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Roman elected Monroe County Legislature president in contentious leadership vote

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For the first time in 33 years, Democrats control both the Monroe County Legislature and county executive’s office.

But infighting within the caucus led to a contentious leadership vote on the Legislature floor. After two rounds of voting Tuesday and another two rounds Wednesday, legislators elected Democrat Yversha Roman to serve as the Legislature’s new president by a party line vote of 16 to 13.

“I cannot and I will not be able to do this alone,” Roman said as she took the dais. “It's now time to rebuild, restructure and re-energize the Legislature.

“I'm honored to take that charge as we move Monroe County forward,” said Roman, who is the first Latina to ever hold the position.

Democrat Sabrina LaMar, Roman’s predecessor, was the first Black woman in county history elected as the Legislature’s president. LaMar, who caucused with Republicans, was not reelected to her seat.

Roman has been a legislator since 2020, and previously served as leader of the Democratic caucus. Legislator Michael Yudelson is taking that job over and will serve as the chamber’s majority leader.

Democrats won 16 of the Legislature’s 29 seats in this past November’s election, giving them a two-seat majority. But heading into Tuesday’s vote, Roman had secured votes from only 14 of her caucus’s members. A nominee needs to get a simple majority of 15 votes to be elected president.

Legislator Mercedes Vazquez Simmons also ran for president with the support of Legislator Rachel Barnhart, both of whom are Democrats. They opposed Roman because she voted against a $10 million housing fund proposed by Barnhart and backed by Vazquez Simmons and wouldn’t reconsider it in exchange for their support.

On Tuesday, Barnhart nominated Vazquez Simmons for president, but she earned only two votes. Vazquez Simmons wasn’t nominated during the second round, but both she and Barnhart abstained from voting, leaving Roman with 14 votes and the Republican nominee, Legislator Jackie Smith, with 13 votes. During both rounds, Republicans voted as a bloc.

On Wednesday, Barnhart and Vazquez Simmons again abstained during the first round of voting, but during the second, both cast their vote for Roman. Later in the meeting, Roman appointed Vazquez Simmons as vice president.

In a news release, Barnhart and Vazquez Simmons congratulated Roman. They also said that Democratic caucus leaders agreed to create a task force to "make concrete budgetary recommendations to the County Executive and the Legislature" on housing issues.

"Thank you to all of our colleagues for their commitment to a true Democratic majority,” Vazquez-Simmons said in the release. “We worked through many issues to arrive at a place that sets us up for success for the next four years.”

Roman received vocal support from the Rochester Latinx Roundtable, an organization of influential Latinos. Its members include Ibero-American Action League CEO Angelica Perez-Delgado, Rochester City Council President Miguel Meléndez, Rochester school board Vice President Beatriz Lebron, Puerto Rican Festival President Orlando Ortiz, PathStone CEO Alex Castro, and Annette Ramos, a storyteller and advocate for Latino representation in the local arts and culture scene.

In a public letter of support, the Roundtable stated that Roman “exemplifies the kind of leadership our community needs as president of the Monroe County Legislature.”

“The past two years have demonstrated that collaborative leadership is essential to navigating the path forward for a diverse governing body with Legislators representing a range of interests,” the letter states.

Roman currently works at Empire Justice Center as director of a program that helps low-income people with their taxes and asset-building.

Monroe County legislators will be paid $28,500 this year. As president, Roman will be paid an additional $45,000 stipend.