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Flagler Gets Democratic Endorsement for 137th; Gantt Still Silent on His Future

Patti Singer

Monroe County Democrats announced endorsements for 2020 elections.

Monroe County Democrats endorsed Ernest Flagler for the 137th state Assembly District, a seat held for decades by David Gantt.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the 78-year-old Gantt won’t run again.

“Petitions aren’t out yet,” Gantt said of the process in which candidates collect signatures to get themselves placed on the ballot. “You don’t have to go through the designation to collect petitions. You just go collect them.”

Gantt has represented the 137th, which covers parts of the city and the town of Gates, since the 1980s. The health problems that have limited Gantt’s ability to be in Albany for much of the past few sessions has led to speculation that he will not seek reelection.

“He normally lets folks know what he’s doing,” Flagler said. “He’s keeping this one real close to him.”

“That’s me,” Gantt said. “Nobody speaks for me but me. … What can I tell you?”

Are you retiring?

“That ain’t fair,” he answered.

Others aren’t waiting for his decision.

Candidates begin collecting signatures on Feb. 25 and turn in their petitions between March 30 and April 3. Candidates need 500 valid signatures from registered party members to get on the primary ballot. Voters may not sign a petition for more than one candidate in the same race.

At least two candidates have indicated they’re running for the 137th.

“I believe it’s time for new leadership, which is why I’m running,” said Natalie Sheppard. The current member of the school board announced her candidacy in early January.

She said she hadn’t expected to get the party designation, which was announced Feb. 1.

“Because of the tenets of democracy, like freedom of choice, individuality, fairness and the will of the people, I’m gong to continue to bring my campaign door to door,” she siad. “I’m not going to allow the elites of local politics to decide what the will of people is going to be. I’m going to be moving forward.”

Silvano Orsi of Gates also is running. He is a businessman and community advocate who has concentrated efforts in North Clinton and Lyell corridor neighborhoods.

Orsi said he attended two legislative district committees “and was turned off by the process. I thought it would be more important to take my campaign directly to the votes instead.”

Being the designated candidate brings resources of the party, such as having committee members go door-to-door to support the person.

Flagler, a retired firefighter, represents the 29th District in the Monroe County Legislature. He worked on Gantt’s campaigns and he considers him a mentor.

He said Gantt considered the effect that legislation would have on poor people and people of color.

“I witnessed it time after time,” Flagler said. “He was a champion for poor people. … When he first ran, it was the poor people who funded him. He had an obligation to poor. … A lot of people don’t give him the credit for what he has done, raising up other folks, holding the ground, speaking out against injustice.”

Flagler joked that if everyone stopped asking Gantt what he was going to do, he’d probably say. “David does stuff on David’s time,” Flagler said.

The Monroe County Democratic Committee endorsed a slate of candidates from congressional office to town boards.

In the Monroe County Clerk race, Jennifer Boutte sought the designation that went to former Monroe County Democratic Committee chairwoman Jamie Romeo. Romeo was representing the 136th District, but on Feb. 6, she was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fill the clerk position vacated when Adam Bello was elected Monroe County Executive.

“Certainly the governor’s appointment is his decision,” Boutte wrote in response to being asked for her reaction. “Being that we live in such a diverse county and the leadership is not comprised of the same level of diversity — not to mention geographical diversity, it further proves that we have a problem that is systemic. I am not fighting to win votes against Jamie, I am fighting against a system that was structured for candidates such as myself to fail, leaving voters without a choice. I have gained a great deal of countywide supporters since announcing my candidacy, resulting in my ability to enter the race and gain 43% of the Democratic Committee votes, further proving that voters would like a choice.”

Boutte wrote that on Feb. 25, she will begin the petition process an effort to move forward with the primary in June.

Boutte said that across the country, outsiders have fared well in a variety of races.

“I’m not coming in as a traditional politician with name recognition, said Boutte, director of development and community engagement for CDS Life Transitions. “I’m coming in with the commitment to serve my community. Give people a qualified choice.”

This story was updated Feb. 6 with the appointment of Jamie Romeo to Monroe County Clerk and comments from Jennifer Boutte.

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