Many Monroe County political observers expect Democratic County Clerk Adam Bello to challenge incumbent Republican Cheryl Dinolfo for county executive this year.
Democratic insiders believe the math is on their side. Democrats have been unable to turn their enrollment advantage into a win for county executive for nearly three decades, thanks to ticket-splitting, a weak party apparatus, and angst over metro government and property taxes. But times may have changed. Democrats are fired up because of Trump and they proved they know how to turn out. Many Democrats are so turned off by Republicans, they would vote for the devil himself if he was a Democrat.
These strategists also believe Bello’s simply more popular than Dinolfo. He doesn’t have to make much of a case for change, they say. Republicans are so worried about Bello, some openly talk of replacing Dinolfo on the ballot. Due to redistricting, state Sens. Joe Robach and Rich Funke likely will need new jobs in a few years.
Dinolfo’s best weapon is saying that Bello will raise taxes. Much of what Democrats complain about, such as a lack of Early Intervention funding, can only be solved with more revenue. Dinolfo could respond to every Bello complaint with, “How are you going to solve (insert problem), Adam? Where is the money going to come from?” If Bello can’t answer that question, he’s got a big problem.
Dinolfo just cut the property tax rate. For years, Democrats have complained the GOP leadership has been irresponsible in not raising more revenue. There are great arguments for raising county property taxes, but that’s probably not a winning issue in one the most property tax-burdened counties in the country.
Will issues matter if blue voters stay blue? The New York Times recently warned about suburban voters. They vote as homeowners, taxpayers and parents of school-age kids. The 2018 race in the 55th State Senate District between Funke and Democrat Jen Lunsford is instructive, as Funke clearly won a lot of suburban Democrats and independents.
Finally, a wild card for Bello is the campaign finance investigation that is focused on Mayor Lovely Warren’s 2017 re-election bid. The mayor and Brittaney Wells, the Monroe County Democratic Committee chairwoman who was Warren’s campaign manager, likely will be distracted and could prove to be big liabilities. If the investigation leads to indictments, Dinolfo can justifiably tie Warren to Bello. Elected Democrats deliberately looked the other way. In this race, each side will claim the other is corrupt, but this time, Republicans will be well-armed.
What the 2018 results could mean for 2019
A close look at the 2018 midterm election results shows some familiar divides in Monroe county: city/suburbs and eastside/westside. The results also revealed suburban voters continued their tradition of ticket-splitting, or not voting a straight party line. Clearly, party enrollment will be an important factor this fall—but not the only one. (In the interactive maps below, click on each election district for results.)
This divide was most apparent in the gubernatorial election. Democrat Andrew Cuomo won the city, Brighton, East Rochester, Henrietta, Perinton and Pittsford. Cuomo lost Penfield by a sliver and lost Webster decisively. The westside suburbs went solidly for Republican Marc Molinaro.
In the congressional race, Democrat Joe Morelle performed better than Cuomo all around, but the same divide was apparent. Maxwell picked up Webster, Sweden, Riga, Parma, Ogden, Greece, Clarkson and Chili.
Congress 25th District
Morelle picked up Gates and Penfield, which Cuomo lost, showing that people cross party lines.
Perhaps no other race showed ticket-splitting more than the 55th State Senate District. Lunsford, the Democratic candidate, won the city, but Funke won every town except Pittsford, which Lunsford won by 37 votes. This shows eastside suburbanites were not were not loyal to a party.
State Senate 55th District
Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1 in the city of Rochester—and and they vote accordingly. In the 56th District State Senate race, Robach was competitive in Maplewood and Charlotte, but Democrat Jeremy Cooney still beat him in the city and Brighton. Robach came up huge in his hometown of Greece, wiping out all of Cooney’s gains.
Despite their victories, Robach and Funke likely will not survive 2022’s redistricting .
State Senate 56th District
Rachel Barnhart is a veteran broadcast journalist and co-founder of the nonpartisan Rochester for All, where a version of this article first appeared. She was a candidate for Rochester mayor in the 2017 Democratic primary and filed a finance complaint against the Warren campaign with the state Board of Elections.