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Former RPD Chief La’Ron Singletary announces run for Congress

Jacob Walsh/CITY News

Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary on Thursday announced his candidacy for the 25th District Congressional seat.

The seat is held by Democrat Joe Morelle. Singletary will run as a Republican, a party he joined in August, according to Monroe County Board of Elections records.

For over a month, rumors swirled in political circles that Singletary would challenge Morelle. On Wednesday, his campaign site went live and on Thursday he stood at a podium in the Rochester Riverside Convention Center flanked by prominent Republicans.

Singletary said he was prompted to run on the Republican line after several meetings with Monroe County party chair Bernie Iocovangelo and former state Sen. Joe Robach.

“The constant theme was public service,” Singletary said. “Both Bernie and Joe said, ‘La’Ron, you’ve dedicated 20 years of your life to public service. You’re a man of integrity, you’re a man of strength, you’re a man who stands up for his values and principles.’”

Mayor Lovely Warren fired Singletary as police chief in September 2020, shortly after the death of Daniel Prude while in police custody became public.

Singletary had announced plans to resign, claiming Warren had urged him to lie publicly about the incident, but Warren preemptively fired him ahead of his scheduled quit date. A later investigation initiated by City Council concluded that Singletary, as well as Warren and other top city officials, suppressed information about Prude’s death, keeping it from the public.

Earlier this year he reportedly pursued the position of police chief in Austin, Texas.

Standing at the podium inside the convention center, Singletary gave a wide-ranging speech focused on issues that he sees stemming from left-leaning Democratic lawmakers. At one point, he railed against vaccine mandates.

“Today, the party that claims to be about labor and labor unions is enacting legislation that requires management to terminate essential workers,” Singletary said. “Throughout the pandemic, our first responders like our healthcare workers, our firefighters, our police officers, they were our heroes putting themselves on the frontlines. And now we’re giving them an ultimatum of choosing a jab or choosing a job.”

Singletary also blamed rising violence in cities across the nation on the “defund the police” movement, referring to it as “police oppression.”

Rochester reduced its police budget by about 5 percent this year, but the bulk of those savings were made by moving animal services to the Department of Recreation and Human Services and declining to fill vacant positions.

“Across this country, there are cities that have taken action to defund the police,” Singletary said. “Now, those same cities want a refund on the defund.”

Singletary said he became a Republican over the summer and emphasized he was not a “political person.” His sole contribution to a political campaign is a 2019 donation of $300 to the Monroe County Democratic Committee, according to state Board of Elections campaign finance records.

“Other Republicans have endorsed Democrats and I’m sure Democrats have endorsed Republicans,” Singletary said. “My job will be to work with everyone regardless of party affiliation. I became a Republican because there were some issues in the Democratic Party that I could no longer believe.”

Credit Jacob Walsh/CITY News
Singletary's campaign is backed by who's who of Rochester Republicans.

Singletary’s website touches on several issues and sounds a basic conservative position on all of them. During Thursday’s announcement, Singletary offered few direct answers when pressed by reporters on matters of policy and matter-of-fact events.

For example, when asked by a reporter if he believed Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Singletary responded, “We’re just getting started on this process, and there’s a lot to get a handle on.”

Singletary’s campaign website says he staunchly supports the Second Amendment and opposes gun control. It also bears the popular gun rights catchphrase “Shall not be infringed, means shall not be infringed.”

As a police chief, Singletary embraced efforts to get guns off city streets.

“Anytime we can remove a gun off of our streets, that is one less gun that could potentially be used to harm a citizen or a police officer,” Singletary said in a news release in 2019 highlighting a gun buyback program sponsored by Attorney General Letitia James. “We can do it better, working together. We owe it to the families and the people of this community.”

Asked about his support for gun buybacks, Singletary replied, “There are people right now who use illegal guns to commit crimes, a lot of the gun laws in New York state, criminals don’t abide by them. Anything that’s going to help people from being hurt, a citizen, a police officer, I’m in favor of that.”

Singletary likely faces an uphill battle against Morelle.

Rochester and most of its suburbs haven’t been represented in Congress by a Republican since 1986. The district has been redrawn three times since that election and for many years stretched from Rochester to Buffalo.

Singletary also has baggage. Aside from the public scrutiny he received following Prude’s death, he is in the thick of litigation on several fronts. He has been named a defendant in three different lawsuits against the Rochester Police Department, and filed his own against Mayor Lovely Warren for wrongful termination and defamation of character.

A Republican win, however, is not outside the realm of possibility. In 2014, Republican Mark Assini came within a half-point of unseating the late Louise Slaughter, who at that time had held the seat for 28 years.

Morelle responded to the announcement with a prepared statement that did not mention Singletary by name.

"There will be a time for politics, but that day is hardly today,” Morelle said. “I remain focused on providing the real solutions that hardworking families in our community deserve. Right now, I am taking action to strengthen our economy and rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, ensure the safety of our neighborhoods, protect access to affordable healthcare, and lower the cost of prescription drugs.”

Robach, who represented Greece and a portion of the city for nearly two decades in the state Senate, declined to run for office again in 2020, lamenting the rise of “communists” in the chamber.

He’s now working behind the scenes of Singletary’s campaign, and said his support for Singletary comes from wanting to see “good candidates.”

He said Republican successes in Tuesday’s elections were a sign of things to come.

“(The wins) sent a message, I think, that these far leftist ideas that aren’t working anymore did not pervade local governments and town governments,” Robach said.