the value of doing good for others. He was plainspoken and always let you know where he stood, and I will miss his friendship and presence in the Capitol.”
Mr. Gantt pushed against racist policies long before municipalities set up commissions on equity.
Assemblyman Harry Bronson remembered when he was minority leader in the county legislature and worked with Mr. Gantt on a plan for the next public defender that included the community. “It was his unwavering commitment to helping us ensure that the community of color was included in the selection of the next public defender that led to our success,” Bronson wrote. “His formidable leadership was critical on this matter.
The son of noted civil rights activist Lena Gantt, Mr. Gantt worked to get others elected and then ran for office himself. He served in the Monroe County Legislature for eight years.
“What I found most fascinating about David was that he never wanted to be a politician,” Vincent Felder, minority leader of the Monroe County Legislature wrote in a statement. “He was pushed into politics by Raymond Scott, by James McCuller, and his mother, Lena Gantt.”
Felder called Mr. Gantt a man of his word. “He didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep just to get votes,” he wrote in a statement. “He never sought the spotlight. He simply believed in doing the work he was elected to do.”
He said he was “the last of a dying breed of politicians, ones who really felt that their responsibility is only to the people who elect them. He would always remind us that the seats we hold don’t belong to us; they belong to the people. I believe the reason for his dedication to his constituents came from the fact that he never forgot who put him in office.”
Brittaney Wells, chairwoman of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, wrote that “(g)enerations of Black Democratic elected officials have learned at his knee and he always instilled in them one guiding principle: to represent and to provide for the people of their community in the city of Rochester.”
Ernest Flagler said he was elated when he received Mr. Gantt’s endorsement in the race for the 137th district. “David Gantt saw the ‘best’ in me and he began to cultivate his work in me,” Flagler wrote. “David Gantt took out valuable time with me and showed me what it means to be a man of honor, not only that but a man for the people.
” … Words cannot express the hurt and devastation that I am experiencing in my heart, mind and spirit. … David Gantt imparted all of his wisdom and knowledge into me. He shared all that he knew and I am eternally grateful to have known him and been a part of his life.”
Includes information provided by the city of Rochester.
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