Assemblyman David F. Gantt was a transformational leader and a singular figure. He spent most of his adult life fighting for the political and economic rights of the poor and oppressed, particularly Black and Latino people. David was the last of a dying breed of politicians.
What I found most fascinating about Mr. Gantt was that he never wanted to be a politician. He was pushed into politics by Raymond Scott, James McCuller, and his mother, the late Lena Gantt, a community activist who helped found Action for a Better Community and the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center (whose name was suggested by Mr. Gantt). They were the driving force behind his 1973 election to the Monroe County Legislature (in the seat I currently hold), and his 1982 run for the NYS Assembly in the newly-created 133rd Assembly District (now the 137th), a seat he fought to create to give representation to the marginalized people in the City of Rochester.
I believe the reason for his dedication to his constituents came from the fact that he never forgot who elected him and why he was elected. He was there to serve his people, and no one else. He never sought the spotlight. He simply believed in doing the work he was elected to do.
I believe David Gantt’s legacy will be threefold: First, is in the money he brought home to Rochester on behalf of the people. His support for Baden Street Settlement is legendary. He has also supported ABC, Jordan Health Center, the Urban League, Community Place, Boys & Girls Club, Ibero-American Action League, CONEA, the YMCA, Auditorium Theater, the Eastman Theatre, RIT, the University of Rochester and many others.
When the Rochester City School District approached him and asked for help in securing funding to modernize their school facilities, he made it happen, securing over a billion dollars for the project. He believed that the children in the city of Rochester deserved educational facilities as good as or better than their counterparts who lived in the mostly wealthy suburbs. If you see the schools that have been transformed as a result of this project, they are amazing. He also worked with Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve to secure funding to build a new REOC in downtown Rochester.
This does not include all the people he helped personally. Helping kids pay for school, giving scholarships and other acts of generosity. There is a story about him finding out that an elementary school didn’t have computers. He bought them. Then he found out that the school didn’t have air conditioning and the computers might get damaged, so he bought air conditioners for the computer room.
The second part of his legacy lies in the number of local black elected officials he supported and developed over the years. If one were to look at the current crop of Black elected officials in the City of Rochester, almost all of us are connected to Mr. Gantt. Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren, who stands as his greatest accomplishment; County Legislators Sabrina LaMar, Ernest Flagler, Frank Keophetlasy, Calvin Lee and myself; City Council members Willie Lightfoot, Malik Evans, Michael Patterson, Loretta Scott and LaShay Harris; School Board member Cynthia Elliott; Rochester City Court Judges Theresa Johnson, Stephen Miller, Maija Dixon, Caroline Morrison and Melissa Barrett.
In the past he has supported Ron Thomas, Glenn Gamble, Allen Williams, Gladys Santiago, Adam McFadden, Archie Curry, Darryl Porter, Robert Brown, Judith Davis, Roy King and John Lightfoot.
The third and final part of his legacy lies in what he taught us about being elected officials. He reminded us that we were always going to be Black, and that racism was something we would always have to contend with in politics. Recent events have proven that to be true. He would always remind us that the seats we hold don’t belong to us; they belong to the people. He exhorted us to keep the commitments we make to people, not to make false promises just to get votes. And not to be afraid to fight for what we believe.
David Gantt was one of the finest people the City of Rochester has ever produced, and his legacy will live on in the people he mentored and developed to continue to fight for the poor, downtrodden and less fortunate in society and to give a voice to the voiceless. He was one of a kind, and there will never be another quite like him. May he rest in peace.