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Primary winners try to lock in Council seats


In this year’s City Council elections, 11 candidates are battling it out for five open seats.

Typically, primary elections function as the general election for City Council, but this year is a little different. There are five Democrats on the ballot, all of whom clawed their way through a crowded primary field, who will face three Republican challengers and two Working Families Party candidates.

The winners will take office following more than a year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted every aspect of life. They’ll also be seated at a time of elevated racial, social, and political tensions locally and nationally. Against that backdrop, they’ll have to make hard decisions about myriad issues, from road projects to funding and reforming the Rochester Police Department.

The new Council will also be working with a new executive in the form of presumptive Mayor-elect Malik Evans, who defeated incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren in the June primary.

The candidates represent a mix of incumbents, activists, and community advocates.


Access to healthy foods has been a major focus of Mitch Gruber’s career, and he has woven that interest into his role on Council as a driving force behind the city’s Food Policy Council, and as a go-to contact for the city’s growing urban agriculture and garden community.

Gruber was elected to Council in 2017, but his work in the city spans about a decade, most of it through Foodlink, where he is the chief strategy and partnerships officer.

His other interests include affordable housing and equitable development in the burgeoning cannabis industry. He currently serves as the chair of Council’s Parks and Public Works Committee.

Republican, Conservative

As a Democrat, Ann Lewis unsuccessfully sought several offices, from the County Legislature to the state Assembly. But this time around, as she seeks a City Council seat, she’s running as a Republican and is carrying the Conservative line.

Lewis has downplayed the importance of her party affiliation. On her website, she stated that she believes all political ideologies “have some facet of merit” and that she embraces their positive dimensions.

As far as policies, Lewis wants to develop those which promote generational wealth, tax breaks for homeowners and small business owners, and reforms to keep the community safe.

Lewis is a special education teacher in the Rochester City School District. Prior to that she worked for 16 years as a rehabilitation counselor at the Monroe County Jail.

City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot - FILE PHOTO
  • City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot

Willie Lightfoot is closing out his first term on City Council but has the longest political tenure of any of the candidates seeking one the body’s five at-large seats. Lightfoot was elected in 2006 to represent southwest Rochester in the Monroe County Legislature. He served three terms before taking up his post on the City Council, where he is the vice president.

Lightfoot is a retired city firefighter and a veteran of the United States Air Force who served in Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom. His priorities include public safety — he has been steadfast in his support for Rochester police officers — as well as economic and youth development.

  • Stanley Martin
Democrat, Working Families Party

Stanley Martin has been part of Rochester’s activist community for several years, but she rose to prominence last year as a lead organizer with Free the People Roc and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Martin currently works as a parole and re-entry coordinator for the advocacy organization VOCAL-NY. She was a member of the Police Accountability Board Alliance and formerly interned as a mental health counselor for Monroe County inmates.

Falling solidly to the left of the other Council candidates, Martin is focused on abolishing police and prisons and has a staunch anti-capitalist viewset. She believes city government is not working for the people.

Miguel Meléndez - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Miguel Meléndez
Democrat, Working Families Party

Miguel Meléndez was appointed to City Council a year ago to fill the seat left vacant when Jackie Ortiz became the county’s Democratic elections commissioner.

His work, past and present, has focused largely on revitalizing neighborhoods along the North Clinton Avenue corridor. He played roles in creating La Marketa on North Clinton and the El Camino Revitalization Area Charrette and Vision Plan.

Meléndez, who for the past year and a half has served as Ibero-American Action League’s chief community engagement officer, refers to himself as a “bridge builder.”

  • Jasmin Reggler
Working Families Party

Jasmin Reggler entered the public eye when she was denied an opportunity to work as an aide to Councilmember Mary Lupien because she failed a drug test that detected THC in her system. She took the issue public and, as a result, the city stopped testing many current and prospective employees for marijuana use.

Throughout her campaign, Reggler has emphasized that she would strive to listen to the needs of the community. As house coordinator at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, a job she’s had for eight years, and as an organizer for the Rochester City-Wide Tenants Union, housing issues and homelessness are among her key focuses.

Reggler, who will appear on the Working Families Party line, is also a staunch supporter of the Police Accountability Board, which she believes needs more funding and independence from city government.

Victor Sanchez first ran for Monroe County Legislature in 2019, just seven months after becoming a U.S. citizen. - PROVIDED
  • Victor Sanchez first ran for Monroe County Legislature in 2019, just seven months after becoming a U.S. citizen.
Working Families Party

Victor Sanchez has focused his campaign on issues such as housing and homelessness, and investing more in historically neglected areas.

He is also a proponent of reducing the staff and weaponry of the Rochester Police Department, funding the Police Accountability Board, and expanding the city’s Person in Crisis team.

An RIT graduate who works for Wegmans as a virtual design and construction systems administrator, Sanchez also serves on the board of Trillium Health, City Roots Community Land Trust, Reconnect Rochester, Genesee Land Trust, and Climate Solutions Accelerator of the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region.

A Mexican immigrant, Sanchez ran unsuccessfully for Monroe County Legislature in 2019, seven months after receiving U.S. citizenship.

  • Kim Smith
Democrat, Working Families Party

Kim Smith is a former employee of the Monroe County Health Department best known for her work on matters related to HIV, though she got her start at the agency in the early 1990s working on lead control.

After she left her role as a supervising public health representative in 2017, Smith went to work for the activist organization VOCAL-NY. Last year, she made a run for the 61st State Senate District seat and, later, vied to fill a vacant seat on the City Council. She lost both campaigns.

Although she is a member of The People’s Slate with Stanley Martin and others, Smith’s beliefs are less radical than her running-mates. She does not favor abolishing the police, but does believe reforms are needed, including redirecting money from the Police Department to affordable housing, educational opportunities, and financial empowerment.

Marcus williams - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Marcus williams
Republican, Conservative

When Marcus Williams ran for City Council in 2019, it was the first time someone had run on the Republican line in eight years. This year, he’s one of three GOP candidates for Council on the ballot. He also has the Conservative line.

Williams’s website uses the motto “Saving You Money and Increasing Quality of Life,” and his agenda follows that theme. He calls for a forensic audit of city government and limiting spending by cutting back on “city corporate welfare.” He opposes the notion of “defunding the police,” saying it would harm Black and underserved communities.

He wants to create programs to support entrepreneurship, rework zoning codes, pursue a public-private partnership to build a city-wide ultra-high-speed wireless internet network, and wants to invest in infrastructure.

Antonia Wynter - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Antonia Wynter
Voice of the People

Antonia Wynter is an independent candidate running on the Voice of the People line.

Wynter is a member of the Community Justice Initiative, an activist group with a stated aim of dismantling white supremacy in education, economics, housing, healthcare, politics, and other areas, and also to empower communities in those sectors.

As one of her top priorities, Wynter has said she wants to address the way the city handles residents with mental health issues, adding that those in need of support are often victimized and criminalized. Specifically, she has called for community policing and directing funds away from the Police Department and into other community-based alternatives.

Her platform also emphasizes using community projects to provide training to young people, renovating vacant houses for homeless and low-income people, investing in the arts, and contracting with businesses to keep them in the city for seven years.


Jayvon Johnson, who is on the Republican and Conservative lines, did not have any background or details of his platform on his website. He did not respond to an email sent to his campaign account seeking that information.

Feedback on this story can be directed to Jeremy Moule, CITY's news editor, at [email protected].