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Cooney ahead in three-way 56th Senate District race


The three hopefuls on the ballot in the 56th Senate District Democratic primary found themselves in the same situation as many other candidates Tuesday night: none could claim victory.

Jeremy Cooney, a lawyer and former chief of staff for Mayor Lovely Warren held the lead with about 45 percent of the 9,131 votes cast at polling sites.  Greece Board of Education member Sherita Traywick had approximately 29 percent of the vote and former Ibero-American Action League CEO Hilda Rosario Escher received about 27 percent.

Jeremy Cooney - FILE PHOTO
  • file photo
  • Jeremy Cooney
The outcome of the race won’t be clear until county elections officials count the outstanding mail-in ballots — there are likely thousands of them — which they’ll do on June 30, as specified under state law. Cooney is the only one in the group that knows for sure he’ll be on the ballot in the November general election, since he has the Working Families Party line.

Whoever prevails in the Democratic primary will face Republican Mike Barry.

The 56th Senate District seat has been held by Republican Joe Robach since 2003, but in December he announced he wouldn’t seek a 10th term, citing infiltration of “far left” and “communist” politics in the Senate.

Quickly after Robach’s announcement, Cooney, Traywick, and Rosario Escher tossed their hats into the ring.

Democrats have long seen an opportunity to grab the seat because the party has the enrollment advantage, though they’ve never been successful largely because of Robach’s popularity. The 56th District includes parts of the city of Rochester and three westside towns. It stretches to Brighton on its eastern edge.

Outside of the polling site at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church on Adams Street, a few cars sat in the parking lot. It was an unsurprisingly modest turnout given that the public has for the past few months been told to avoid venturing out if they don’t need to in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The governor issued an order that let anyone in New York cast an absentee ballot in the primary, which he and other officials encouraged voters to do.

Cooney arrived at Mt. Olivet with his fiancee, Diane, to cast their ballots.

“The race has been an interesting one for sure, in the sense we’re in a new era of campaigning,” Cooney said, noting that his campaign closed its office early on in the pandemic.

Rosario-Escher, Cooney, and Traywick had a laundry list of political ideas prior to the pandemic. But COVID-19 has added a major new dimension to the way their campaigns operated, and necessitated a change in priorities.
Hilda Rosario Escher - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Hilda Rosario Escher

During a phone interview, Rosario Escher said now is the time to focus on regrowing American industry and fostering economic growth.

“We’ve realized how dependent we are on China,” Rosario Escher said. “I really believe that we can bring those manufacturing jobs back here and we can start growing different, small manufacturing businesses for people to work at in their neighborhoods.”

Rosario Escher also said the pandemic has underscored that equitable access to healthcare needs to be a priority. 
Sherita Traywick - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • Sherita Traywick
Traywick, meanwhile, said ensuring education returns to normal in fall is a personal focus.

“We need to be making sure our kids are getting the resources they need,” Traywick said during a phone interview. “Especially in light of what schools are going to look like when they go back maybe in September.”

All candidates put healthcare near the top of their priority list, both as a result of COVID and to address long-standing disparities. Cooney specified maternal health legislation as his first desired action; the wife of one of his campaign’s volunteers died after giving birth to twins.

“I made a promise to pass maternal health legislation to do research and provide more education, especially in communities of color,” Cooney said.

The general election is set for Nov. 3.

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