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Monroe County Democratic leaders head back to court over Board of Elections appointment

Aug 12, 2020

The Monroe County seal
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

State Supreme Court Justice John Ark is scheduled to hear an update Friday on a lawsuit filed this spring about the process of appointing a Democratic Monroe County elections commissioner

That update takes new importance after the last Monroe County Legislature meeting.

Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, who is assistant Democratic minority leader, successfully stalled City Councilmember Jaclyn Ortiz’s appointment to the post at Tuesday night's meeting. Five Democrats, including Minority Leader Vincent Felder, and all Republicans in the Legislature supported a motion to not have a vote, 20 to 9.

Flagler-Mitchell said Wednesday that this issue isn’t about a fight within the party anymore. He said it's about a fight inside the courts because the case is still open. 

“Some of my colleagues wanted to have the vote get pushed through because they know their case has no merit,” said Flagler-Mitchell. “The reality is that we got sued. You know what I’m saying? And we are not to move until the court case is done.”

It was that court case that led to a party convention last month that overwhelmingly approved of appointing Ortiz. Flagler-Mitchell said he and many others did not participate in the convention. He said he, like Felder, didn’t approve of the process and said others couldn’t get to Genesee Valley Park for it because the location isn’t on a bus line. 

“Don’t let them fool you when they say they got 86 percent of the vote,” said Flagler-Mitchell. “There are 1,700 committee members. Three hundred showed up. And they all could carry 10 proxies.”

Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart is one of the most vocal proponents of the convention and Ortiz’s appointment. She said top party leaders, including Monroe County Democratic Party Chairwoman Brittaney Wells, helped plan the convention and no concerns were raised about its location. 

Barnhart called stopping the appointment a power grab.

“This was a fair election,” said Barnhart. “This was an inclusive election. No one complained at the time about how the election was conducted.

“What we’re seeing now is a knockdown, dragout fight,” she continued. “Over power, over jobs, over 

Credit James Brown / WXXI News

elections, over redistricting. This is all about circumventing the democratic process. If you don’t like the outcome, blow it up. That’s what we’re witnessing here. Delay. Delay. Delay. Chaos. Chaos. Chaos.”

As for Friday’s hearing, she said it's likely that Ark will be asked to intervene. 

“I imagine there will be some parties on Friday asking Judge Ark to take bolder action in this case,” said Barnhart.

What that bolder action could be is unclear, but Flagler-Mitchell speculates that the judge could force the parties to start from scratch.