Bello spoke at Seabreeze Amusement Park, which was intended to symbolize rebirth and reopening. The park, like so many other businesses last year was closed, recently opened for a new season.
The county executive reviewed the ways his administration has tried to help businesses recover, noting some $2 million was loaned to businesses at no interest and that those loans would be forgiven altogether.
“I’m announcing those $2 million we loaned to struggling businesses in April 2020 will be converted to grants. If those funds were used on COVID-related needs, they don’t need to repay those funds back, and our team will work with business owners, and we’re going to make that happen,” Bello said.
Bello also talked about his administration's efforts to provide better mental health and addiction services, healthcare for veterans, and infrastructure improvements he plans to make to county parks facilities.
In addition to the pandemic influencing the direction of his administration — the first Democratic administration in 30 years — Bello's tenure has been plagued by bitter partisanship with Republican legislators and divisions within his own Democratic Party.
Upon his election, in which Democrats came within one seat of taking control of the County Legislature, Bello struck an optimistic tone that he would be able to work across the aisle. Not only has that proven difficult, but five members of the Democratic caucus in the County Legislature have formed a bloc with Republicans legislators to further complicate matters for Bello.
Recently, the bloc scuttled a push by Bello and most Democratic lawmakers to pass new ethics reforms, which were introduced in light of one of the break-away Democrats, Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, having sent lewd photos and messages to a 19-year-old woman. The county's Ethics Board, whose members are appointed by Bello, found last week that Flagler-Mitchell violated the county's ethics code.
“Tonight, I renew that call for bipartisanship and cooperation," Bello said. "I sent you all legislation that will codify the recommendations of the Monroe County Board of Ethics that will, among other things, update the ethics code to prohibit sexual harassment by county employees and elected officials. Let’s get it done now."
Sexual harassment is already prohibited by state law, but the bill in question would have detailed stricter definitions and penalties at the local level.
Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew released a statement after the address that accused Bello of using the pandemic to disguise the shortcomings of his administration, which he said has been “riddled with partisanship, division, and the very same practices he vowed to eliminate."
Randy Gorbman is the news director at WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.
David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.