Adam Bello, the 39-year-old Democrat who ran for Monroe County executive on the notion that “our community needs a government as good as its people,” persuaded enough of them to convincingly elect him to the office.
His victory over the incumbent, Cheryl Dinolfo, brings to an end 27 years of Republican rule in the office – an abrupt change whose implications are expected to reverberate throughout the leadership of the county Republican Party in the coming months.
Bello, the county clerk and a darling of the county Democratic Party, built on overwhelming support from city voters to defeat Dinolfo, 58, who ran on what her campaign hoped was an established reputation for cutting taxes and restoring trust in government.
In unofficial results, Bello had captured 51.5% of votes compared to 48.4% for Dinolfo. There were 4,021 absentee ballots still outstanding that won't be counted for about a week, according to the Board of Elections.
"Tonight we begin a new chapter in our community's history," Bello said in addressing an adoring crowd of supporters at the Hyatt Hotel shortly after 11 p.m.
"We begin a future that we can be proud of and, most importantly, that our children can be proud of," he said, mentioning specifically bolstering early intervention services for children, combatting the opioid epidemic, and "breaking the cycle of poverty."
His influence may be tempered, however, by what appears to be a Republican majority in the County Legislature. All 29 seats were up for grabs, and while Republicans lost ground, the unofficial results suggested they managed to maintain a narrow majority of 15 to 14.
Bello’s victory marks just the second time a Democrat has been swept to the helm of county government since the position of a county manager was established in 1935 and since the introduction of a county executive in 1983.
The last Democrat to lead the county was Thomas Frey, who was elected in 1987 and ousted four years later, along with the majority of Democratic legislators who were swept into office with him.
The race for county executive was the most expensive on record, with the campaigns of both candidates collectively spending $1.2 million between them leading into the last week of the campaign. Dinolfo edged out Bello in spending, while Bello raised slightly more.
Contrast that with the roughly $700,000 spent by Dinolfo and her Democratic opponent Sandra Frankel in 2015, when Dinolfo was seeking her first term.
Bello, a married father of two from Irondequoit, was that town's supervisor before he was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to assume a vacancy in the County Clerk's office left by Dinolfo when she was elected county executive in 2015. He was elected to the seat the following year.
A student of politics who studied the game under Rep. Joe Morelle, Bello paid homage to his mentor, saying that his victory would not have been possible without Morelle "taking a chance" on him.
Dinolfo conceded the race at 10:45 p.m. Taking the podium at Republican headquarters at the Holiday Inn on State Street, she thanked her supporters and department heads.
"Each and every one of you stepped up to the plate and made this community great," Dinolfo said. "I am so proud to have served with all of you."
She added that she felt the "table had been set" for Monroe County and Bello and wished him luck. "I truly believe we left Monroe County better than we found it," she said.
Timothy Kneeland, a political scientist at Nazareth College, said Bello had a natural advantage with a groundswell of new voters registering Democratic in the suburbs in the last year and Dinolfo's ties to the Republican machine.
"Cheryl was new to the office, but she associated to some extent with Maggie Brooks and a long Republican reign," Kneeland said. "People know Bello. He comes from the suburbs, and he's not coming off as a national progressive Democratic threat to suburban voters."
David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.