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For Louise Slaughter's seat: Joe Morelle


For the Rochester area – and for the country – an exceptionally important election takes place June 26: a primary to choose the Democratic candidate for Louise Slaughter's Congressional seat. While only Democrats can vote, for anyone troubled by the actions of President Trump and the Republican Congress, keeping Slaughter's seat Democratic is vital.

While this seat has been considered safe for Democrats, it isn't. It wasn't in 2014, when Slaughter narrowly won re-election, and it probably won't be this November, when the winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican-Conservative-Reform candidate Jim Maxwell, a neurosurgeon said to be putting a substantial amount of his own money into the race.
Joe Morelle - FILE PHOTO
  • Joe Morelle

Four people are competing for the Democratic nomination: former television journalist Rachel Barnhart, City Council member Adam McFadden, State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, and Brighton Town Board member Robin Wilt.

We endorse Morelle.

On key issues, there's little difference among the four candidates. All have progressive views on health care, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, the environment, gun control, immigration. They're all smart, and they're passionate about issues and public service.

Ultimately, our decision rested on two questions:
  1. Who has the best chance at winning the general election in November?
  2. Who would be most effective in Congress?
On the second question, we believe that Morelle and Wilt would be the most effective. Wilt is a newcomer to the Brighton Town Board, but she has accomplishments there, and she has a long history of building coalitions around such things as single-payer health care.

Morelle has a big advantage because of his long experience in local and state politics and his political connections and influence, both in New York and among members of the Democratic caucus in Washington.
Most important, we're convinced that Morelle has the best chance of winning in November.

The general election won't be a cakewalk. Not only will the Democratic candidate face a heavily funded opponent, but the district includes both the predominantly progressive city and suburbs that are moderate to conservative.

Wilt is a strong candidate. She's been endorsed by the statewide New York Progressive Action Network and the local grassroots organization ROCitizen. In her months on the Brighton Town Board, she has pushed for diversity and inclusion measures, sponsored Community Choice Aggregation energy legislation, and helped coordinate the push for dedicated bike lanes on East Avenue in Brighton and Pittsford.
But Morelle has a record of accomplishment at the state level that includes shepherding the state's gun-law reform through the Assembly, helping secure state funding for Rochester-area projects, and serving on the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

Critics say Morelle's experience in the Assembly, on the County Legislature, and chairing the Monroe Democratic Committee makes him too much of a political insider. But that experience gives him a depth in both politics and elected office that the other candidates lack. That's important. Slaughter's effectiveness in Congress was crucial for this region. Her successor will need to follow her example.

Among some voters, Wilt will have the advantage of being an outsider at a time when many Americans are fed up with current politics. But Republican Jim Maxwell is an outsider, too. Both of them have the handicap of low name recognition, but Maxwell would likely be able to outspend Wilt and overcome that problem.

What about Barnhart and McFadden? Both have strong records of their own, and neither is afraid to step into a fight. As a reporter, Barnhart was a veritable bulldog. She knows how government works, and she knows how to dig out and expose its shortcomings. There's a big difference, though, between having a journalist's strong investigating and advocacy skills and working with other elected officials to accomplish something.

McFadden says he will be a voice for the voiceless in Washington, and he has been that on City Council, pushing on issues ranging from poverty and children's needs to police conduct. He has valuable experience in city government and in lobbying members of Congress, but his legislative experience is no match for Morelle's.

We're choosing Morelle over Wilt with some reluctance. Morelle would do a good job in Congress, but he represents the Democratic Party status quo at a time when the party is changing. Wilt represents where the party is headed – and where it needs to head.

Prime examples of the status quo's problems: Morelle continued to support former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, despite the accusations against Silver. And Morelle was dismissive of an Assembly staff member's sexual-abuse charges against a Silver aide.

Another problem: If Morelle is elected, we'll be sending yet another white man to Congress when Congress badly needs more women and more people of color.

It's essential, however, that Democrats hold this seat. Active Democrats in this district outnumber active Republicans, but there are many active unaffiliated voters, and Republicans are generally more effective than Democrats at turning out voters.

Money has far too much influence in politics. And yet, as Morelle himself points out, this is the system we have. Republicans will have no compunction about spending money on this campaign, and state and national Republicans sense a chance to pick up a seat Democrats have held for decades.

Morelle is highly qualified. His experience and connections in politics will make him an effective member of Congress. His connections and experience as a fundraiser mean he'll have the money to mount a strong campaign in the general election.

With Slaughter's death, Rochester lost a powerful, successful representative. Whoever replaces her will start miles behind her in influence and effectiveness. But if Morelle is elected, he'll take office already knowing quite a few of the people he'll serve with. He'll know how things work.

And crucially, he'll help other Congressional Democrats resisting Donald Trump and the complicit Republicans. Democrats must not lose Slaughter's seat, and Morelle stands the best chance of holding it.