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Voters will help shape legislature through primary contests

Jill Terreri
Staff writer

Primary voters will help lay the groundwork for what is expected to be a contentious election season that will determine the fate of the Monroe County Legislature and, by extension, the success of County Executive Maggie Brooks' remaining years in office.

The legislature has just a few primaries, and most are in minor parties, but Democrats will decide who will represent the party on the general election ballot in three cases.

Former Suffolk County Legislator Nora Bredes, the endorsed candidate, will face Robert Antonitis, a retired General Motors employee, for the opportunity to run against incumbent Ciaran Hanna in the 18th District, which includes Perinton and Pittsford.

In the city's 21st District, Democrat Janice Bowers is running against Legislator Carrie Andrews, who will appear on the Independence and Working Families party lines in November regardless of the primary outcome.

And in Rochester's 29th District, where Legislator Jose Cruz cannot run again because of term limits, endorsed candidate Saul Maneiro will face Michael Patterson. Cruz will be running for the Rochester Board of Education.

Republicans have controlled the legislature during all of Brooks' tenure as county executive, and their presence has allowed her to enact policies and budgets without substantial opposition. Brooks had an approval rating of 64 percent in October, though she is criticized by legislature Democrats, who question her administration's policies on fiscal matters and other issues.

There are 29 seats in the legislature, with 15 up for grabs this year. Republicans control 15 seats and are defending eight.

The Democrats, for example, have criticized Republicans' handling in 2008 of the selection of a public defender and a president for Monroe Community College, though the eventual appointees have not been opposed by Democrats. In the case of MCC, the community outcry was effective enough that the selection process was changed before an appointment was made.

If Democrats take over the legislature, they could throw up roadblocks to things the Brooks administration would like to see pass, from construction projects to budgets.

"The Brooks administration will have to learn how to compromise," Andrews said.

Bredes, who has interests in health and fiscal issues as well as domestic violence and open space, said she doesn't expect gridlock if Democrats take over.

"If there's an invitation to work for the common good, you can get things done," she said.

Bredes' opponent, Antonitis, ran for the seat in 2001 and 2005.

He said he's concerned about social justice, including the treatment of prisoners and welfare recipients. He thinks the county budget should be issued before elections, not after, and that spending should be lowered.

Andrews, who is seeking a second term, said she'll push for greater public access to information and that more Democratic proposals will be able to be debated if her party takes over the chamber.

Bowers, wife of former school board member Jim Bowers, also a Democrat, did not circulate petitions herself but received help from at least four staff members or interns in Republican offices in the County Office Building, as well as from other individuals.

"The fact that there are a number of Republican operatives that carried petitions ... says a lot about the roots of where this candidacy comes from," said county Democratic Chairman Joseph Morelle.

County Republican Chairman William Reilich said there isn't an organized effort by Republicans to get involved in a Democratic primary.

"I'm focused on winning races where we have Republican candidates running," he said.

In an e-mail message, Bowers said other candidates have not passed their own petitions and have had petitions passed by members of other parties. Some of the campaign volunteers were either students of her husband, who teaches at St. John Fisher College, or those students' friends, she said.

She's been a Democrat for 21 years, she said, and has served on the Democratic 21st Legislative District Committee, giving her strong Democratic credentials.

In addition to attention to fiscal issues and growing small businesses, Bowers said she wants to reduce the level of acrimony among political groups in the county.

In the 29th District, Maneiro, a program officer at the Rochester Area Community Foundation, said he is concerned about fiscal issues.

"We need to have a frank conversation with the citizens about the actual conditions of county finances," he said.

Patterson did not return a call seeking comment.

Other minor party primaries include an Independence contest in Henrietta's 13th District, where endorsed Republican John Howland is running against Whitney Carleton. Carleton is not on any other line.

In District 2, which includes Clarkson, Hamlin and part of Sweden, Todd Brindle is running against endorsed Republican Mike Rockow.

In District 20, which includes Riga and parts of Chili, Henrietta and Ogden, Democrats can write in any candidate. The successful Democrat, which the party hopes is Jerri Kaiser, a staff member in U.S. Rep. Eric Massa's office, will face Republican Legislator Robert Colby.

In other county races, Republican John L. DeMarco will face Democrat Brian M. McCarthy in Monroe County Court judge primaries for the Independence and Working Families lines.

McCarthy was nominated to county court in March by Gov. David Paterson, following Justice Elma Bellini's 2008 election to state Supreme Court. Having been confirmed in April, he is seeking his first 10-year term.

DeMarco is Irondequoit town justice and ran for county court in 2004, when he was defeated by incumbents John J. Connell and Patricia D. Marks.