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After months of infighting, a new county Democratic elections boss goes to work 

click to enlarge Jackie Ortiz, left, the new Monroe County Democratic elections commissioner, reports to work with her deputy commissioner, Natalie Sheppard, on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.

PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA

Jackie Ortiz, left, the new Monroe County Democratic elections commissioner, reports to work with her deputy commissioner, Natalie Sheppard, on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.

After six months of public hostilities, backroom politicking, and litigation among Monroe County Democrats over the selection of a new county elections commissioner, Jackie Ortiz reported Friday to the Board of Elections for her first day in the role.

Ortiz, who resigned her seat on the Rochester City Council in anticipation of taking the commissioner post,  was accompanied by Natalie Sheppard, who is to be the deputy elections commissioner.

Sheppard, a member of the Rochester Board of Education, stepped down from the office to assume her new duties at the Board of Elections.

Together, the pair will replace LaShana Boose, who, as deputy Democratic elections commissioner, had been fulfilling both roles since the commissioner position became vacant in March as party leaders sorted out who would be the new permanent commissioner.

Ortiz is the first Latina to head the Board of Elections in Monroe County.

Like most elections boards across New York, the Monroe County board is overseen by a pair of commissioners, one for Republicans and one for Democrats.

The process of selecting Ortiz will go down in the annals of local Democratic  politics as perhaps the most bitter intra-party battle in history — one that tore open wide simmering tensions within the party and saw the ouster of the county Legislature's minority leader.

State law leaves the process of selecting a county elections commissioner to the county party, but allows for party representatives in the county Legislature to make a selection if the party fails to act.

Party leaders initially vacillated between designating a small committee to make the selection or putting it to party members in the form of an election. The party eventually settled on holding an election, but the pandemic intervened and sidelined plans for the vote.

Making the selection then appeared to be put in the hands of the Legislature, but party members sued and a state judge ruled that the party could hold an election. A drive-through election was staged at Genesee Valley Park in July, and Ortiz was overwhelmingly elected. 

But the final step in the process, her confirmation by the Legislature, was delayed by a small faction of Democratic legislators, including the minority leader, Legislator Vincent Felder, whose members had hoped to elevate Boose to the commissioner position on a permanent basis and argued that the litigation prevented the Legislature from installing Ortiz.

The judge dismissed that argument and urged the Legislature to act. When it didn't, a majority of Democratic legislators ousted Felder and replaced him with Legislator Yversha Roman, who subsequently called a caucus meeting at which Ortiz was installed.

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