Gantt and Challengers Ready For Primary
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At a northeast Rochester senior center, David Gantt is working the crowd.
"Next Thursday, the 13th. I need all of you to come out."
The longtime Rochester Assemblyman faces a three-way Democratic primary next week, his first challenge from within his party in two decades.
"That doesn't surprise me and it shouldn't surprise you. The fact is, when you start talking about something against the grain you get yourself in trouble."
In seeking his 16th term, the sooon-to-be 71-year-old says he's motivated now by what's always motivated him.
"The fact is that poor people need representation at the state level."
The 137th Assembly District includes Rochester's poorest neighborhoods as well as a portion of the town of Gates.
"The way of doing business as usual is no longer acceptable," said Jose Cruz, a challenger.
Cruz is focusing much of his election effort in Gates, which critics say has been somewhat ignored by Gantt. The big issues people on the streets districtwide bring up are familiar: jobs, housing, taxes and education.
"And you sort of begin putting it all together and asking how do we make a difference in all of that," said Cruz.
Cruz says his experience – a career spent involved in not-for profits, the Monroe County Legislature and currently the Rochester City School Board – is a fit for Albany.
"Y'know, you've gotta be able to use the power of the position to be able to bring people together, figure out...what is your need? What is your need? Then bring those things together and use whatever state resources we can in order to make those kind of connections."
"I am part of the new generation. And the new generation has a new way of doing things, new ideas," said John Lightfoot.
Lightfoot has two decades of community involvement, from neighborhood groups to the Rochester City Council and now the County Legislature. He says more needs to be done to attract business. He says schools need more say in setting their own curriculums.
"Seventy-five percent is mandated by New York State, so I knew that's where I needed to go if I wanted to make an impact on my community," said Lightfoot.
Gantt has been a vocal critic of the city schools, and declining graduation rates. He says the current system isn't working. Two years ago, he supported a proposed City Hall takeover of the district.
"The issue is not mayoral control. The issue is the education of young people. If the system is failing them and has failed them for years, it seems to be we change to something," Gantt said.
Gantt began serving in the Assembly in 1983 in the 133rd District, which under new redistricting, becomes the 137th.
His challengers say Gantt's time has come.
"These old-timers gotta get out the way. They gotta get off the pot and let us young folks come on in and get the work done," said Lightfoot.
"We've had a gentleman whose been there for 30 years, long time, and we think it's time to change," Cruz said.
Gantt is unfazed.
"I don't worry, because my job is to make sure the people I serve get the services we pay for as taxpayers."
Voter turnout is generally low for local primaries. Because the second Tuesday of September falls on September 11th, this primary is set for Thursday the 13th.