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Dems look to fill Robach-sized hole in Senate 

Republican state Senator Joe Robach’s announcement last week that he would not seek re-election to the office he has held for nine terms gave Democrats their best opening in 18 years to take his seat.

click to enlarge Republican Senator Joe Robach isn't running for re-election. - FILE PHOTO
  • Republican Senator Joe Robach isn't running for re-election.
That Robach was able to retain control of the 56th Senate District for so long was remarkable in that Democrats enjoy a substantial enrollment advantage there. The latest county Board of Elections enrollment figures show registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 72,373 to 44,489.

The district covers three western Monroe County towns, stretches into city neighborhoods on both sides of the Genesee River, and ends in Brighton.

Robach’s decision followed that of several of his GOP colleagues who, facing a future in the minority after the party lost control of the Senate in 2018, opted to leave the chamber altogether.

In an interview last week, Robach said he didn’t know of any Republicans gearing to replace him.

“We’ll see what happens,” Robach said. “That’s been a very challenging district, and people have said for years that when I go it’ll be hard for Republicans, but not impossible. But that’s why we have elections.”

Three Democratic candidates have already stepped forward:
  • Hilda Rosario Escher, the former CEO of the Ibero-American Action League;
  • Jeremy Cooney, former staff assistant to former House Representative Louise Slaughter and chief of staff for Mayor Lovely Warren;
  • Sherita Traywick, a professor of criminal justice at RIT and first-term school board member in the Greece Central School District.

The three candidates hold similar positions on some issues and emphasize comparable themes, including economic development, stemming the so-called “brain drain” from local universities, fostering new ideas for attracting people to the region, and working to expand opportunities for youth.

But each candidate believes that their experience sets them apart.

Cooney said he’s learned a lot from working on Democratic campaigns, including those of County Executive-elect Adam Bello and Shani Curry Mitchell, who ran for district attorney. He also said his 2018 campaign to unseat Robach — he lost by lost by 10,594 votes — gives him an edge.

“We knocked on 22,000 doors,” Cooney said. “You can’t just dismiss that. Those are 22,000 voters where you showed up, face to face, knocked on the door, in the rain or hot sun, and you built a relationship.”

Rosario Escher stressed the advocacy experience she gained in her 30 years at Ibero. She said her role heading up the organization gave her a deep understanding of the Rochester community as well as government organizations that the other candidates do not have. Rosario Escher has also served on the board of Empire State Development since 2015.

“I’ve been able to build relationships with not only elected officials, but up to the governor’s level,” Rosario Escher said. “I have the expertise, I know all the state agencies like the backs of my hands, I have dealt with them and I’ve worked with them for years.”

Traywick once worked as an aide to former state Senator Rick Dollinger, the Democrat who represented the district that was the precursor to today’s 56th District. But she frames herself as a fresh voice who has already proven her electability by winning a local race.

“The fact that I’m already serving, I’m already an elected official,” Traywick said. “I’m going back and forth from Albany and I’m building those relationships we’re going to need to be able to move things through.”

The primary will take place on Tuesday, June 23, and candidates have to file petitions to run by Thursday, April 2.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at

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