Sattler-Leblanc sets sights on Assembly seat

Democratic educator in 133rd District makes transition from firearms safety activist to candidate

Neal Simon
The Evening Tribune
ChaRon Sattler-Leblanc, a Democrat running for the 133rd state Assembly District position, stands in downtown Hornell during a campaign visit to the Maple City on Sept. 15, 2020.

ChaRon Sattler-Leblanc is making her first try to win public office in 2020, seeking to unseat Republican Marjorie Byrnes in the 133rd Assembly District election on Nov. 3.

But while Sattler-Leblanc, a Democrat, is a newcomer to elective politics, she is no stranger to taking a public role on a hot-button issue, having started a local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and serving as a Survivor Fellow for the Everytown for Gun Safety organization.

“Like so many Americans, I’ve had enough of the mass shootings in our communities, our public spaces, and our homes,” Sattler-Leblanc explains on her campaign website. “For decades, I quietly grieved the murder of my cousin, Julie, and her daughter, Jacqui. In 1990, her ex was able to walk into a discount store and purchase a handgun that he used to take their lives and his own.”

The local chapter of Moms Demand Action has been an organizational success story, garnering more than 600 supporters in the region since 2015 and developing what Sattler-Leblanc, who lives in Pittsford in Monroe County, calls “a deep bench of volunteer leaders from Batavia to Victor.”

Sattler-Leblanc was born and raised in Illinois, and had an upbringing that, at first glance, would not seem to lead naturally to becoming a firearms safety activist.

“I grew up in the Midwest where hunting was, you know, an important part of many of our lives,” she said in an interview with The Spectator.

“My parents met in Korea where my father served in the US Army and my mom worked in the cafeteria on the base,” the candidate says on her website.

“Because Walter, my father, was an officer and a teacher, it eased the difficult decision for ChaWon, my mother, to leave Korea for America. Eventually, my parents and brother settled in the Midwest, purchasing a home in Woodstock, Illinois, where I was born and raised.

“I studied at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois and Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. I found the perfect mix when I settled in Monroe County, working at St. John Fisher College and the Rochester Institute of Technology (where I am going into my 21st year on staff). In 2016, I graduated with a degree in higher education from the University at Buffalo. Today, New York State is my chosen home for the quality of life, proximity to city and country life, and our strong communities.  

“My husband Alain and I married in 2013 and I adopted his boys, Sam and Adam. Both boys are on the autism spectrum: I had to learn a lot quickly about being a parent. The community of special needs moms is one I continue to depend on.”

New York State Assembly candidate ChaRon Sattler-Leblanc attends the grand opening of the Hornell Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Hornell on Sept. 15, 2020.

A series of mass shootings, including the school massacre in Newton, Connecticut in December 2012, followed just 12 days later by the attack on West Webster volunteer firefighters (which injured four people and killed two firemen) were catalysts in spurring Sattler-Leblanc to transition from what she calls “rage-giving” to firearms safety groups to starting the local chapter of Moms Demand Action.

“I remember being doubled over in my office after (the elementary school shooting in) Sandy Hook,” she said. “I remember just staring blankly at my television screen on Christmas morning watching the West Webster Fire Department first responders being just assassinated.”

Sattler-Leblanc decided she had to learn all the sides of the issue. That’s why she went through the process of obtaining a concealed carry permit.

She said she did it, “Mostly because I wanted to learn what it was about, what the process was. It was extremely informative.”

Sattler-Leblanc said she brings that knowledge to her discussions with skeptical gun rights supporters.

“When I talk to gun owners, I ask them what part of (New York’s SAFE Act) would you want to change. And usually what I hear back is, ‘I’m afraid they’re going to take my guns.’”

But when they talk about responsible gun ownership, “We’re in total agreement,” she said.

“Things like, ‘If you ever used your firearm to get the upper hand in an argument with your partner, your husband, your wife, that’s not okay.’ Everybody agrees on that. We talk about storing appropriately. We talk about training appropriately. We talk about supervision. We all agree on those things. That is really important. That’s the work that I hope that I can do in Albany.”

Sattler-Leblanc believes her leadership on firearms safety issues has been good preparation for being a state lawmaker.   

“There’s so many things that I’ve learned from ‘Moms’ that I’ve been able to transfer over.

“I think for a lot of us, we have our starter issue, and you know gun violence certainly has been mine. But then you start to see how connected everything is.”

In campaign literature, Sattler-Leblanc describes herself as an educator, a parent and a leader. She tells voters they “deserve a voice in Albany.”

Settler-Leblanc’s first attempt for elective office comes during a world-wide pandemic that has restricted travel and necessitated social distancing. COVID-19 has posed hurdles for all candidates, but for a newcomer trying to introduce herself to voters for the first time, the obstacles to success may be greater.

“It’s been a very challenging year to campaign,” she conceded. “It is tough because particularly in the beginning we were all being hyper-cautious.”

She said she has networked with town supervisor and mayors in the 133rd Assembly District, which includes all of Livingston County and portions of Monroe and Steuben counties, including the City of Hornell.

She has attended social justice rallies in Mt. Morris, Livonia and Caledonia.

Sattler-Leblanc said she is encouraged that people who may have been frightened in the past are “finding their voice and speaking out.”

“I think that this year when everyone’s been taking sides and so polarized, I’m really encouraged, not just in our area but across the country,” she said.

Sattler-Leblanc believes the rallies — which spread nationally after George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man, was killed while in police custody last May — have been a source of unification, not division.

“We are more diverse. We are more connected. It might be our niece or our nephew. It might be our daughter-in-law; it might be our husband, so I think it’s when we’re having those conversations and being able to have those conversations at our kitchen tables with our relatives, in our backyards, we may not have the same way of looking at things, but we have things (in common).

“We want our communities to be strong. We want our children to grow up and have good jobs and stay in the area.

If elected, Sattler-Leblanc would join a Democratic super majority that controls the Assembly and sets its agenda. Currently, Republicans hold just 43 seats in the 150-seat legislative body.

“Marjorie Byrnes has been one of the first people to say how difficult it is to get work done,” Sattler-Leblanc said.

However, Sattler-Leblanc plays down party affiliation, saying she if she is elected, she will seek like-minded allies based more on geography and shared concerns rather than party membership. That means working with Republicans, she said.

“I think what this part of the state needs is a conference of people that can be at the table and can speak specifically to the challenges that our district has,” she added. “Our friends in New York City don’t really understand the costs involved when we have to compete over in Canada or Pennsylvania.

“We need to get our stakeholder voices at the table.”

Sattler-Leblanc said her experience working in higher education has helped prepare her for legislative issues like school funding. She noted she has been endorsed by the New York State United Teachers Union (NYSUT), and that one of her first  jobs was working for the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), a partnership between New York State and its independent colleges that provides scholarships to economically and educationally disadvantaged residents.

“I am the daughter of a teacher. I chose to go into education,” Sattler-Leblanc said. “I know how important it is to have good data to show what works.

“I’m not going to go on with all the answers, but what I will do is being a partner with our school districts to figure out what they do need, and help them and advocate what we need.

“I have a history of working with a lot of different groups, developing credibility, and becoming pretty effective in the roles that I’ve had.”

The native Midwesterner said she is bullish on the region where she chose to settle more than two decades ago.

“I’m originally am from the Midwest, and I found myself here, and I fell in love with it in the last 25 years,” she said. “There’s a lot of good things to be done in this state, and I really feel that opportunity, but I really feel that with more resources we can do more.

“I think about Alstom. I think about the opportunity we have in the future, thinking about climate change, thinking about the future, that is a real opportunity for us.”

“We’ve got great schools. We’re close to amazing colleges and universities, and community colleges. There’s a lot of good going on.”