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Rochester Mayor James Smith diagnosed with COVID-19

James Smith was sworn in early Thursday via video conference. He is in isolation after having been diagnosed with COVID-19.
City Hall
James Smith was sworn in early Thursday via video conference. He is in isolation after having been diagnosed with COVID-19.

James Smith, who was sworn in as Rochester’s mayor early Thursday to fill out the remainder of Lovely Warren’s term, took the oath of office in isolation after having been diagnosed with COVID-19.

City spokesperson Justin Roj said Smith informed city officials of his condition on Saturday and that he has been working in quarantine throughout his illness.

In an interview with WXXI News conducted via video conference, Smith appeared to be in good health and said he was feeling well, but described experiencing aggressive, cold-like symptoms after falling ill.

"It knocked me pretty good," Smith said, adding that he expected to be released from isolation on Monday.

Smith cast his illness as an opportunity to use his bully pulpit as the newly installed mayor to urge city residents to get vaccinated. He said he was previously vaccinated and got a booster shot last week, but that he noticed a lost sense of smell and taste at Thanksgiving and that those senses have yet to return.

"My doctor, I think, felt my outcome was as good as it’s been largely because of [my vaccination], and I agree," Smith said.

“You know, being vaccinated isn’t something we do for us, really, to be honest," he went on. "It’s something we can do for everybody, particularly the most vulnerable amongst us, because they might not have ended up having as great an outcome as I did."

Smith, 52, the former deputy mayor under Warren, is expected to be the mayor through Dec. 31. He was required by the city charter to take up the post after Warren resigned late Wednesday as part of a plea deal to resolve criminal charges against her.

City Hall released a video Thursday of Smith being sworn in over video conference. In the video, he wore a blue suit and tie and appeared healthy.

Smith is the first openly gay man to serve as the city's mayor. In a nod to that historic moment, he was administered the oath by Justice Joanne Winslow, of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, who is considered a pioneering member of the local LGBTQ+ community. During the ceremony, the outgoing mayor, Warren, held a Bible. All three participants were in separate locations.

Throughout the day Thursday, Smith conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with local media outlets and formally appointed Tassie Demps to succeed him as deputy mayor. She becomes the first Black woman to hold that title.

Mayor-elect Malik Evans is scheduled to take office on Jan. 1.

With reporting by Randy Gorbman, news director of WXXI News.

David Andreatta is investigations editor. He joined the WXXI family in 2019 after 11 years with the Democrat and Chronicle, where he was a news columnist and investigative reporter known for covering a range of topics, from the deadly serious to the cheeky.
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