City Council member Malik Evans’ decisive win over incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren in the Democratic primary on Tuesday marked a departure in key ways from past mayoral contests.
Although results have yet to be certified, with early ballots to be counted and Monroe County Board of Elections workers still taking COVID-19 precautions, Evans won big in the unofficial tally with 12,438 votes or 66 percent of the total. Warren received 6,373 votes or 34 percent.
While Warren was plagued by controversies—such as the handling of the police-involved death of Daniel Prude, her husband’s recent arrest in a drug bust, and her indictment on campaign finance charges—Evans, with previous experience as the youngest ever member of the Rochester city school board, ran a positive campaign with the theme of building bridges.
His post-win victory speech was similarly charged with a positive spin as he ended the night with a call and response chant.
“Are we afraid?” Evans said.
“No!” the crowd chanted.
“Are you ready to take Rochester to the top?” Evans asked.
“Yes!” the crowd chanted back, clapping and cheering for the presumptive primary winner.
“We can go all the way to the top if we’re not afraid,” Evans concluded.
Here are four takeaways from the Rochester Democratic mayoral primary:
Takeaway 1: Evans’ victory was balanced across the entire city.
In districts across the city, Evans won the majority of votes or was surprisingly competitive.
Seven of 11 legislative districts (which is how the Board of Elections divides vote counts geographically) had a majority of votes for Evans, compared to two for Warren. Evans’ geographic wins included Legislative District 27, which Warren won with 82 percent of the Democratic primary vote in 2017.
The two remaining legislative districts, 28 and 29, which typically are strongholds for Warren, were nearly a 50/50 split in Tuesday’s vote count. In previous contests, Warren won with at least two-thirds of the voters in those districts.
Evans’ balanced victory is nearly unprecedented in this century. In Robert Duffy’s 2005 primary performance, he won a majority of the vote in eight of 11 legislative districts. However, Duffy’s primary was against three other candidates who possibly split the vote in his favor, while Evans was competing head-to-head with Warren.
Takeaway 2: Selective downturn in voter turnout hurt Warren and helped Evans
The total turnout of registered Democrats in this primary was 26 percent, 4 percentage points lower than the turnout in the 2017 primary. However, the specific locations where the turnout dropped mattered far more than the overall numbers. Overall, lower voter turnout hurt areas of stronger support for Warren rather than strong Evans areas.
Southwest Rochester Legislative District 27 historically has been a stronghold for Warren and the location of her biggest bloc of votes in the 2013 and 2017 primaries. This year, voter turnout fell by 6 percentage points from 32 percent in 2017 to 26 percent in 2021. Similar strongholds in the center city of Rochester were also hit with lower turnout numbers, many dropping by more than 5 percentage points.
By contrast, the eastern Legislative District 23 proved to be Evans’ strongest area and maintained a voter turnout of over 40 percent. Legislative District 24, another Evans stronghold, stayed close to its 2017 turnout levels too, only dropping by 1 percentage point.
Takeaway 3: Evans maintained a lead in fundraising, but Warren spent more over the entire campaign.
As previously reported by the Rochester Beacon, in the 32-day disclosure report for the two candidate committees, Evans saw an advantage in fundraising numbers that steadily closed the gap created by Warren’s high opening balance.
That trend continued in the days leading up to the primary, data from the state Board of Elections released on June 14 shows. The Committee to Elect Malik Evans topped $240,000 in total contributions, adding nearly $70,000 to the previous disclosure amount. Friends of Lovely Warren, on the other hand, added only $20,000 to its previously reported amount.
Both campaigns increased their spending in the runup to the primary election with Evans’ committee nearly tripling its total from $52,000 to $142,000. Warren’s committee added more than $60,000 to its total spending and over the course of the campaign outspent her challenger—but her expenditures did not translate into enough votes to win.
Takeaway 4: Warren’s concession speech was softer than previous public remarks.
Late Tuesday evening, Warren preached a message of support for Evans after acknowledging his primary victory and thanking her staff and supporters.
“It is OK that the city has chosen to go in a different direction,” Warren said. “I want you all to support the new leadership. I want you all to gird him up. In the same way that you pray for me, you pray for him.”
That tone was markedly different from when Evans entered the race. On Jan. 18, Friends of Lovely Warren released a statement accusing him of attacking Warren as a Black woman.
“We’ve prepared for this moment,” the statement read. “All over the country unfortunately it’s been our brothers that have been first in line to take on sisters. The powers that be playbook hasn’t changed since the days of slavery. We know our ancestors are looking down upon us and asking … when will our people learn?”
Warren also previously suggested in a press conference that political attacks might be behind her husband’s court date being so close to the primary election.
“Finally, we need to ask ourselves, if this is not about politics, why is Tim’s next court date June 21—the day before primary day?” Warren said. “Now, that’s quite the coincidence. Now, when you figure out those answers to those questions, come find me, because I’ll be working.”
Warren’s speech last night moved past those sentiments and instead focused on the future. Recent events including the deaths of Assemblyman David Gannt, her political mentor, and her mother, were part of her personal “year of Job,” but she wanted to be seen as a symbol of resilience for Black girls like her daughter.
“This isn’t over yet, my journey isn’t over yet. The best is yet to come,” Warren said. “We may think that today was about an ending. Today was about a new beginning for me, for my daughter, for our family.”
Warren still has roughly seven months left in her term.
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is pursuing a graduate degree in journalism at City University of New York.