What was the Duffy era, anyway?
Let’s look at the stuff that happened (and didn’t) over the eight years those gentlemen ran city government:
- Killing the fast ferry: Ten days into his administration, Duffy ended his predecessor’s pet project and Richards later engineered the sale of the boat.
- Tearing Down Midtown Plaza: Duffy took the struggling shopping mall through eminent domain, closed it and tore it down. The public price tag will top $100 million. The pace of the tear-down, rebuild and redevelopment has been glacial through the Duffy and Richards administrations. The decision could end up being a wonderful thing for downtown. The Seneca Building has been refurbished and Midtown Tower is next. The problem is there’s no plan for the remaining parcels.
- Killing Renaissance Square: Duffy’s hemming and hawing, and demands for last-minute changes sent the project into a tailspin. He never bought into the plan to build a performing arts center, MCC campus and bus terminal at Main and Clinton – even though much of the project was funded. Today, the bus station is under construction, MCC plans to ditch downtown (Big box Kodak complex doesn’t count), and the theater could go to the suburbs. Oh, and Main and Clinton is still a mess.
- Red Light Cameras: They bring in millions of dollars to city coffers, along with the ire of thousands of citizens. They only marginally increase safety in a city with very, very, very few fatal accidents. (The speed limit is 30 miles per hour.)
- Reorganizing the fire department: Duffy reduced trucks and personnel. The union claims this has made it harder to respond to fires.
- Developers were friends: From the $1 land sale to Dutch Summers to build $200,000 condos on Plymouth to a Restore NY grant that paid one-third the cost of two East Ave. condos to a $20 million city loan for College Town developers – City Hall was super-friendly to developers.
- Killing the High Falls laser light shows: Duffy also sold off the equipment, making the likelihood they’ll come back slim to none.
- Killing the East End Festivals: Richards and company allowed the snooty new East Ave. residents to throw their weight around. The festival came back for one night only this summer.
- Killing NET offices: The city used to have mini-City Halls in neighborhoods. Duffy consolidated them. They are no longer the neighborhood forces they once were.
- Ruining Party in the Park: It now charges admission and is held in a parking lot.
- Selling Hemlock & Canadice lakes: The state has promised to keep the area around the source of Rochester’s drinking water pristine. It was a nice cash windfall. But we lost control of this beautiful and vital resource.
- Brooks Landing and Corn Hill Landing: Wait, those started under former mayor Bill Johnson.
- West Main Street revitalization: Also started under Johnson.
- Jazz Fest: That started under Johnson, but grew with huge Duffy support.
- Put port development on hold: The developments planned for the port right now, including a marina, were planned under the Johnson administration. Duffy put the whole thing on hold, only to resurrect it years later, with some tweaks.
- Turning Mt. Hope into the new West Ridge Rd.: College Town is supposed to be like a village for students. Now it appears even more scary to cross. Access for pedestrians and bicycles was sacrificed for cars. I bet it will be as congested as ever, meaning this widening of the road will not have accomplished its goal of smoother traffic. (It never does, according to many non-DOT traffic experts.)
- Going to war with the school district (and then backing down): Duffy wanted mayoral control. Richards put a stop to such talk and decided working with the school district was best. (Warren will bring back the war with her charter school agenda.)
There was a change when Duffy took over City Hall. There was a corporate mentality. Citizens were referred to as customers. Men (yes, men) from the private sector were brought in to run the economic development and the law departments. Duffy sent the message that City Hall was in the “right” hands and the city was “back.”
Duffy fought the establishment to become mayor and quickly became the establishment. City Hall clammed up. Department heads were no longer free to take my phone calls. I couldn’t poke my head into the mayor’s office. There was a much tighter control on information. There was far more spin and messaging. The mayor often traveled with an entourage of department heads, security and communications staff.
Did Duffy and Richards bring more development into the city? It’s hard to say what would have happened anyway. The South Wedge experienced a renaissance all by itself. The downtown housing boom started during the Johnson years. In fact, cities and downtowns across the country are seeing renewed interest. The city’s population decline reversed during the ’00s; Johnson was mayor for much of that time.
Duffy, Richards and Johnson all left the city with a good credit rating. All three mayors warned of structural problems. All three seemed to manage it well.
Duffy will be remembered for three things: Killing the ferry, killing Renaissance Square and killing Midtown.
It will likely be Warren’s task to see what rises in their place.