Willa Powell: Progressive Grass-roots for SD56

Willa PowellSaturday afternoon, I got to sit down with Willa Powell, Rochester City School Council member and candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Joe Robach in the 56th New York Senate district. Unlike other candidates for the Democratic nod, Willa has been running a grassroots, bottom-up candidacy that has received little to no attention from the mainstream media in this city.

We sipped coffee at Spot Coffee and discussed such diverse topics as A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, the ARM mortgage crisis (Mrs Powell worked a lot with mortgages in her time at Citibank), blogging, journalism and the upcoming race for the Senate with all it portends. Willa is a very engagingly-intelligent woman whose blue-collar roots shine right through with her take on the upcoming race.

She told me that, in her position as a School Board member, she sees an immediate need for change in the rules they’re restricted to following. She said that the issues that matter most to her, education, poverty and others, are all much more directly impacted by things happening in Albany than in Rochester. Its this that drives her to challenge for the Senate seat, despite a fair amount of pressure – even intra-party pressure – to seek lower offices first.

Willa is also a Clean Money, Clean Elections advocate, which of course is regarded by this blogger as a key issue for a Democratic-led State Senate, should we have the good fortune of getting one. Mrs. Powell points out that the current incumbent, Joe Robach, spent four times his opponent in the last election but didn’t get himself any more votes than before. As her website points out, her candidacy is, in large measure, about bringing someone to Albany who understands the value of a dollar. That is something that Mr. Robach’s record of candidacy certainly does not bespeak.

But she also questions the top-down approaches of Sandy Frankel and Rick Dollinger.  Mrs. Powell charges that both candidates have been going after the large donators and the movers and shakers of the party for their campaign money, and neither seems to have engaged in a very wide-ranging ground game that engages small donors or the grass roots.  She points out that engaging in the same kind of big-money competition that has kept the incumbent where he is might lead to a victory, but might also lead to the same sort of politics, where a Senator is now beholden to his or her moneyed constituency of contributors.  With CMCE so close to passage in the coming years, it seems worth while to consider this fact when choosing a Democratic nominee.  It’s also worth noting that CMCE was one of the four top issues Willa raised in the announcement of her candidacy to the Democratic Party, whereas the other two candidates threw Clean Money on their platforms after the fact.

You’ll be hearing more from Willa on this website in the coming few weeks.  I’m planning on doing a more in-depth interview with her soon, and more plans are in the works.  But check out and read up on her candidacy in the mean while!

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.