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A plurality of respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll-nearly 40 percent-says economic development should be the No. 1 issue in this year's Rochester mayoral race.
Fiscal management and Midtown/downtown redevelopment each were named by 16 percent of the poll participants. Education was cited by 13 percent of readers.
Rochester City Council president Lovely Warren announced her candidacy for mayor last Friday, bringing to three the number of declared candidates in this year's race. Mayor Thomas Richards, a fellow Democrat, announced his re-election bid Feb. 6, and Monroe Avenue business owner Alexander White is seeking the Green Party nomination.
Richards, former chairman and CEO of RGS Energy Group Inc., was elected mayor in a special election on March 29, 2011, defeating White and former Mayor William Johnson Jr., the Working Families and Independence parties' candidate. Brought to City Hall by former Mayor Robert Duffy, Richards had served more than four years as corporation counsel and two months as deputy mayor.
Warren, a graduate of Albany Law School, has represented the city's Northeast District since 2007 and been City Council president since January 2010. She will face Richards in the Democratic primary.
Roughly 570 readers participated in this week's poll, conducted March 25 and 26.
In your view, what should be the top issue in the race for Rochester mayor?
Economic development: 39%
Fiscal management: 16%
Midtown/downtown redevelopment: 16%
Public safety: 9%
Neighborhood development: 4%
As a city resident, (I believe) our strength lies in our neighborhoods. Neighborhoods, in turn, will fix the problems of education and crime. Grassroots is the heart of it all. In terms of downtown, it is the favorite negative topic of suburban cocktail parties. They have no stake in it at all. Once again, grassroots actions on the part of brave and smart city dwellers will be the only way to make the city viable. Only when it has been reclaimed ("safe" in suburban lingo) by the creative and daring will the scared, unimaginative upper-middle class wishing to appear "cool" venture back. They will use their voyeuristic experiences as yet more fodder for cocktail chit-chat.
-Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design
While "education" may be popular, that is handled by the school board, and the mayor has little control over it. The mayor should focus on things that the office can influence. My personal preference is to see a strong and vibrant downtown. The city needs a good image to attract people to come here. Once tourists and businesses come here, the fiscal and economic issues will be easier to remedy. I feel the key is to make Rochester a place people want to come to, not a place people want to leave. Downtown redevelopment has the most visibility to outsiders (Baltimore's Harbor Place, San Antonio's River Walk, Cleveland's Flats, for examples), so that is where I would start.
The Duffy and Richards administrations together have created an environment which favors the redevelopment of downtown. Now that there is momentum, that process should not be interfered with. We should give Mayor Richards more time at the helm, for the good of the city.
I chose downtown redevelopment because the city core is so essential to who we are as a city and county. When you enter downtown proper, it's a depressing-looking place, with so many buildings empty and/or under renovation. This does not mean we can ignore poverty and its tremendous negative impact on our youth and graduation rates. This was really brought home to me last night as I watched a special on PBS about a high school in D.C.; 97 percent of the students live in poverty. Also, some of our neighborhoods really need help. Last year there was a large meeting in the Beechwood neighborhood in the southeast about how Main Street, between Goodman and Culver, could be improved. The ideas and input impressed me. Why should Main Street look so shabby when just to the south, that same stretch of University Avenue has had much attention over several years and is unique and attractive?
-Margie Campaigne, Margie's Green Home Consulting
I live and work in the city. In the last 40 years or so, Rochester has changed from a Fortune 500 headquarters town to a branch office town with many small businesses. We must work regionally to redevelop the local economy so that it functions competitively on a national and a global basis and can continue to support the institutions and standard of living that our historic business behemoths established. If we solve the regional economic development problem, the other issues will take care of themselves. The city can't do this alone, and the region can't do it without the city.
-Rob Brown, ESOP Plus
Neighborhood development and public safety are inextricably linked, and public safety is also key to economic development and successful downtown development. Any of these require sound fiscal management.
The issues that RBJ has asked us to pick are all important. However, our current state of affairs and the financial condition of the nation from federal to local governments precludes any rational hope of solving economic development, fiscal management or redevelopment of downtown. Not that any of the candidates would not do their best to address, they have too many layers of councils and committees to actually accomplish anything without major changes being demanded from the citizens who vote for status quo and cry about a lack of change. Neighborhood development and public safety will go hand-in-hand and are also fine goals to be achieved. However, if we don't do a better job of educating the population, not just the youth, no one will seriously invest in sustainable development of any kind.
The city of Rochester is facing large budget shortfalls over the next few years. It’s time to consider a financial control board. Commercial property owners need real estate tax relief. The tax rate for commercial property is one of the highest in Upstate New York. As an example, the Rochester commercial property tax rate is approximately 35 percent higher than a commercial property in Buffalo. The city of Buffalo has been under a financial control board for almost 10 years and has had a budget surplus for most of those years. The financial control board has the ability to suspend burdensome bureaucracy, labor contracts, etc. It’s apparent that the city of Rochester has no choice since the politicians have been rendered impotent by local, state and federal mandates. The politicians can’t or don’t have the will to make the necessary changes in hopeless New York State, which has been hijacked by special interests. In summary, maybe the politicians don’t like financial control boards, but the taxpayers do!
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates, Inc.
Our city desperately needs economic development. We don't need more of what has been “labeled” economic development: heavily subsidized residential and retail developments that do little more than shift the middle class population from the neighborhoods to downtown. We need real economic development that attracts employers who produce goods and services that are sold outside of the region. We need manufacturing; we need office tenants. We also need to take good care of middle-class neighborhoods throughout the city (not just the southeast quadrant) so that we don't continue to lose population and tax base. And we can't continue to pretend that our current economic policies will do anything to improve the economic conditions for the residents of our depressed neighborhoods.
They are ALL very important. They must be managed in balance with one another.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results
My confidence in Robert Duffy was high when he was elected Rochester Mayor. When Duffy brought on Tom Richards to his mayoral team, Duffy’s stock rose. It is unusual for a successful private business leader with experience like Tom Richards’ to support his community in elected office. I’m grateful Richards has. I believe he is motivated by a love of our community. Tom Richards served well as lieutenant mayor. He has called on his business experience and built on early public office success to be an exemplary mayor of our Flower City. Just as it would be unthinkable for most to walk out in the middle of a Miles Davis or Chet Baker or Vladimir Horwitz masterpiece-performance, it, similarly, would seem to demonstrate poor judgment not to hear all Tom Richards has to offer during a second set.
—Ned Corman, Rochester
Rochester needs experienced, serious, adult leadership that can address its issues with clarity and wisdom.
—Terrence C. Finegan
It's now time to act on a "Monroe County School District,” starting immediately with kindergarten, with full implementation in 13 years when today's kindergarteners graduate from high school. This would be a significant step toward improving overall graduation rates and breaking urban poverty.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency, Inc.
The State Education department latest graduation rate report indicates that Rochester's graduation rate has declined from 46.1 percent in 2006 to 45.5 percent in 2012 Rochester. This is deplorable! Any mayoral candidate must address this situation with a specific plan. Tom Richards has been mostly silent on addressing the graduations rates with a specific plan. Lovely Warren as Council President, for the last three years, hasn't shown the leadership in addressing this problem either. The voters must make it clear that educating our cities youth is their No. 1 priority.
—Michael J. Lebowitz, Real Estate Broker
For more comments, go to rbjdaily.com. To participate in the weekly RBJ Snap Poll, sign up for the Daily Report at rbj.net/dailyreport.asp.3/29/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.