Since Livingston County was established in 1821, two African Americans have been elected to public office. Sworn in on April 4, Geneseo Village Trustee junior Matthew Cook became the second. Cook stated that he was unaware while running that one other African American had served as an elected official. “We weren’t trying to prove a point or anything; we were just trying to help the students,” Cook said.
While his election was of note—both as being the second African American and as one of the first two Geneseo students to hold office—race was never on Cook’s mind. “I didn’t set out to make history, but it’s definitely a pride thing. I ran to give a voice to those who don’t have one,” he said. “The students here are really underrepresented. I was surprised when I found out, but it’s just something I’ll smile to myself about.”
Cook said that members of the board have been welcoming as he takes on this new position. According to Cook, Mayor Richard Hatheway, Deputy Mayor Sandra Brennan and fellow Trustee Margaret Duff have been helping him learn the ropes.
From Rochester, Cook will be able to maintain his duties as a council member. Cook has already attended two council meetings, which take place every first and third Monday of every month.
The first female mayor, Ann Duff, was elected in 1974, while the first African American Village Trustee Dale Griffin was elected in 1978 in a Democratic sweep of a traditionally Republican town.
Like Cook, Griffin never considered race while running for office, either. According to an article from the Mt. Morris Enterprise from March of 1978, Griffin did not know he was the first African American Village trustee.
Griffin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and served in the Navy for 14 years until 1966 and is a Korean War veteran. Griffin moved to Geneseo in 1959 and was a lieutenant of the Geneseo Fire Department prior to his election as a Village Trustee. Griffin was also an electrician and a member of the Geneseo Kiwanis Club.
Similar to Cook, Griffin had a connection to the college. Although Griffin did not attend Geneseo, his wife worked in the Educational Opportunities Office.
Griffin died on March 20, 2014, inhibiting the possibility of the first two African Americans elected to Livingston County Public office to meet. As of 2014, 3 percent of Livingston County’s population is African American.
While in office, Cook hopes to bridge the divide between students and the Village. “In the three years that I’ve been here, I saw a big disconnect between the students and the Village from both sides,” he said. “I thought being both a student and a citizen from the Village that I could do a lot to help mitigate that. Students seem to be very underrepresented in the Village. I just wanted to help them out, give them a voice and a forum to voice their opinions.”