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City leader emerges from a difficult start

Rochester Business Journal
December 6, 2013

Born to a single mother 42 years ago in southwest Rochester, Adam McFadden joined a neighborhood gang at 14 and ended up on probation. He was injured by a gunshot at 15 and eventually became the father figure for his four brothers.
 
"That's why I'm kind of like a big brother to the community," he says. "That's how I was raised. I care a great deal about the people I serve. ... There's nothing I wouldn't do to protect people."
 
McFadden, the South District representative on Rochester City Council, earned an academic scholarship to graduate from college, then attained his goal of becoming a public servant.
 
He has been on City Council since 2004, longer than any other current member. He is executive director of Quad A For Kids, a project of the Rochester Area Community Foundation to foster the personal and social development of urban youths. It employs 11 people full-time and a total of 50.
 
McFadden is the oldest of five boys born to Barbara McFadden. He also has two sisters from when his father lived in Buffalo.
 
"He's a loyal friend," says Everett Daniels, a firefighter with the Rochester Fire Department and McFadden's best friend since childhood.
 
"When we were growing up, we were on the same page. Growing up, it wasn't about what you had and didn't have and who you knew and didn't know. It was all about how you were to me. He was cool and we had fun, and that's all that mattered."
 
McFadden did not have a relationship with his father until reaching adulthood. He credits two mentors with pushing him in the right direction.
 
"That sounds easy," McFadden says, "but it wasn't that easy."
 
Jerry Toms, his aviation instructor during high school at Edison Technical and Occupational Educational Center, was one mentor. The other was Calvin Scott, his probation officer.

Troubled times
McFadden was in eighth grade at Charlotte High School when he joined a gang formed in opposition to a gang of about 100 members that was terrorizing the neighborhood.
 
Members of the rival gang would board school buses and beat up passengers solely to bully them, he says. He arrived home one day to find people meeting on a street corner. They were forming their own gang, they said, and McFadden was a member.
 
"I didn't have a choice," McFadden says. "I reluctantly said OK, and we went down the street and got into our first fight. I was one of the youngest kids going with these guys."
 
His probation resulted from a gang-related incident. It lasted two years, until he was 16 and free from gang activity.
 
"It wasn't like I just stopped, because you couldn't just stop," McFadden says. "But I was involved, because of my probation officer, in so many extracurricular activities. He was always checking up on my schoolwork and stuff. I became too busy to do the gang stuff."
 
His probation was supposed to last 12 months but was extended.
 
"It was his plan all along," McFadden said of his probation officer. "I hated it, but it kept me out of trouble. ... (The Family Court judge) looked at my grades. He looked at my progress. He looked at what teachers had said about me. And he said: 'Guess what? You have another year.'"
 
McFadden was stunned; he had met all the conditions of his probation.
 
"But probably the best decision that could've been made for me was to put me on probation for an extra year to make sure they didn't lose all that progress," he says. "By the time I got off probation, I was looking at college, thinking about my life much differently.
 
"I didn't want to do the gang stuff."

Looking toward college
By McFadden's junior year in high school, he ranked among the top 10 in his class academically. He attended an annual recruiting fair in Rochester primarily involving historically black colleges. Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., was among them.
 
"There are colleges represented from all over the country" McFadden recalls. "But I'm greedy. They're serving cheeseburgers, which is my favorite food. So I'm next to the cheeseburgers when it's time to eat, so I can be first in line. Claflin's table was the closest to the cheeseburgers.
 
"I sit down and begin having this discussion with this (Claflin) recruiter, and I'm acting like I'm interested, but I'm really not. I opened a yearbook and I recognized a couple of cousins from the South that had gone there."
 
McFadden's mom and her parents had been sharecroppers in Kingstree, S.C. She came to Rochester after two brothers found work here at the Rochester Products division of General Motors Co., and the rest of the family followed.
 
"The recruiter said we might be able to offer you some money," McFadden says. "Then I started listening. ... I applied right there."
 
He applied to six other schools that day, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he dreamed of playing basketball, but was not accepted. Tuskegee Institute offered him a partial scholarship in aerospace engineering, and other schools accepted his request for admission.
 
Claflin offered him a full academic scholarship.
 
"Who could pass that up?" he says.
 
He also entered the Army's Delayed Enlistment Program as a high school junior but was medically discharged after a tear in his stomach lining during basic training.
 
McFadden returned to Edison after the injury and graduated from what was then a vocational school, with a major in aviation maintenance. He became certified in airframe and power-plant work, qualifying him as an airplane mechanic.
 
Instead, he enrolled in the honors college at Claflin, intent on pursuing a career as an elected official.
 
He ran for freshman class president at Claflin but lost to an older woman.
 
"I said I'm never going to lose an election again," McFadden says. "In terms of charisma, she just beat me, but she didn't have much up top. She gave this riveting speech, and I lost."
 
In response, McFadden formed a social organization and recruited others to it.
 
"These people were mostly concerned about partying and being cool, but I looked at it as a voting bloc," he says.
 
By the end of his freshman year, he had set his sights on Claflin's Student Government Association. As a sophomore, he defeated a senior for a seat on the executive board as the school was in the midst of several educational and social changes.
 
"It's the South, and we didn't have a black studies department," he says. "And they had these crazy rules in place about visitation between students, and curfews. The president decided to put a fence up around the school and fence off the males' dorm.
 
"It just got really crazy, so we decided to organize a rally at his house at 2 o'clock in the morning."
 
The state police were called. The protesters gave the president a list of demands, which he immediately ripped up.
 
The board of trustees held an emergency meeting the next day, with McFadden and another student kicking down the locked door to present their demands. They threatened to stay until the demands were addressed.
 
McFadden received a response while back in Rochester during a break.
 
"There's a bunch of incompletes on it," he remembers. "I call the registrar's office."
 
The president, McFadden was told, wanted to talk to him.
 
"He gets on the phone, and I don't get a chance to say anything," McFadden says. "He says: 'Son, when your mother sent you to this school and I gave you a scholarship, she sent you here to get an education, not to run my school. So I'm taking your scholarship.' Click.
 
"He hung up the phone on me. Here I was, no way to pay for school, no way to do anything."
 
He called the football coach at St. John Fisher College, who had recruited McFadden. The coach was still interested and pledged to help McFadden with financing through grants, academic scholarships and college loans.
 
"I show up with a duffel bag and some cleats, and I enrolled at Fisher on the spot," McFadden says. "They take me in, and I played football, and I hated it.
 
"I was there a semester, and the thing that drove me crazy was, here I was coming from a black school about the same size as Fisher where everybody got along. I go to Fisher, where there were probably 80 black kids on campus, and none of them got along."
 
McFadden called Claflin administrators and begged them to reinstate his scholarship.
 
"They gave it back to me, but I had to sign an agreement saying I wouldn't be involved in any political activities on campus," he says, "which meant I couldn't run for SGA.
 
"I agreed to it, but I still had my social club, and every person we ran for SGA won."
 
McFadden later became president of his senior class and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1994.

Back to Rochester
He was prepared to go to Washington, D.C., to work for Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., when the oldest of McFadden's brothers was arrested on murder charges. The brother was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and attempted murder and is now in prison.
 
"So I came back here, concerned not about him but about my other brothers that were behind him," McFadden says. "I decided to come here with no job, no opportunity. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I needed to help raise my brothers."
 
The pain of his brother's conviction remains.
 
"That's why I'm so vigilant about stopping this stuff from happening," McFadden says of urban violence. "My brother's situation didn't have to happen. I always felt that happened because I left."
 
After being involved with the Young Democrats of America's South Carolina chapter, and on the campaign teams of Clyburn and Rep. Jerry Govan Jr., McFadden looked to local Democrats for opportunities but got no response.
 
He then turned to the Monroe County chapter of the Young Democrats. McFadden and two others assumed control of the organization and he was named the Young Democrats candidate for City Council's South District in the 1999 Democratic primary. He lost by 300 votes.
 
"We thought we'd run a candidate and get his name out there, and we'd progress from there," McFadden says. "We never believed we could win until we went into it, and we saw we possibly could win it. And I lost that campaign on the last day.
 
"On the last day, I pulled my volunteers and said, 'This thing is probably decided; we don't need to do any more.' And I realized I made a huge error, and that's how I lost."
 
He took private-sector jobs as an account services manager and later as a financial analyst with Fleet Financial Corp.'s investment operations office here, and he was controller for eight years with software developer Sofitech Inc.
 
He also worked on several Democratic campaigns in Rochester.
 
"I was kind of like the gofer," McFadden says. "We need people to hold up signs on 490. I was that guy.
 
"I was just doing it to kind of be seen and known in the party. I spent three years doing that, along with the Young Democrats."
 
He sat out the 2001 council elections and then ran successfully in 2003.

New position
McFadden left Sofitech in 2005 to become executive director at Quad A For Kids.
 
"I needed a job that could work better with my schedule, and it was more along the lines of what was at my heart in terms of helping young people," he says.
 
Quad A was raising some $300,000 annually for children's programming when McFadden joined. It now has revenue of nearly $1.3 million, he says.
 
The non-profit was founded in 1995 by Joe Posner as an after-school program for the city's elementary school students.
 
"Joe wanted to break the cycle of poverty for children in Rochester," McFadden says. "He didn't know how to do that. He just raised money and funded things and said, 'OK, if we give kids opportunities, maybe this will help.'
 
"He knew something had to happen. But at that time, in terms of best practices, that probably wasn't the way to do it."
 
The organization has since implemented practices recommended by the Harvard Family Research Project, which determined that children with three hours of support five days a week can benefit.
 
"We're in four schools, serving about 650 kids five days a week, three hours a day, hoping to make that impact," McFadden says. "We've made some."
 
The work primarily involves elementary-level children, but there are exceptions. For example, a group of high school students from the School Without Walls stopped by Quad A offices on East Avenue last year, saying they wanted to do something.
 
"My relationship with them is more like a parent-counselor than anything. It's almost like an everyday thing that I'm dealing with some personal issue or an at-school issue, just helping to guide these kids," McFadden says. "But they are probably what I would call the hope that Rochester needs to have about the school district.
 
"These kids are bright. They probably will go on and do great things in life. They just needed to know that they were great. They have the drive that you want to see young people have."

Need to do more
Alexis Hamilton entered Quad A's after-school program as a fifth-grader in 2006. On Thanksgiving Eve 2007, her 35-year-old mom was shot and killed by an 18-year-old. Alexis is now a college freshman.
 
"She became Quad A's kid, and we helped her along," McFadden says. "She was a star then in terms of potential. When I see that kind of thing, I say, yes, we're making strides. That's a person that should've been lost because of that incident, and it didn't happen."
 
But there are some 30,000 other students in city schools, including an African-American population with a graduation rate of 9 percent.
 
"And I realize we're not doing enough," McFadden says. "None of us are doing enough."
 
On City Council, McFadden's South District of 55,000 residents is a microcosm of Mayor-elect Lovely Warren's description of two Rochesters.
 
It includes developments such as College Town at the University of Rochester, Brooks Landing and development along Jefferson and Chili avenues.
 
"That district has changed a great deal in terms of infrastructure," McFadden says. "A lot of stuff has happened under my leadership. But I also see a gap that's widening between the haves and the have-nots of my district, which is scary for me.
 
"I'm trying to figure out how to provide opportunities for people to be employed, and fix our schools," he says.
 
A resident of the 19th Ward, McFadden has been its neighborhood president since 2000.

Schools are key
McFadden's oldest child, Rainie, attended Nazareth Academy and graduated from UR last year. Zoe, 13, attended Nazareth and is now at the Aquinas Institute. Laila, 9, attends Nazareth.
 
"I pay for private school for all three of my kids," McFadden says. "And I hate paying; I hate it. The reality is I make enough money so that I can live wherever I want to live and be able to pay for it.
 
"There will come a time when I'll probably throw up my hands and say enough is enough. But when I think about the fact that I'm paying taxes for schools and then paying out of my own pocket for my kids to go (to private school), something has to be done."
 
McFadden supports Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and his proposal to increase the time students spend in the classroom. He disagrees, however, with starting the school day earlier.
 
"You got them very early and you're keeping them later than they're used to. I'm not sure that works. I think starting the day later and then expanding the day between 3 and 6 (p.m.) works," he says.
 
McFadden disagrees with those who say the mayor has little control over the school district.
 
"The mayor can impact what happens in schools," he says. "When you give $119 million to a district, that the state mandates that we have to do, there's nothing stopping her from going to the state-and this is just my idea; it's not hers-and saying, 'We agree with giving $119 million, but allow us to give scholarships to kids who don't want to go to a failing district.'"

The new mayor
Warren, 36, will be Rochester's first female mayor.
 
She announced in March that she would challenge incumbent Thomas Richards in the Democratic primary. McFadden considered running for mayor because of the need for change, he said, but deferred to Warren.
 
"I've always said all I want to do is City Council," he says. "I have my family and all those things. Once my kids are older, I wouldn't rule out doing something different. But right now, I don't see me running for state office or mayor or anything like that."
 
He does not see himself serving in the Warren administration when she takes office in January.
 
"If she's asking me to shake hands and kiss babies, yeah," McFadden says. "That's easy. If she's asking me to roll up the sleeves and work long hours and work weekends and give up my personal life and things I like to do, probably not.
 
"That's why I never wanted to be mayor. I like having a little piece of me. You give up a lot when you take that seat. I don't think people realize the sacrifice that Johnson or Duffy or even Tom had to make to do that. I'm not interested in that."
 
McFadden's outspokenness might hurt his chances for higher office anyway. But best friend Daniels says those who pass judgment are misinformed.
 
"A lot of people don't know the real Adam," he says. "They don't know what he's been through and where he came from.
 
"A lot of the naysayers are the people that don't know him. ... The people that love him are the people that got to meet him, got to know him and got to hang with him."
 
Among McFadden's indiscretions was the use of a racial epithet during an August interview on a local radio station. In 2010, he hosted a discussion on problems outside city nightclubs and suggested African-American bar owners are treated differently than their white counterparts by city police.
 
"I have no regrets," McFadden says. "None. I'm a trial-and-error guy. I'm the person I am today because of things that were mistakes and things that I've done successfully.
 
"I'm a regular person. I'm not God. When people say, 'You have to hold yourself to a higher standard and be better,' that is a facade. You're always going to know where you are with me."

Array of interests
McFadden was elected president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials last month in Seattle. The caucus, a unit of the National League of Cities, represents African-American interests.
 
"I get to work on projects that are interesting to me, work on the issues that I like to work on and educate other communities on different things," he says. "There are communities in far worse condition than Rochester. We're progressive in a lot of things, and I like bringing that to the table and being that statesman in that way."
 
McFadden's expertise outside of work involves cooking.
 
"I'm a really good cook," he says. "I've done a couple of wedding cakes, birthday cakes."
 
He signed up for cake-decorating courses at a Michaels arts and crafts store.
 
"I was the only guy in the classes," he says. "All the soccer moms were wondering what I was doing there."
 
He is working on a cookbook, including a Memphis barbecue spice rub he hopes to sell in stores next year. Other specialties include a shrimp and grits recipe and his favorite to make, sauteed monkfish.
 
"I have many things that I'm interested in, so every year I'll have a different thing I want to do," McFadden says. "Last year it was horseback riding. I wanted to learn how to ride horses. This year I want to go back into aviation and get my pilot's license."
 
He was a music producer for several years, and he owned a teen nightclub on Lincoln Avenue that he eventually had to close.
 
"It was a great idea," McFadden says. "The kids came. But it was too dangerous. There wasn't a problem inside the club. It was the kids that couldn't get in that would wait around at the end of the night.
 
"And I hate that they ruined it. And it might be something I'd do again, if I can figure out a location that's far enough where people can't just walk and hang out."
 
He has traveled to Italy and to Africa and is going to China for several days in May to seek out investors for city initiatives.
 
"I try to leave a little something for me every year so that waking up means something to me," McFadden says. "I understand that in this business, people will step over your dead body to get to the next person."

Adam McFadden
Title: South District representative, Rochester City Council; executive director, Quad A For Kids
Age: 42
Home: Rochester
Education: B.S. in accounting, Claflin University, South Carolina, 1994
Family: Daughters Rainie, 23, Zoe, 13, and Laila, 9
Hobbies: cooking, music, travel
Quote: "Being the oldest of five boys, I learned to cook, sew, clean. I was caretaker of my brothers. I always said I was the man of the house because I literally was. Even today, my relationship is more like a relationship that my brothers would have with a father figure, not with a bigger brother."

12/6/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.



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