Natalie Sheppard, who was elected in 2017 to the Rochester City School District Board of Education, announced she’s running to represent the 137th District in the New York state Assembly.
“I never thought I’d be running for state office,” Sheppard said Jan. 2. “It’s been on my heart. I’m just ready for it.”
Sheppard said that in her time on the school board, she’s learned how dependent it is on state decisions and that localities need people who will continue to offer solutions and advocate for the communities they serve.
“There’s never a dead end with me,” she said. “ I feel I have expressed that and exhausted that to the umpth degree. I will put it out there and it will be unpopular. But OK, that’s not a dead end. I’ll try something new. I’m shooting out alternatives. That is what I think we need at the state.”
Sheppard, 33, is seeking designation from Democratic party. That process starts Jan. 6 with a series of interviews with committee members.
She is running against David Gantt, who has held the seat since 1983. The 137th District covers northeast and southwest Rochester and Gates. She said she expected others to join the race.
In 2018 Democratic primary, Gantt received 58.3% of the vote to defeat Ann Lewis. He ran unopposed in the general election and received 97% of the votes. Write-in candidates received 3 %.
“These positions never belong to us,” he said. “They belong to the public and everybody has a right to take a shot at it.”
Gantt, 78, has missed many sessions over the past few years because of poor health. He said he’s in the process of deciding whether he will run again and put the timetable for his announcement “sometime in the near future.”
Gantt is the first African-American from Monroe County elected to state office. Prior to going to Albany, he served nine years in the Monroe County Legislature.
“David Gantt has earned his legacy in this community,” Sheppard said. “I’m not running against a person to attack a person. I’m truly running because I have seen how the powers of the state impact us locally.”
Sheppard acknowledged that even though she is relatively new to the school board, voters may identify her with its struggles. The school district faces a potential $64.8 million budget gap by June. On Dec. 19, Sheppard voted against Superintendent Terry Dade’s proposed staff reduction, but the measure passed, 5-2.
“I feel like the things I have or have not been able to do on the school board are directly linked to what the state allows us to do locally,” she said. “I want our community to start understanding there is no separation with that. I’m not leaving the school board to go off and do state stuff. I see how education, how poverty, how trauma, how economic stability, how all health play a part in developing a strong neighborhood and Rochester as a whole. I’ve learned how state-level advocacy is connected to everything.”
In March 2018, Sheppard spoke out at a board meeting, calling on the other commissioners to put their duty above political gain and urged the community to use its power to advocate for students.
Sheppard, who works as a licensed master social worker, said her platform will be based on education and include economic growth and stability; mental, emotional and physical health and criminal justice. “I will share how all those things intersect and if we don’t change and implement the things we need to, the outcomes of Rochester will stay the same or continue to be negative.”