Monroe County Democratic legislators say they have ousted their leader
Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature said Tuesday that they had voted to replace the head of their caucus, Minority Leader Vincent Felder, as festering tensions within the party reached an inflection point.
But the intra-party friction only intensified when Felder claimed the vote was illegitimate and the president of the Legislature, saying he would not “pick sides” declined to recognize the purported leadership change.
Felder, who represents the 22nd Legislative District in northeast Rochester, has held the post for eight months and his tenure has been dogged by infighting in his caucus over the appointment of a new Board of Elections commissioner.
Several legislators said that Felder had been ousted and replaced by Legislator Yversha Roman during a contentious virtual caucus meeting that Felder had convened at noon at which they described Felder refusing to push forward the installation of the party’s recommended choice for the party’s county elections commissioner.
Following the meeting, Legislator John Baynes, a Democrat from Perinton, sent an email to the president of the Legislature stating that nine of the caucus’s 14 members had voted to replace Felder after he hung up on the Zoom call.
“I made a motion in a meeting that Vince had called naming Yversha Roman as the new minority leader . . . and the screen went immediately blank, as the host of the meeting, Vince, shut the meeting down,” Baynes said in an interview.
“When the leader of a group refuses to represent the will of the group, he effectively resigns,” Baynes added.
Reached by phone, Felder claimed to have no knowledge of a caucus and refused to comment when pressed. “I don’t know anything about that,” Felder said.
The development was not entirely unexpected. CITY first reported earlier this month that a movement was afoot among Democratic legislators to replace Felder.
Roman, in an interview, said she considered herself the minority leader. “It’s an internal function of the caucus,” she said.
Legislators supporting the ouster claimed that their vote was valid, saying that the change was effective immediately based on the will of the majority of the caucus.
Whether it will be recognized as such by the Legislature was not immediately clear.
During a video conference meeting of legislators from both sides of the aisle Tuesday evening, President Joseph Carbone, a Republican from Irondequoit, abruptly adjourned the gathering, citing the dispute over leadership among the Democrats.
Carbone noted that Roman claimed to be the new leader and that Felder claimed the vote was improperly conducted.
“It’s no secret that there is a dispute over who is the rightful minority leader,” Carbone said. “I’m here to tell you that I’m not picking sides.”
He said the meeting would be adjourned until “the caucus reaches a consensus.”
Any hope of the meeting reconvening was dashed an hour later, when Roman and the eight other Democratic legislators who supported her released a statement that referred to Roman as the minority leader and blasted Carbone for not recognizing her as such.
“Shutting down our government and abandoning the people’s work because you don’t like the rightful decision of the minority caucus is outrageous and undemocratic,” the statement read in part.
Some Democratic legislators suggested their only recourse to have Roman recognized might be to bring a lawsuit against the Legislature.
County Executive Adam Bello followed up with a statement of his own condemning Carbone and saying that the adjournment delayed the consideration of legislation that would have provided $124 million to local governments to fund a variety of initiatives, from fighting the opioid crisis to creating a county Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
“Enough is enough,” Bello said. “Our community is facing too many challenges and demands a county legislature that acts on behalf of the people, and not politics as usual.”
Legislators who voted for the leadership change at the Democratic caucus meeting earlier in the day said they had hoped Felder would advance the appointment of Jackie Ortiz to the post of the county’s Democratic elections commissioner.
They said that when Felder declined, they took action to replace him.
Ortiz, who serves on the City Council, was elected by Monroe County Democratic Committee members last month, and most Democratic legislators have been awaiting her confirmation by the full Legislature.
But Felder, along with a faction of four other Democratic legislators, aligned with the Republican majority to delay voting to confirm Ortiz, citing ongoing litigation over the process used to select her.
The judge in that case, state Supreme Court Justice John Ark, has since said that nothing was precluding the Legislature from installing Ortiz and, in fact, encouraged the legislators to do so.
He said two weeks ago that the Legislature had until August 26 to act, and scheduled the parties involved in the litigation to update him on August 28.
In their statement, Roman and the eight other Democratic legislators said they would appoint Ortiz on Thursday morning.