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Wilt launches House bid, picks up progressive group's endorsement

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[UPDATED] Brighton Town Board member Robin Reynolds Wilt is entering the race for the late Louise Slaughter's House seat, and she's got the backing of ROCitizen, a local progressive group.

Wilt released a YouTube video earlier today announcing her run, and during an interview she said that she filed her candidacy statement with the Federal Election Commission yesterday. Wilt is a longtime progressive activist, and she said she's running for the 25th Congressional District seat to honor Slaughter's pioneering progressivism.

Slaughter was a trailblazer, Wilt said, and her successor should continue to build on her progressive legacy as a champion of women's rights, health care reform, equity, justice, and "ensuring the most inclusive democracy possible."

"That's why I'm in this race," Wilt said.

A Democratic primary is likely. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Democrat, announced his bid for the seat on Monday. Andrew Gilchrist, a Perinton resident who is president and CEO of the educational tech startup Puls Learning, had previously announced that he's seeking the seat. And Rachel Barnhart, a former television news reporter turned candidate and city government watchdog, is considering a run. (The county Republican and Conservative parties have endorsed Dr. Jim Maxwell.)

Morelle has the support of key figures in the local Democratic establishment, including Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley and Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle and some members of both towns' boards. At his announcement, he was flanked by County Clerk Adam Bello, Assembly member Harry Bronson, and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, who called for the party to unite behind him.



Wilt, however, is positioning herself as a grassroots candidate who differs from Morelle on some major issues. She's a committed supporter and advocate for single-payer health care, for example. And she's critical of Morelle for accepting substantial campaign donations from large corporations.

ROCitizen sent out a press release just after midnight announcing its endorsement of Wilt. The organization grew out of Monroe County for Bernie Sanders, the local campaign operation for the Vermont senator's 2016 presidential bid, and Wilt was a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention. ROCitizen's press release also notes that she volunteered on former President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and founded the local chapter of Progressive Democrats for America.

“Robin Wilt is a true progressive leader and would make an exceptional successor to the late Louise Slaughter,” Ravi Mangla, co-director of ROCitizen, said in a press release sent out just after midnight. “She is someone who will fight for low and middle-income communities, for communities of color, for the LGBTQ community, and for all those who have seen their livelihoods threatened by the Trump agenda. The Monroe County Democratic Party wants a coronation. We believe that voters deserve a real choice in the primary.”

During an interview yesterday, Mangla talked about ROCitizen's concerns with Morelle, which mirror Wilt's criticims. If Morelle were to refuse contributions from large corporations, ROCitizen would be more open to entertaining him as a candidate, he says. Corporate influence in politics is a major issue for the group's members.

But the organization also questions Morelle's position on health-care reform. That was a major issue for Slaughter, and during his announcement Monday, Morelle said he'd advocate for universal health care. ROCitizen members, however, advocate for a single-payer system. There is a difference between the two.

Universal health care is a broad term that basically means the government ensures that all people have access to necessary health care, regardless of their ability to pay for it. Such a system can be built around private insurance companies. Single-payer is a kind of universal health care, but the government covers all medically-necessary services; care is still delivered through private providers.

Morelle hasn't signed on to sponsor an Assembly bill that would establish single-payer health care in New York, and he's previously voted against the New York Health Act, which also would have established single-payer health care, Mangla said.

Slaughter was a fierce and vocal supporter of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which was a major step toward universal health care. And she had signed on to Medicare for All legislation, Wilt says.

"We would love to see somebody build on Louise's progressive record and take things in an even more progressive direction," Mangla said. "We definitely feel that there's a potential and a hunger of voters to see true progressive representation in the area."

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