Covering the late Rep. Louise Slaughter was the most challenging and frustrating task I ever had as a journalist. Now, there are a lot of reasons for that, but the most prominent is because she was just too darn well liked.

As reporters, it’s our job to hold elected officials accountable. but during interviews with this particular politician, the phrase, “let me play devil’s advocate,” was pretty common.

It’s not unusual for politicians or their staffers to push back against a critical line of questioning or a story, but I quickly learned that criticizing Slaughter in Rochester was as sacrilegious as criticizing a Nick Tahou’s garbage plate. I mean, yeah, the plate is a little too spicy or a little too greasy for some, but keep your mouth shut if you don’t like it, because….well, it’s Rochester.

(I love garbage plates, by the way).

I came to Rochester in 2006 as a field reporter. I went to college not far from there, and since my brother lived in a nearby suburb, I already knew the city pretty well.  When asking the more seasoned members of the newsroom about the major players on the political scene, I quickly learned of the congresswoman simply known by members of the media as “Weezy.”

I heard stories of reporters who, when seeking a sound bite on a Bush Administration policy, were welcomed into Slaughter’s Fairport home and offered lemonade or cookies. It was common to hear colleagues tell me: “It’s like interviewing my grandma.” Needless to say, she was a local media favorite.

Not long after the Democrats took back control of the House, Slaughter’s feistiness and creative criticism of the GOP made her a national figure. As her star rose, the charming Democrat increasingly found herself in the middle of bitterly partisan fights.

The new chair of the House Rules Committee came under attack for proposing a constitutionally questionable procedural maneuver to pass the controversial Affordable Care Act in 2010, refused to hold town hall meetings during the height of the Tea Party movement, and compared Republicans to Nazis during a fight over abortion access in 2011.

While my bosses always encouraged me to cover these situations and to press the congresswoman and her staff, viewer comments on my voicemail and my political blog were always pro-Slaughter. It wasn’t uncommon to hear, “That’s not what she meant,” or “Her staff was behind that,” or my favorite, “That’s just how she talks, and I love that.”

To be fair, Slaughter never pretended to be a moderate. Her voting record and policies fell more in line with the left wing of the Democratic Party than the middle.  But despite the fact she was a proud liberal, she routinely enjoyed broad-based support from Republican voters

Slaughter’s Monroe County-based congressional district was redrawn a few times over the years as population shifted. At one point, she represented the infamous headphone-shaped district – aka the “earmuff” district – which ran from Rochester all the way west to Niagara Falls.

She may have had a slight Democratic voter enrollment edge in most races, but her margin of victory showed Republicans were crossing over and presumably voting against their core policy beliefs to support her. As someone relatively new to covering the news in Rochester, I found that baffling.

In 2012, Slaughter’s district was further redrawn within the borders of Monroe County. The county to this day has a Democratic Party enrollment edge, but is still controlled, in most cases, by elected Republicans.

That’s why when Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks decided to challenge Slaughter in 2012, conventional wisdom was that Republican voters, who overwhelmingly elected Brooks three times in a countywide race, would support her for Congress. It was seen by some as a changing of the guard and perhaps, after 26 years, time for Slaughter to step aside.

What ensued was the most contentious race I ever covered. There were months of negative campaign ads, bolstered by outside money on both sides. Slaughter’s campaign even took the unusual step of going after Brooks’ husband.

Slaughter’s team pulled out all the stops, even using an on-air clip of a story I put together about how the Democrats might try to attack Brooks. They used, what I felt at the time, was some questionable editing. I took it personally. But looking back, I’m not sure it was as big of a deal as I thought it was then.

Then it happened…an early October press conference that featured Slaughter in full dungeon, bringing fiery to a whole new level. Standing in front of the Genesee River, Slaughter angrily announced that Karl Rove’s Crossroads Super PAC was spending $1.4 million to take her out.

The Brooks campaign called the complaint hypocritical and the overall tone of the event “unhinged.” Since it seemed this Rove effort was in response to Slaughter’s colorful and highly publicized attacks on Republicans, I couldn’t help but think the voters might agree with Brooks.

I was wrong. Her constituents didn’t find her reaction hypocritical, they found it authentic. What her detractors called “unhinged,” everyone else saw as proof she still had fire in her belly.

Even as the polls leading up to election night showed Slaughter in the lead, conventional wisdom kept telling me Republican voters would vote the party line. I thought such a divisive campaign might take some bloom off the rose, so to speak.

Wrong again. While turnout among Democrat voters in the City of Rochester was high in the presidential year, it was Slaughter’s win in the Republican-dominated suburbs that was truly remarkable. A right-leaning county turned left for the 14th time.

At my first reporting job in Jamestown, Republican Rep. Jack Quinn told me something that really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said when the election is over, it really is about service. He said you represent people that voted for you and against you, and a lot of people who didn’t vote at all. Quinn was a Republican who ironically represented a left-leaning district.

Slaughter’s fingerprints may be on a few controversial pieces of legislation, but she brought home a lot funding for infrastructure, medical research, technology and programs for the poor. Her constituents didn’t always agree with her, but they felt like her heart was in the right place.

I mean we all have a family member or close friend we don’t always see eye to eye with, right? What’s important is do they believe what they’re saying? Are they authentic? Do they fight for what they believe is right? Twelve years of coverage later, when it comes to Louise Slaughter, I have to say the answer is yes.

now, as accolades pour in from all sides in memory of a southern transplant who transformed into one of Rochester’s most popular figures, Slaughter’s secret was simple: People just liked her.