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Monroe County Democratic legislators eye ousting leader

Aug 7, 2020

Monroe County Legislature Minority Leader Vince Felder.
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A movement is afoot among Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature to oust the head of their caucus, Minority Leader Vince Felder, after less than eight months on the job.

The tenure of Felder, who assumed the leadership on Jan. 1, has been tumultuous by any measure, dominated by wrangling among Democratic legislators and county Democratic Party loyalists over the appointment of a new Board of Elections commissioner.

Several Democratic legislators said they were planning to meet over the weekend in a video conference to discuss Felder’s future and possibly vote to replace him.

Reached early Friday by phone, Felder acknowledged that efforts by some legislators in his caucus to remove him were underway, but declined to comment on the process.

“I’m aware of it,” Felder said. “I’ve heard there are certain people who want me to go.”

The Democratic caucus consists of 14 legislators. Eight of those Democratic legislators would have to agree to remove Felder and choose his successor.

Felder, who represents the 22nd Legislative District in northeast Rochester, took the leadership post at a heady time for his party. Democrats had just capped a dominant election season by taking the county executive’s office for the first time in a generation and coming within one seat of the majority in the 29-seat Legislature.

Only weeks into the legislative session, his caucus, along with the new Democratic county executive, Adam Bello, claimed an early victory when they convinced the Republican majority to repeal a controversial law that criminalized “annoying” a police officer and that had been adopted only months earlier.

But the resignation of the county’s Democratic elections commissioner in late February opened a rift in the party over who would assume the post that would widen in the ensuing months.

Felder publicly supported permanently installing the current acting Democratic elections commissioner, LaShana Boose, over the objections of key members of the Monroe County Democratic Committee and legislators in his caucus who wanted party members to vote for the next commissioner in an election.

His support for Boose, a relative newcomer to the Board of Elections who had been named deputy Democratic elections commissioner six months earlier, was widely viewed by Felder’s opponents as his aligning with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and a faction of the Democratic Party loyal to her.

While Warren never publicly announced her support for Boose, she had endorsed Boose for previous elected offices and raised the stakes of the commissioner fight by calling on the Legislature to exercise what she believed was its right to appoint a commissioner.

A lawsuit ensued and the court ordered the party to hold an election for the job.

Party members late last month elected City Council member Jackie Ortiz, who is expected to be installed in the coming days.

The infighting intensified, however, as some legislators accused Felder of dragging his feet on getting Ortiz before the full Legislature for confirmation sooner.

Felder on Friday said that Ortiz’s confirmation was on the agenda for the next scheduled meeting of the Legislature on Aug. 11.

Several Democratic legislators who expressed frustration with Felder's leadership pointed to his recent voting record, in which he sided with the Republican majority on a few pieces of sensitive legislation, as problematic.

In one case, Felder voted with Republicans to create six new supervisory positions in the Board of Elections. The measure passed and was subsequently vetoed, but the veto was later overridden, again with the support of Felder. 

On another occasion, Felder broke with the majority of his caucus to vote with Republicans against a bill introduced by Bello that would have ended pandemic-related hazard pay for some county workers. In a memo to the Legislature about the bill, Bello rationalized the number of employees at risk of becoming infected by the novel coronavirus had been reduced.

Legislator Rachel Barnhart, a Rochester Democrat who was among three legislators who joined the lawsuit against Felder over the elections commissioner selection process, said she would elect to remove Felder if given the chance.

“He has created disunity and led us down a path of destruction,” Barnhart said. “I am extremely sad at the state of our caucus and we need a way forward. Removing the minority leader doesn’t solve our problems, but it does offer us a way forward.”

David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.