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The big-tent blues


Democrats --- especially in this town --- have a reputation for fighting one another, and last weekend's countywide convention was no exception.

The convention's purpose was to designate candidates for several key races. Councilmember Wade Norwood won the mayoral designation convincingly, but retired Police Chief Bob Duffy and Councilmember Tim Mains will challenge Norwood in a September primary. And nobody believes that the party's official nod means an easy victory.

Then there's the perennial division between the faction within the party supposedly controlled by Assemblymember David Gantt and the rest of the party. Norwood clearly has Gantt's support, but also, in a bit of surprise, Assemblymember Joe Morelle's.

Morelle says he's known Norwood for 15 years and believes "he's the guy" to unite Rochester and the Democrats. He downplayed past disputes with Gantt, saying, "David and I agree on a lot more than we disagree on."

Cynics suspect political horse-trading is at work instead. One theory is that Morelle, an Irondequoit resident, needs Gantt's support in the urban neighborhoods of Rochester and Buffalo to succeed Louise Slaughter whenever she retires.

"The biggest issue at this point is political power," says one party insider.

Political power may explain why delegates snubbed School Board President Darryl Porter, designating three newcomers instead. Some Dems considered that punishment from Gantt because Porter is supporting Duffy.

The party's designations for the three School Board seats went to Cynthia Elliott (who got the designation last year but lost a primary to Domingo Garcia), Penfield High School teacher Jeff Henley, and party activist Tom Brennan.

For City Council, the convention designated City Clerk Carolee Conklin, 19th Ward Community Association President Dana Miller, incumbents Gladys Santiago and Bill Pritchard, and Lovely Warren, an attorney for Gantt in his role as Assembly transportation committee chair. Warren's selection was preceded by an hour-long, heated dispute over whether ballots had been handed out improperly.

Another surprise was Paychex Chair Tom Golisano showing up to support Independence Party County Legislature candidate David Stockmeister, who was seeking the Dems' cross-endorsement. (Stockmeister got that endorsement.)

One speculation on Golisano's appearance: that it was designed to steal media attention away from Norwood's victory. A Democratic insider says Golisano's Independence Party is expected to endorse Duffy later this month.

"We've been told it's a done deal," that person says. (Independence Party Chair Rafael Colon says endorsement interviews are taking place but he has no idea who his nominating committee will back.)

As if all that intra-party intrigue wasn't enough, three days after the convention, Party Chair Rick Dollinger stepped down to run for Brighton Town Justice.

Asked whether he thinks leaving after only a few months as chair weakens the party, his response was simple: "I don't."

"My ambition for the last four years has been to be a judge," he said. Dollinger previously ran unsuccessfully for Monroe County Court and Surrogate Court judgeships.