His phone started filling up with text messages of congratulations — and a question.
“Some people asked, are you surprised?’” said Demond Meeks, who won the Democratic primary in the 137th Assembly District.
“For me, it was truly a leap of faith,” the first-time candidate said after absentee ballots were counted. “I have faith in God. I know all things are possible.”
Meeks, who led by nearly 900 votes after in-person voting ended June 23, recorded 217 more absentee votes than endorsed candidate Ernest Flagler.
For the first time in four decades, the seat was open after David Gantt announced his retirement in February. Gantt, who passed away July 1, had endorsed Flagler as his successor. The Democratic party also endorsed Flagler, a Monroe County legislator.
“The people spoke,” Flagler said. “It’s their determination.”
“I realize I’m here because of my community,” said Meeks. “We talked with the community and people saw fitting that I be their state assemblyman. We had powerful leaders in our community who endorsed other candidates. However, I received the endorsement of community members.”
The Board of Elections released the unofficial results of absentee and affidavit ballots on July 8, one week after the count began. In-person voting, which included nine days of early voting, ended on June 23. The state Board of Elections certifies the tallies.
In the 137th, where there is no Republican opponent, the primary basically determines the seat. However, voters can write in candidates in the November election.
Meeks had 3,122 votes and Flagler had 2,248 after in-person voting ended June 23.
At the time, Flagler said his campaign had focused on absentees because of uncertainty about polling during COVID-19.
Meeks recorded 1,398 absentee votes to Flagler’s 1,181.
Ann Lewis finished third overall and Silvano Orsi was fourth.
“I’m disappointed that I did not get it,” Flagler said. “My mom, my grandparents had a few slogans. One thing they say is a setback is a setup for something greater. … Who knows what it’s going to be.”
Flagler left open the possibility of running in two years. He said he had not talked to Meeks about issues but said he would hope that the presumptive assemblyman would introduce bills that hold people accountable and would work on behalf of the poor, communities of color and children – particularly the need for quality education.
Meeks said his platform was built on education, quality health care for all, affordable housing and economic justice.
Meeks, who resigned his job with 1199SEIU, said that as an organizer he would canvass members to learn their issues. As an assemblyman, he said he would hold regular town hall meetings to canvass residents rather than only community organizations and find out what was on their minds.
“You may not have voted for Demond Meeks, you may not have participated in the voting process,” he said. “But as sure as you’re a member of this community, you deserve to have a voice as it relates to what goes on in this community.”
In addition to the northeast and southwest parts of the city, the 137th includes Gates. The town has a Republican supervisor.
“We have to sit down and talk about and speak to the issues affecting our community,” Meeks said. “Gates has grown as far as diversity. You have a lot more people of color. But as it relates to what we do as a state assemblyperson, you can’t just put a color on it. We have to advocate on behalf of our community, our district.”
Here are unofficial results in some other races:
Jeremy Cooney, who led after in-person voting, had nearly triple the amount of absentee votes as his closest rival, Hilda Rosario Escher. Sherita Traywick, who was second after the in-person balloting, finished third overall. Cooney faces Republican Mike Barry in the general election.
In-person voting in the 56th had been controversial, as some people at the Baden Street polling site claimed to get the wrong ballots and weren’t able to vote for any candidates in the 56th.
Escher said she has heard from more people who said they were turned away for a variety of reasons.
A lawsuit alleging a violation of civil rights has been filed by approximately three dozen people against Monroe County Board of Elections Commissioners LaShana Boose and Lisa Nicolay and Monroe County Executive.
As for the outcome, Escher said she thought it was a loss for community. “I had a lot of plans. I know the system. I know what needs to be done in this community.”
She said running for office opened her eyes and while she isn’t planning another campaign, she will stay involved in community organizations.
“I will fight for our projects,” she said.
Traywick said she was proud of the race she ran.
Jennifer Boutte had a lead of less than 1,000 votes over Jamie Romeo after in-person voting, but the current county clerk amassed a nearly 2-to-1 margin in absentee votes. Romeo, who was appointed to the job after Adam Bello became county executive, faces Republican county legislator Karla Boyce in the general election.
Kim Smith, the only Monroe County candidate, handily won her home county in the in-person and absentee voting.
However, Erie County resident Jacqualine Berger won Erie County and Genesee County to win the primary, according to information provided by Smith after absentee ballots in Monroe, Erie and Genesee counties were tabulated.
The district covers Chili, Riga, Churchville and parts of the city, all of Genesee County and three towns and two villages in Erie County.
This story was updated July 15, 2020, with information on the 61st Senate race.