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WarrenOnly 22 percent of voters in the City of Rochester came out on Election Day. That compares to 29 percent in 2011, the last race for county executive. That’s about 6,400 fewer voters, an astonishing drop.

Can’t blame the weather. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

The county executive contest was the main reason for city Democrats to go to the polls. The citywide races were won in the primary, as Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 6 to 1.

Maybe Sandy Frankel wasn’t the most exciting candidate, but she suffered from a weak party. The local Democrats are deeply divided. The party has a limited get-out-the-vote operation and limited funds. Mayor Lovely Warren does have a get-out-the-vote operation and a huge campaign account. But she won’t lift a finger to help. She let Sandy Frankel twist in the wind.

Doing the math, if city voters turned out at the same rate as the towns, another 8,200 people would have voted. That’s not enough to have changed the outcome in the county executive race, even if all voted for Frankel. But city voters can make a difference in countywide elections. Rep. Louise Slaughter lost the suburbs, but won the city and was able to keep her seat.

The following is a post-election Twitter exchange with several local journalists.  It discusses whether the state of the local party is to blame for Democratic losses and whether Mayor Warren is obligated to help right the ship.

 

 

 

What accounts for the horrible showing on Election Day?

 

 

 

Crime Scene TapeMany people don’t want to believe this, but the City of Rochester is generally safer than it’s been in decades. That’s true if you look at the number of violent crimes and the rate of violent crimes.

Crime has been declining for many years in Rochester, echoing a trend in cities across the country.

No one knows why this is happening. Criminologists have a wide range of theories, from the legalization of abortion, mass incarceration, reduction of lead paint, aging population, more police on the streets, reduction in crack use, increased use of psychiatric medications and technology keeping people inside. But there’s evidence to support and refute all of these theories.

But politicians don’t hesitate to take credit for the drop in crime. On Thursday, Mayor Lovely Warren said in her State of the City Address:

Our efforts at creating safer neighborhoods can best be seen by looking at the numbers, and the numbers I am referring to are the most recent crime stats, which I am unveiling here, tonight.

And the facts speak for themselves:

We have the lowest Violent Crime levels in 10 years and the 2nd lowest in 25 years.

  • Part 1 Crime (which is how the FBI labels major crimes) is at its lowest level in 25 years.
  • We have fewer than 11,000 Part 1 Crimes for the first time in 25 years.
  • There has not been a single year from 1985 to 2012 when Part 1 numbers dropped below 12,000 and we are actually below 11,000.
  • Robbery and Aggravated Assault are at 25-year lows, with robbery down over 20% from 2013.
  • Property Crime — Burglary and Larceny — are all at their lowest rates in 25 years.

I am proud of these numbers. Aren’t all of you proud of these numbers too?

We deserve to be proud of these numbers. We deserve to take heart that crime and violence have been significantly reduced in our city.

The mayor is 100 percent right that we should be happy crime has declined, even if public perception hasn’t caught up to reality. The mayor is 100 percent right to promote these statistics.

But it’s truly difficult to say if Warren’s administration had anything to do with this drop, which started well before she came into office. Let’s just hope the trend continues.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Cuomo is investigating ways to put schools into receivership. Local control would go away.

– I never understood why Del Smith was considered such a rock star. He had a very thin business resume and no government experience before heading up the city’s economic development efforts. It now appears he wasn’t committed to doing the hard work required to revitalize the city and wants to return to the world of academia. This was one out-of-the-box hire that was a big bust.

– I love every single line of this piece: “When did Americans decide that allowing our kids to be out of sight was a crime?”

– A Xerox researcher thinks car ownership will decline dramatically in 10 years, though some think self-driving cars will put more cars on the road.

National school superintendent searches are unnecessary.

Museums feel the need to ban selfie sticks.

 

Video of the Day:

 

cuomo

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Rochester on Thursday and announced the sequel to the Buffalo Billion.

Instead of giving other Upstate regions their fair share, Cuomo said there’s only $1.5 billion for the rest of us.

Oh, and we’ll have to fight each other for the loot.

The governor made this announcement in the only big-city county he lost in November. When Cuomo lost Erie County, he showered money and love on Buffalo. When he lost Monroe County, he thrust us into a game show. Continue reading

A lot of people are talking about the Rochester Business Journal’s Snap Poll of Mayor Lovely Warren’s first year in office. The survey roundly panned her performance. Only 13 percent of respondents approve or strongly approve of how she’s doing the job.

This poll is total crap. Here’s why:

1. This is not a scientific poll. It’s a survey of readers. RBJ provides no information about these readers, including how many responded and where they live. Continue reading

It’s fair to say Mayor Lovely Warren has had a rocky first year in office. Let’s take a look back at good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:

Warren– Mayor Warren Goes to Washington: The mayor established relationships on the federal level. She met with the Vice-President on creating more manufacturing jobs, drew attention to the plight of young black men as part of the president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, talked to the president about being mayor of a city with a large number of poor residents, helped secure funding for port dredging and helped to get Rochester selected as a “Manufacturing Community,” making the area eligible for federal dollars.

– Mayor Uses Muscle: Lovely Warren secured the necessary votes among Democrats on the Monroe County Legislature to move the Costco and MCC downtown campus projects forward.

– Mayor and Maggie: The mayor and county executive share a good relationship. Maggie Brooks endorsed Warren for the position, an unprecedented move for a local Republican.

– Facilities Modernization: The mayor pushed to get more provisions for fiscal accountability in the second phase of construction.

– Party in the Park: This is a minor win, but moving it from the parking lot seemed like a good idea. We’ll know when the attendance numbers come back.

– More AIM Aid: This is sort of a half-win. Rochester got an extra $6 million from state lawmakers in the budget, but the city still gets the lowest amount of aid per capita compared to other cities. It also has to give the school district $119 million every year, while Buffalo and Syracuse can give far less to their districts. In addition, the state ignored the mayor’s request for $100 million for a performing arts center.

– Focus on Early Learning: Warren formed an Early Learning Council and has tirelessly promoted reading among young children. It’s too early to say if these efforts have paid off.

– Bloomberg Grant: The mayor helped to secure a $1.95 million grant to fight poverty using innovative techniques.

– Inner Loop: The mayor helped secure the final pieces of funding for the project to move forward. The project to fill in the Inner Loop started way before the mayor took office, but she’s been executing it according to plan.

– Police Reorganization: The mayor’s plan to create five police sections is extremely expensive and some say it’s not necessary, as crime has declined dramatically. But she is fulfilling a campaign pledge to bring police officers closer to the neighborhoods they serve. If this works, it will be a big part of her legacy.

– Transgender Benefits: Warren announced transgender city workers would have their treatments covered under medical insurance.

– Hart’s Grocery: The city played an active role in getting this downtown store open. The store received a tax abatement and federal loan.

 

The Bad:

 

– Uncle Reggie: The scandal now known as “Uncle Reggie” involved lying and nepotism. Hiring her uncle and another man as highly-paid security guards didn’t go over well. Neither did lying about how many times her uncle was stopped on the Thruway with her in the vehicle. Neither did ignoring reporters.

– Port Rollout: The mayor inherited this project, so it’s not fair to blame her for the plan to build a marina and develop the surrounding land. (Though she was on City Council and didn’t voice objections.) But when the project started to become real, Charlotte residents went beserk. It didn’t help that residents weren’t involved in the developer selection process and that the developer’s basic designs fell flat. As a result of the outcry, the city later involved residents in the design and planning.

– Officer Daryl Pierson’s death: This tragedy could have happened under any mayor, but it counts as a significantly awful event in her first year. Warren showed grace and leadership in the days following the shooting. The city did an excellent job planning a funeral that touched thousands of people. However, the feelings of goodwill evaporated when Warren posted about the Ferguson grand jury decision, saying Officer Darren Wilson had no regard for human life. This outraged supporters of police officers, who believe Wilson had no choice. The Pierson family jumped into the controversy, making harsh comments about the mayor. It was an ugly episode.

– St. Patrick’s Day Parade: The city removed the parade from East Ave. without soliciting any public input. When the public got wind of the plan, people were outraged. The move was a huge blow to East End businesses and patrons. The city backtracked, offered alternative routes and held a public hearing. A final route was chosen that goes down part of East Ave. The city claims the detour is temporary and necessary because of the Inner Loop project, but officials did a very poor job explaining their reasoning.

– Deaths of Larry and Jane Glazer: After they died, the city went out of its way to say everything would be the same, that development at Midtown would proceed according to plan. We now know that’s not true. The city has a dilemma on its hands with Parcel 5, which Larry Glazer had been eyeing. I suspect no one wants it now. Proposals are due January 15.

– Rochester Housing Authority: The mayor engineered the replacement of nearly all board members, who promptly fired the executive director and replaced him with a city councilman. The mayor claims she had nothing to do with this, though her associates were quietly warning the media weeks beforehand this would happen. Now the previous director has to be paid a yet-to-be-revealed sum that’s sure to be embarrassing. Councilman Adam McFadden was forced to resign as the new director when HUD started sniffing around. At any point during this process, the mayor could have roundly condemned these shenanigans. Instead, she protected her board members. This poorly-executed political patronage scheme has severely tarnished the agency.

– Staffing Problems: The deputy mayor was arrested for drunk driving. A city attorney with a previous DWI was promoted to a high-level economic development job, but got demoted after clashing with his superiors. The chief communications director, who clashed with reporters, was recently demoted to a job of “executive assistant,” but is still earning $98,000.

– Homeless Fight: The city ticked off a lot of bleeding hearts when it bulldozed the tents where homeless people had been staying. The city said the tents were not safe or sanitary and offered brick-and-mortar shelter to the residents. This kind of housing does not meet city code, nor is it appropriate to allow such a development on city land. But advocates claim they had no warning about the city’s intentions to plow the place down. In yet another City Hall “do-over,” the homeless have been given a short reprieve and their tents can stay up through New Year’s Day.

– “Stay in Your Lane”: People angry about how the homeless have been treated messaged the mayor’s Facebook account. A Facebook message sent from her account in return told people in the suburbs to mind their own business and “stay in your lane.” The city said Warren’s account was “compromised.” Here’s the big problem with that theory: Hackers don’t quote city talking points. The episode appeared to be another example of a City Hall that can’t get its story straight.

– Polarization: The mayor has become a polarizing figure. People love her and people love to hate her. Some of her detractors are very racist. Some of her supporters think she gets more scrutiny because of her race. Warren has fierce defenders and fierce detractors. Some of this is her fault, as this “bad” list contains entirely preventable situations. But some of the criticism against her is profoundly unfair.

It would be nice to see Warren become a more unifying figure in 2015. She can change the conversation and public perception by racking up wins and avoiding stupid mistakes. There’s plenty of time left in her term and I don’t believe we’ll see another year like this one.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– After major pushback in the Southern Tier, Cuomo is now interfering in the casino site selection process. (Does anyone believe he didn’t before?)

– “Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now muscling in, promising to save New York’s deficient school system…”

– This story of a Buffalo start-up needing venture capital from Buffalo to stay in Buffalo comes across like a shakedown. I realize VC is hard to come by in Upstate New York, but nothing suggests they have to move if VC comes from elsewhere.

– Finger Lakes wineries are fighting a gas storage plan.

– This makes me not want to see “Selma.”

– Guidance counselors are not a priority in many high schools.

– Let’s help out the historic train room in Rochester, a hidden gem.

– Will the ice bike be the next iconic Buffalo thing? Its developer hopes so.

 

Pedestrians are People, Too

 

The firing of Rochester Housing Authority Director Alex Castro his replacement by City Councilman Adam McFadden raise a number of questions.

1. What did Castro do?

According to public housing residents and previous board members, Castro was popular and competent. But when he was fired, RHA Board Chairman George Moses said there were “questionable business practices” and Castro “stonewalled” the board’s requests for information. Mayor Lovely Warren said she’s received information that is “appalling” and residents complained of bad living conditions and safety issues. Moses and Warren say they cannot give specifics because the matter is a “personnel issue.”

This is a public agency and Castro was earning six figures. There’s nothing inherently private about his employment. His firing could cost taxpayers $1 million. More importantly, if there are major problems at this authority, which has a $62 million budget and serves 22,000 residents, we need to know what’s happening.

If the mayor truly wants to move on from this controversy, the public deserves answers.

2. Was there a deal in place?

At the October 14 meeting, McFadden was hired immediately after Castro was fired. McFadden said he didn’t know he had been immediately appointed. The next day, Moses said he had other candidates to consider, misleading the public about what happened at the meeting. Do you believe McFadden’s name came up for the first time on October 14?(See Question #3.)

3. What did the mayor know and when did she know it?

I first heard Castro could be fired and replaced by McFadden back in August. When I made phone calls, I had sources who heard the same. If reporters, political operatives and City Hall workers had heard this was coming, how could the mayor not know? That begs the question of whether she ordered McFadden’s hire, helped orchestrate it or tacitly condoned it. She absolutely had the power to make these moves, as she appointed five of seven board members. She also had the power to stop the train from leaving the station.

The mayor said yesterday, “I was notified along with everyone else of both the dismissal of Alex Castro and the hiring of Adam McFadden, as interim director of the Authority.”

But what did she know before it all went down?

4. How is McFadden the problem?

The mayor threw McFadden under the bus when she asked him to step down. It’s true he is a polarizing figure. But McFadden did not fire Castro or hire himself. The mayor’s board did. Last week, the mayor demanded answers from the board on the situation. This week, she is standing solidly behind her picks, despite counsel from some supporters to clean house.

By only calling for McFadden’s resignation, the mayor has twisted herself into a pretzel. She’s also now at the center of the controversy.

5. Why does the mayor constantly need do-overs?

The mayor’s press strategy needs a tremendous amount of work. You can’t just blame her advisers. More than once, I’ve been told she disregards their advice.

Warren seemed totally unprepared for my question yesterday about whether she had asked Moses and McFadden to resign. There were three TV stations present. She was not direct, forceful or clear. Hours later, she called the one TV station not present to explain herself. She clearly wanted to talk to reporters who do not have as much knowledge of the situation, instead of those who have covered the story from the beginning.

Her press statement explaining why she wanted McFadden to resign was similarly lacking, with vague statements like, “Everyone knows what I went through at the beginning of the year thus I would never condone this.”

But on October 16, she told me she supported the board’s actions. That means she “condoned this,” until she felt the heat.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Astorino is within four points of Cuomo in the Syracuse area.

Cuomo and Christie’s Ebola strategies are based on politics, not science.

– The Democrat and Chronicle makes cutting jobs and forcing reporters to reapply for their own jobs just wonderful.

– “If…Jaylen Fryberg, had been a Muslim, his actions would have instantly been deemed a terror attack.”

– In Denmark, a Big Mac costs 80 cents more and fast food workers get paid $20 and hour.

– A former Kodak photographer finds old film damaged by bacteria. But he’s not disappointed!

WarrenThe annual Voice of the Voter Poll, a joint project by WXXI, the Democrat and Chronicle, 13WHAM News and WDKX, reveals Mayor Lovely Warren has low approval ratings.

The poll found 63 percent of Monroe County voters have a negative opinion of Warren, rating her job performance as “just fair” or “poor.”

The mayor’s office slammed the poll, releasing this statement:

“If a poll is going to be conducted about the City and its Mayor, then they should poll actual City voters. If a poll is going to ask about race relations in our City, then it should be more inclusive of minority voters. This poll, as always, is not reflective of the electorate in the City of Rochester.  The Voice of the Voter partners should be ashamed to release a poll with a 78 percent white and a 73 percent suburban sample size. Polls like these are flawed, and only perpetuate the feelings of disenfranchisement among City voters.”

I believe mayors should value what suburban voters think of their performance. They work in the city and play in the city. Mayors should want more of them to work and play in the city. They should want more of them to invest in the city and move back to the city. They should recognize that suburban voters have a stake in the city’s future. If suburban voters think you’re doing a bad job, their perception of the city as a whole may be negative. The bottom line is that mayors are important regional voices.

A poll like this could also shed light on whether Warren could run for higher office.

But the fact this poll doesn’t break down how city residents feel about the mayor’s job performance is a glaring omission. These are the mayor’s constituents. She is directly responsible to them. They’re the ones who hold her accountable. The poll’s crosstabs break down responses by demographic for all questions except ones on the job performance of politicians. This is blatantly unfair to Warren and gives city residents less importance than suburban residents. The breakdown should have been included – and reported by the sponsoring outlets. I’ve gotten no response to my tweet about this:

 

 

The mayor’s other beefs with the poll are less convincing. The county is made up of about 72 percent suburban voters. The county is also nearly 80 percent white. If you’re going to do a countywide poll, the demographics of the sample line up.

I’m not sure why the mayor’s office singled out asking about race relations. The poll found 69 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks said race relations were “just fair” or “poor.” Both groups appear to have identified a racial divide.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Governor Cuomo admits his Ebola quarantine policy could be unenforceable.

– A Former RCSD administrator and Razorshark player finds his leadership challenged in Erie County district.

– Support for marijuana legalization is rapidly outpacing opposition.

– The law lets the I.R.S. seize accounts on suspicion alone, no crime required.

– “The United States and Great Britain deserve badges of shame for the resurgence of measles and whooping cough.”

– A Rochester homeless man forgot his identity. It was a huge undertaking to solve the mystery and get him the identification he needs for basic services.

“I respectfully request $100 million to allow the City to support the private development of a downtown Performing Arts Center.”

That might be the most amazing sentence ever written by a politician.

But Mayor Lovely Warren did indeed ask for the money with a straight face in a February 13 letter to the governor. She also asked for other stuff, including money to repair sidewalks, reorganized the police department, fill in the Inner Loop and assist the Sibley Building project. Her monetary request was far, far greater than the wish list sent to the governor by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Two weeks before Warren wrote her letter, I wrote a blog asking “Why Not Rochester?” The governor had just visited suburban Syracuse, awarding $100 million for a lakefront project. We can’t criticize Rochester for not getting anything and then criticize our leaders for asking.

Yes, Warren’s request was very bold. But we’re talking about a state that was prepared to give Syracuse University $200 million for an athletic stadium before Miner put on the brakes. We’re talking about a state that is giving Buffalo $1 billion, not including the tens of millions being used to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium.

That fact is, we’d have a new performing arts center on Main Street if our last two mayors cared to advocate for one. If Warren wants a theater at Midtown, she’ll get a theater at Midtown, especially with help from County Executive Maggie Brooks, who said she supports the effort. Getting our state lawmakers behind that vision would help, too. (So far, they most definitely are not.)

Here’s what former Brooks spokesman Noah Lebowitz posted on my Facebook page:

Facebook comment

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A Cornell professor weighs in on college athletes getting paid. She relates them to medical interns.

– I just do not understand putting $95 million of tax dollars into a Ralph Wilson Stadium renovation while at the same time exploring a new Bills venue.

– See ya suburbs. More people want to live in the city.

– This is hysterical: When your anonymous neighbor makes fun of you via a Wi-Fi name.

 

Video of the Day:

 

water park

 

Mayor Lovely Warren floated the idea of an indoor waterpark behind the Strong Museum on what is now the Inner Loop.

Let’s discuss it.

The eastern portion of Inner Loop will likely be filled in. That creates 8-9 acres of extra land, some of which can be used for a waterpark.

Courtesy: The Strong

Courtesy: The Strong

The Strong attracted 565,000 visitors in 2012 who came from all over the world. Is it possible some of them would stay a little longer and spend more money in Rochester with another family-oriented attraction next door? This could make a lot of sense.

The reason the city would promote an indoor waterpark is to attract jobs, tourism dollars and property tax payments. Do water parks make good economic development sense?

Waterparks are a $4 billion business in the United States, and revenue is growing. There are more than 500 waterparks employing nearly 40,000 people.

An article in Aquatics International explained why localities find waterparks attractive – and how they often require mega-deals using public funds:

“When you come in with an $18 million to $20 million payroll, 1,200 jobs and a tax base that solves their tax problems, most welcome you with open arms,” says Todd Nelson, owner and president of Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which has begun planning a new $350 million waterpark resort in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

(snip)

“Waterpark developments have received a variety of economic incentives, including tax abatements, room tax rebates for waterpark resorts, infrastructure funds, income tax rebates, and assistance in acquiring land,” says David Sangree, president of consulting firm Hotel & Leisure Advisors in Cleveland, who does feasibility and economic impact studies for the waterpark industry.

(snip)

Why do public incentives matter so much in the private waterpark industry, which is a tourism sector that everyone says is growing? The answer is financing.

The article described truly massive public subsidies for waterparks. Does Rochester have the means and the fortitude for such a venture? Would it pay off?

The mayor also suggested a hotel at the waterpark. Monroe County’s hotel market is getting saturated, with more and more rooms coming on the market. Experts say a huge market analysis is needed and a waterpark alone won’t sustain a hotel:

For the hotel to succeed, it must have a balanced mix of customers: business, leisure and groups. If you just sell rooms during the summer and every weekend all year, your hotel may run 50 to 55 percent occupancy annually. You need other types of customers — in addition to waterpark families — to reach occupancies in the 70s and 80s. We have yet to work on a hotel waterpark project that did not need support from all types of customers.

The mayor said she has had preliminary conversations with developers. A major feasibility study would be needed, one that would have to be shared with the public.

Rochester already had one major tourism project fail (the fast ferry). There’s nothing saying the city can’t pursue economic development projects involving tourism at the same time it pursues ones focused on innovation and technology. But I have a feeling which is more likely to pay bigger dividends. What do you think?

 

On the Second Stop

 

With the admission of a second stop on the Thruway, Mayor Lovely Warren was caught being less than truthful in her press conference on Monday. I don’t expect her to discuss this again, because the matter of the security detail is before the ethics board. The entire controversy has been handled horrendously by City Hall.

Meanwhile, Albany’s mayor drives herself around – in her own car.

 

On the Mayor and Me

 

A firestorm on social media followed Mayor Lovely Warren’s treatment of me at Monday’s press conference. She ignored my questions. Her spokesperson said she was angry at questions I posed on social media and my blog. It was rude awkward, uncomfortable and was not the mayor’s finest moment. The mayor expressed regret for what happened on a radio program Wednesday morning and indicated she’d had a rough day. I accept that explanation.

Warren I met on Wednesday evening and talked about the role of the media. Both of us were concerned at people using what happened at the press conference to set up a “war” between us and to further their own agendas. Those agendas sometimes included racial animosity (on both sides). It was terribly stressful for me to be part of a news story in this fashion. I am confident the mayor and I will have a professional relationship. I am grateful she wanted to meet. We both have moved on from this incident. She knows I will continue to ask tough questions.

 

Jeff Speck Coming to Rochester

 

I wrote a review of Jeff Speck’s book, “Walkable Cities.” He will be in Rochester on Tuesday for a speech. Here are the details. He will also be my guest on News 8 First at 4 on Tuesday.

 

Lovely WarrenThere are two big issues concerning the mayor’s security detail: Nepotism and excess. (Now there may be a third: abuse of authority. The security detail was stopped by state police going 97 miles an hour on the Thruway.)

No other Rochester mayor has had a security detail. Bill Johnson drove himself around. Bob Duffy and Tom Richards often had the Director of Security drive them places in a city vehicle. (That’s akin to what other Upstate mayors do. They use either security director or police officer for this function during business hours.) County Executive Maggie Brooks has no driver.

The city’s Director of Security remains on the job, but he’s no longer tasked with driving the mayor around. 

Warren created two new positions, Director of Executive Services ($80,000) and Associate Director of Executive Services ($60,000). Her uncle, Reggie Hill, fills the $80,000-a-year job. A former Kodak security man, Caesar Carbonell fills the other job. The positions were not advertised. Warren said they are temporary and she will post the jobs and go through civil service. She said the men will be on call 24-7 and will not earn overtime. They pick her up at home every morning and drop her off at night.

In what’s now become a locally famous quote, Warren said, “We don’t do anything for no reason.”

The mayor said she needs the security because she’s a woman, she has a small child, people are bigoted, people write hateful things about her online and the former police chief said all mayors need security. She said she hired her uncle because she needs someone she can trust and he’s the most qualified person for the job.

Here are the questions that still need to be answered:

1. What do Hill and Caesar Carbonell do all day? Warren likely spends a good chunk of her day at City Hall. Are they standing guard outside her door? If so, what are the regular City Hall security guards doing? Are Hill and Carbonell providing security at her house? Are they doing any personal business for Warren? What are the precise”executive services” are taxpayers providing the mayor?

2. How much security is too much? Just because the former police chief said she needed some protection, did that extend to two armed bodyguards? Could this service have been provided by police officers? Could this service have been provided at a lesser cost? Does the mayor need so much protection she can’t drive herself to and from work? What makes women politicians and black politicians more vulnerable to attack? Violence against local elected officials in the United States is extremely rare.

3. What are the ancillary expenses? Duffy shelved a Tahoe because of controversy over the cost. It appears the vehicle, or one like it has been unearthed. Who is driving what and what is it costing taxpayers? Are these environmentally-friendly vehicles?

4. Why didn’t the mayor go through civil service to hire these men? If Hill and Carbonell are truly the most qualified, let them go through the same process as other citizens trying to get jobs.

5. When will the security detail jobs be advertised?

6. Will Hill get a waiver to collect his pension and work this job? He doesn’t have one right now, meaning he will max out at $30,000 of earnings.

7. Where is the money coming from to pay for this security detail? We are in the middle of a budget year.

8. Are Hill and Carbonell contract employees or on the city payroll? If it’s a contract, City Council has to approve.

9. Are Hill and Carbonell legally allowed to carry their weapons into City Hall and other government buildings where civilians cannot carry weapons?

10. Will the mayor voluntarily bring this matter before the City Ethics Board? The ethics board exists to issue opinions about conflicts of interest, such as hiring relatives. City Council has the authority to ask the ethics board for a decision on the security detail. (City Council will likely do so in the matter of Corporation Counsel T. Andrew Brown wanting to retain a stake in his law firm.)

The hiring of her uncle could fall under Section 4 of the Code of Ethics:

No City officer or employee, acting in the performance of his official duties, shall treat, whether by action or omission to act, any person more favorably than it is the custom and practice to treat the general public.

It’s important to note no one can discipline the mayor, except voters four years from now. But going before the ethics board voluntarily could show good faith. A City Council vote demanding a ruling sends a strong message to the mayor and the public.

These 10 questions should make it clear why this is still a story – and why it’s not going away.

Update: We did not get answers to all of these questions and the mayor’s spokesperson said this blog angered Warren. I was frozen out of her press conference. City Council has now requested an ethics investigation. – RB 1/14/14

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Portland and Rochester have similarly educated populations. So why is one city better at the start-up game?

– The mayor of Syracuse is begging the state for money to pay for things like repairing water mains and buying police cars. But it appears the state is more interested in a new sports stadium for Syracuse University.

Scranton ponders bankruptcy.

– In Kansas public buildings, either everyone can have guns or no one can have guns. Guess which is winning?

– Actual headline: “Oklahoma bill would ease school policies on imaginary, toy guns”

– “It’s been my whole life, downtown.” Great profile of 85-year-old Rochester barber.

4b51f4aa-f527-4184-b647-0a3fb726dc8cThe New York Times says Lovely Warren is part of a new wave of progressive mayors who want to address inequality:

Lovely A. Warren won election as mayor of Rochester last month with a campaign lamenting what she called the “two Rochesters,” challenged by crime and poverty, but also boasting prosperous neighborhoods.

onecityWhile the attention to this issue is extremely welcome, Warren won’t be the first mayor to talk about “two Rochesters.” Bob Duffy’s inauguration speech discussed the importance of creating “One City.” In fact, “One City” was incorporated into city marketing materials.

Here is an excerpt from Duffy’s 2006 speech, in which he talked about poverty and crime plaguing poor neighborhoods:

We are a community of great wealth and great poverty. Our future success depends on our ability to connect our great assets with our greatest needs. We are two cities today. In the future, we have to work and commit to be one. One city.

Hope – Unity – and Commitment

This city is my responsibility. It is your responsibility as well.

Duffy wanted to unite the “two Rochesters,” rich and poor, city and suburbs. Warren’s approach has been a bit more divisive. Her campaign said the city wasn’t doing enough for one Rochester, and doing too much for the other.

(Bill Johnson, Bob Duffy and Tom Richards all spent considerable tax dollars on housing, street maintenance and services in poor communities. It will be interesting to see how Warren’s approach differs.)

Duffy and Warren both pointed out the differences between the “two Rochesters.” But Warren issued a loud battle cry – and it was heard by voters.

 

Links of the Day:

 

There is a huge shortage of mental health professionals in the United States.

– A Syracuse hospital is greatly expanding its methadone clinic because of heroin and painkiller abuse.

– At what point are the giveaways to corporations so great the economic benefits of having them in your town are erased? See Lockport’s deal with Yahoo.

– Good for Atlanta’s mayor for refusing to subsidize a sports team’s stadium with dubious promises of economic development in return.

– Recreational pot will be legal in Colorado on January 1. The law is fascinating.

– “Medical abuse” prompted a Boston hospital to get custody of a girl – and keep her locked up for 10 months. Hard to believe so many people could fail this child.

– A “cookie lady” gets shut down and no one knows why. She suspects it has nothing to do with kid allergies.

– People getting Rochester logo tattoos. It’s a thing.

– Vanessa Williams approached a guy in a Sabres jersey during a trip to Egypt. She and the Buffalo man are now dating.

4b51f4aa-f527-4184-b647-0a3fb726dc8cWhen Detroit filed for bankruptcy, cities across the country asked if they would be next. Many face the same challenges of pension and employee costs, suburban flight, a declining property tax base, vacant housing, crime and struggling schools.

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards warned the city could go down the same path as Detroit if it’s not properly managed. But there are significant differences between the Flower City and the Motor City. City workers are in the state pension system and Rochester has not had the same management problems. (Detroit suffered through decades of having an extreme debt load and saw an explosion of even more borrowing under Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was also convicted in a corruption scandal.) Rochester maintains a decent quality of life with libraries, police and fire services, parks and more. Rochester’s credit rating is stellar, and has remained so since at least the days of Mayor Bill Johnson.

In short, Rochester is a long, long way from being Detroit.

That’s why I was disturbed to hear people say after Lovely Warren was elected mayor, “Rochester will be Detroit.”

There are no facts to support any such prediction that the city will go down the tubes. Warren has no record of financial mismanagement or incompetence as City Council president. Her mentor, David Gantt, has had some minor scandals and questionable episodes (Fastrac on East Main, red light camera legislation that favored his protege lobbyist, collecting his pension early and playing politics with many major projects and the RCSD), but there’s nothing to suggest deep-seated corruption. Every longtime politician in Rochester has their issues.

Meanwhile, Monroe County is embroiled in a major corruption scandal and struggles to maintain a good credit rating. But no one says the county will become Detroit. Why is that?

We all know the answer.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Cannot get my head around a $20 million state contract for a Rochester head-hunting firm.

Ginna is considered at risk of closing.

– Xerox fired someone for posting a selfie of herself on the job.

– Rochester has some super-wealthy Zip Codes, as this interactive map shows.

Rochester teachers who appealed their ratings tell me they were awarded a total of 1 to 2 points extra, not enough to make a difference.

– Syracuse’s mayor sometimes gets confronted in public restrooms. She’ll discuss policy anywhere.

Study will look at bike share feasibility in Rochester. Bob Lonsberry tweeted this is bike entitlement. But:

Bike

 

Tom

 

Tom Richards is either thanking or cursing his friends right now.

Sunday night, the Independence Party announced it wants people to continue to vote for Richards in November, even though he dropped out of the race for mayor. Richards will still appear on the Independence and Working Families party lines. The press release to newsrooms included a link to a website, TurnoutforTom.com.

Tom RichardsMonday, the Independence Party wouldn’t return phone calls. Richards said in a statement he never talked to the Independence Party about this announcement. (He also didn’t say he would refuse the job if elected.) The effort appeared dead on arrival, but there were questions about who was behind the sudden stealth campaign.

It turns out, the Independence Party had some help. In a stunningly embarrassing move, the chairperson of the party sent the Democrat and Chronicle an op-ed about his support for Richards. He accidentally included an email chain that revealed the true author of the op-ed: Gary Walker, Richards’ spokesman. Walker crafted the message with assistance from fire administrator Molly Clifford and her partner, UNICON’s Ken Warner.

Walker, Clifford and Warner are Democrats who support Richards. Walker and Clifford were going to lose their jobs in a Warren administration. With this move, they certainly lit a match and torched the bridge on their way out.

Now, Richards will be immediately asked to renounce their effort. He will be pressed into saying what will happen if he wins. The longer he goes without discouraging people to vote for him, the wider the rift in the Democratic Party will grow.

4b51f4aa-f527-4184-b647-0a3fb726dc8cThis effort could damage Warren, who is already under fire for dodging questions. It is the first sign that not all Democrats were good soldiers and lined up behind Warren. If the Richards “not-campaign” continues, Warren risks losing the 70 percent vote total she’s likely trying to capture on Election Day to prove she has a mandate.

I believe a Richards third-party win would require much more effort than a last-minute campaign in which he’s not a participant. Even if he had been actively campaigning, he faced long odds. Aaron Wicks, the only blogger who predicted Warren’s win, breaks down why Richards can’t win on a third party line.

But thank you, Gary, Molly & Ken for spicing up what had turned into a rather dull post-primary run-up to November.

 

Bob

 

Let’s talk about Bob Duffy’s giant mess. When Sandy Parker announced Monday she is staying on at Rochester Business Alliance, I thought she would be paving the way for Duffy to take over once his first term as lieutenant governor is up next year.

DuffyBut a source points out Parker might have to stay on because Duffy bowed out of the job. He’s now facing ethics questions related to his reported application for the job. RBA is a lobbying group and state law places lobbying restrictions on former elected officials. Duffy also has a conflict of interest if he’s applying for a job with a lobbying group while serving as lieutenant governor. Then there’s the matter of the unlisted Keuka Lake house Duffy bought from Parker without disclosing. Furthermore, Duffy has another connection to RBA: As mayor he helped orchestrate the $1 sale of a Plymouth Ave. lot to John Summers, Parker’s husband and RBA board member. With the Moreland Commission now investigating all kinds of Albany political dealings, why take any chances? Give up the RBA plan and move on.

It’s also very possible Duffy seriously angered the governor if he didn’t see this coming.

Today, Parker denied any and all knowledge of Duffy wanting her job, calling it media speculation.

Duffy has not made similar denials. He won’t comment on rumors he sought the RBA position or that he might not want to be lieutenant governor for another term. He and Cuomo say they’ll talk about his political future next year. 

What a disaster for the once-rising political star. Nazareth College’s Tim Kneeland calls Duffy “damaged goods” because of this fiasco. Wicks declares him dead.

Tom RichardsThoughts about the biggest upset in Rochester politics since Bill Johnson won the 1993 mayoral primary:

1. Grassroots campaigns win primaries. Tom Richards spent tens of thousands of dollars more than Lovely Warren. But he spent it on television ads. Too few people vote in primaries for television to be effective. Meanwhile, Warren stuffed mailboxes, put up lawn signs and went door to door. The Democratic Party, which backed Richards, took this race for granted and it showed throughout the campaign.

2. Polls can be wrong. The Siena College poll showing Richards with a 63-27 lead turned out to be preposterously wrong. The sample was made up of 60 percent white people and 37 percent black people, which offers some explanation. But seriously, this poll BOMBED.

3. Polls can keep people home. The Siena College poll showed Richards with such a huge lead, his supporters may have driven right home after a hot day at the office. On the flip side, that poll did nothing to discourage Warren’s supporters.

4. The special election showed signs of doom for Richards. The mayor did not get 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 special election, despite having the backing of the Democratic Party and black leaders. The vote was very much along racial lines. A special election is different than a primary. All parties can vote in a special election. It’s very possible – even likely – Richards was bolstered by blanks and Republicans. The first sign the Democrats backed the wrong horse came in 2011.

5. Low turnout matters. In primaries, every vote counts. Warren clearly got her base to the polls. Only 15,000 people voted. That compares to 21,000 Democrats in the 2005 mayoral primary and 25,000 voters of all parties in the 2011 special election.

6. Does Richards even have a base? (See #4.) Many voters have told me they just didn’t connect with him. They saw him as aloof and distant from their problems. Having covered Richards for years now, I don’t think that’s true. But he failed to communicate his message to the public. The Duffy machine set Richards up as mayor, but Richards never had Duffy-like charisma or widespread support.

7. Warren did a superb job connecting with voters and pressing the need for change.

8. The Bob Duffy era is dead.

9. The David Gantt era is still alive.

<Watch my interview with Richards after his defeat.>

<Watch my interview with Bill Johnson.>

<Watch my interview with Alex White.>

<Siena admits poll was messed up.>

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Lovely Warren is either brilliant or out of her mind.

In recent days, she has been soliciting advice from the area’s movers and shakers about whether she should run for mayor.

Word got out and she didn’t deny it when asked. She said she might run even if Mayor Tom Richards runs for reelection.

This could be Warren’s way of saying, “This is my time.”

It’s possible Richards, who is already on the fence, will throw up his hands and say, “I don’t really need the drama right now. It’s time to retire.”

If that happens, Warren’s move was brilliant. By floating her name, she forces out a big threat.

But it would be naive to think there won’t be many other threats in her path. If Richards bows out, expect a free for all. This could be 1993 all over again. That year saw a six-way Democratic primary. (Heavy Democratic enrollment has meant elections in the city are essentially decided in primaries.)

If Warren jumps in, with or without Richards, there will be many people lined up against her for one big reason: Assemblyman David Gantt. Warren is his chief legal counsel and a close friend. Gantt has been a polarizing figure and Warren is closely associated with him. That may not be fair, but it’s a big piece of luggage. Rightly or wrongly, Gantt’s critics see him as someone who pulls political strings and doesn’t always play fair. Warren would have to work hard to unite people and forge her own identity. She would have to explain her vision.

She also risks alienating Richards’ considerable number of supporters right out of the gate, unless he gets behind her candidacy. If she runs and loses, her political future could be damaged. (Where is Wade Norwood now?)

Warren has a compelling life story and an admirable record of achievement. But by putting in her name now, she may be giving credence to those who alleged she supported Richards in the 2011 special election because there was an understanding he would only serve the rest of Duffy’s term. Some are thinking the “deal” fell through, angering Warren and prompting her possible run.

Whatever the case, what could have been a sleepy mayoral year has suddenly become a “fasten-your-seatbelt” election that could shape city history.

Links of the Day:

– The state won’t make the fatality review of an abused child public. This is a regular denial and law should be changed to hold child welfare agencies accountable.

– Syracuse has an 80-year ban on sleddingthat no one obeys.

Rochester City Ballet is expanding its reach and growing stronger.