Public safety and taxes are key issues as Assini challenges Bello for county executive
Mark Assini, the Republican candidate for Monroe County executive, stood at his podium during a recent televised debate, looked into the camera, and used his opening statement to ask and answer an age-old campaign-trail question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
“We all know the answer, it’s ‘no,’” he said. “We have record crime, homelessness, and poverty and that in part is why our economy has lost thousands of jobs in the last four years.”
The opening salvo was intended as a rebuke of the man standing at another podium to his right — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, who four years ago became the first Democrat to take the office in more than three decades.
Throughout his campaign, Assini has tried to make a case to voters that Bello has been an ineffective executive who hasn’t done enough to lower taxes, improve public safety, and elevate the local economy.
The debate was his most public opportunity to do that. But it also offered Bello a chance to promote and defend his record, which he seized upon.
Bello talked about how his administration has addressed the ongoing opioid crisis by hiring clinicians to work with people struggling through addiction, created a 24-hour hotline to connect people to services, and distributed “tens of thousands” of doses of the anti-overdose drug naloxone. He also touted county investments in programs that train workers for advanced manufacturing, health care, and construction trades.
He also stressed that he lowered the property tax rate. Earlier this year he announced that his 2024 budget proposal would hold the property tax levy flat and set the county tax rate at its lowest level since 1947. He also ushered a measure through the Legislature to remove county sales tax on items of clothing and footwear under $110.
As for Assini’s assertion that Monroe County lost thousands of jobs during Bello’s term, job numbers plummeted across the state during the pandemic. Monroe County had 533,500 jobs at the outset of the health crisis in March 2020, according to the state Labor Department. That number dropped by 80,000, but has rebounded to 525,600 as of September 2023, according to the agency.
Bello painted Assini as a soldier of the Republican administrations that led the county for decades. At one point, he dinged Assini for voting in favor of a massive tax hike and for cutting funding for school nurses in the Rochester City School District while Assini was a county legislator. Bello argued that some of Assini’s votes during his time in the County Legislature set the stage for problems the county now faces
“At the end of the day, this campaign is about a choice,” Bello said during his opening remarks at the debate. “We can go back to the old days of fiscal insolvency and disinvestment in our community, or we can continue to bring people back together to solve our problems.”
ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
When Bello unseated incumbent Republican County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo in 2019, he became the first Democrat in 27 years to win the seat. It was a major victory for the Democratic Party, which has made substantial enrollment gains across Monroe County in recent years.
It was also the second time Bello took a seat Dinolfo had held. Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Bello to serve as county clerk in 2016 after Dinolfo took over as county executive. But he had prior government and political experience as a past Irondequoit town supervisor, an administrator in the District Attorney’s Office, executive director of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, and as an aide to then-Assemblymember Joe Morelle.
Assini is currently the chief administrative officer for American Rock Salt Company. But prior to that, he was Gates town supervisor from 2010 to 2018. And before that, he served in the Monroe County Legislature from 1996 to 2006, authoring the legislation that set 10-year term limits in the chamber.
He also greatly raised his profile in 2014 when he mounted a challenge to Democratic House Rep. Louise Slaughter and nearly unseated her. She beat him by less than 1,000 votes out of the 196,516 cast. Two years later Slaughter, who died in 2018, beat him decisively.
But those races showed that Assini could be a formidable challenger even against deeply entrenched incumbents.
In this election, he’s once against fighting an uphill battle against an opponent with more resources. As of 11 days prior to the election, Bello had raised more than $725,000 and had approximately $123,300 left on hand. Assini had raised approximately $151,300 and had $25,350 left on hand.
IDEAS ON PUBLIC SAFETY
With many county residents concerned over things like car thefts and gun violence, public safety has been the top issue for practically all Democratic and Republican candidates in this year’s local races. With Bello and Assini, it’s no different. And it’s an area in which they’ve sought to differentiate themselves.
Bello has largely campaigned on what he and his administration have already done. In particular he’s highlighted the $7.3 million expansion of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that he and Sheriff Todd Baxter ushered through the Legislature. The expansion will add 41 deputies and establish a new Regional Investigative Operations Center to coordinate investigations into patterns of criminal activity, such as smash and grab thefts, that span multiple jurisdictions.
He’s also talked up a new juvenile diversion program, better known by its acronym JEDS, that his administration rolled out to help address car thefts and other issues. The program places juveniles charged with crimes under intensive supervision by the county Probation Department and is intended connect them with programs and services they wouldn’t otherwise have access to until later in their cases.
“There’s no question we need to invest in our youth,” Bello said during the debate.
Assini has said that law enforcement needs to be fully funded and the county needs to hire more deputies. But he pointed out that the Bello-Baxter plan to expand the sheriff’s office came just a couple of months ahead of this year’s election.
He also said he would publicly advocate for state lawmakers to repeal reforms they made to New York’s parole, juvenile justice, and bail laws that he believes fuel crime. He criticized Bello for not making the same commitment.
During the Voice of the Voter debate, Assini unveiled a public safety initiative of his own, which he called “Rochester Families First.” He proposes working with faith leaders from across the area and using county resources to lay out a plan to “conduct missions in our own city” to help young people. If nothing else, engaging with the youth will show them that people care, Assini said.
“We must attack third-world-style poverty in Rochester with a sense of urgency together,” Assini said.