The Assembly majority leader is one of a large number of Democrats interested in Louise Slaughter's seat

Rochester-area state Assemblyman and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle formally unveiled his campaign to run for Congress on Monday.

At a gathering full of prominent area Democrats, Morelle announced he will seek New York’s 25th district congressional seat and declared himself a liberal seeking to continue the legacy of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who died suddenly earlier in March.

"I'm a progressive Democrat,” Morelle said at the event.  “I care about working men and women. I care about health care, making it affordable and accessible for everyone. Those are the kinds of things I've always believed in.”

Morelle is only one of a growing list of Democrats trying to win Slaughter’s seat after her death.

Rochester City Board of Education President Van White revealed Sunday that he was seeking signatures on petitions for his own candidacy, as were Brighton town board member Robin Wilt and former TV reporter and mayoral candidate Rachel Barnhart. In addition, Rochester graduate student and entrepreneur Andrew Gilchrist continued his candidacy, which had targeted Slaughter for a primary challenge before she died.

Morelle’s announcement featured a show of unity for Democrats. As the crowd chanted “we want Joe,” the candidate was introduced by Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello, who had himself been the subject of speculation he would seek the 25th district seat, as well as by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, whose relationship with Morelle had been less than smooth in the past. 

“Everybody knows that we've been on different sides politically,” Warren acknowledged, “different campaigns, and other things. So, now it's time for us to rebuild our party, to move forward and this was a great step to do that.”

The event also included something of a passing of the torch as Slaughter’s daughter Robin Minerva and her husband Michael stood to offer support and spoke glowingly of Morelle. 

“I love Joe. I think he would follow my mom's values,” Robin Minerva said.  “My mom never wanted to give up that seat. She couldn’t imagine anybody else in her congressional seat but, if anybody has to do it, I’m sure she would love it if it was Joe.”

"If there is a torch, the people will pass the torch," White said to News 10NBC later on Monday. “We would hate to have the predictable outcomes of a party machine determine what people should determine.” 

White said he was accustomed to being dismissed by party leaders but vowed to press on and make his own run official if he could gather the required 1,250 signatures to place his name on the ballot. 

“There is no candidate, myself included, who could fill Louise’s shoes but it’s going to be a question of who can walk in the path, in the direction she was walking in,” he said.  “I’m not the guy who fights for the party, for the machine. I’m the guy, in the courtroom, the classroom, the boardroom, who fights for the people.”

Morelle also received dim reviews from the lone Republican in the race. Rochester neurosurgeon and political newcomer Jim Maxwell labeled Monday’s announcement event political “shock and awe” and called it a “show of strength” from the Morelle campaign. 

“He’s a career politician, and I am looking forward to drawing contrast to me being new and fresh,” he said.

Maxwell said his campaign would be unchanged by Morelle’s entry into the race or by the death of Slaughter, who he had originally planned to challenge. He dismissed Morelle’s display of political connections as a liability that would alienate voters.   

“What I bring to the table — a brand new face beholden to nobody, owing nobody, having no legacy of paybacks," Maxwell said. "And I think that will be a big contrast.”