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The Clash of the Titans proved Maggie Brooks is a mere mortal.

The woman who’d handily won three terms as Monroe County executive was a wallflower in the campaign. She avoided questions about her positions on issues at the beginning and never recovered. The warm, friendly former TV reporter wasn’t there. Instead, we got a boilerplate Republican campaign straight out of a national consultant’s office.

“She never gave people a reason to fire their grandmother,” said one GOP source. “Messaging to women was too severe. Women don’t respond to negative messaging. You take the best communicator we’ve seen politically, and we never heard from her.”

Brooks not only lost, she lost badly.

Factors contributing to her loss included the Democratic enrollment edge in the district, Slaughter’s support among women, conservative views that don’t play well in moderate Monroe County, the district’s support for Obama, the Democrats’ failure to run strong candidates against her in previous races and the myriad scandals that have surrounded her tenure.

The scandals mattered. Many people said to me they felt something stinks at the County Office Building. Contracts favoring friends (and her husband), the cigar-smoking former airport boss, the drunk diving former airport boss, the trades workers who turned in false time sheets, state audits faulting off-the-books local development corporations and the general aura of machine politics left a bad taste.

Teflon Maggie is sticky, after all.

The buck always stops at the top. I’ve always felt, however, Brooks was held to a higher standard in the press than Democratic officials. If the parking ticket scandal had happened to the county sheriff’s and not city police, it would have been tossed into her scandal pile. But something tells me Mayor Tom Richards won’t be dinged. Democrats are guilty of some of the very same things identified with Brooks’ administration, but they’re not raked over the coals to the same extent. (Anyone want a piece of downtown land for $1 to build luxury condos?) The media coverage of Brooks has been fair, yet there’s been a notable absence of critical coverage of other prominent politicians.

In 2003, Brooks handed former mayor Bill Johnson a resounding defeat in the county executive race. Johnson, fresh off giving his concession speech, climbed onto the television risers for interviews. I said, “I’m sorry, mayor. This must be hard.” He held my hand tightly and looked shaken. A friend predicted at the beginning of the race, “This is her Bill Johnson moment.”

Bill Johnson was licked for his support of metro government. Maggie Brooks was licked for her scandals.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Sometimes, there’s no conspiracy.

Mayor Tom Richards, wondering why COMIDA hadn’t quickly rubber stamped Sibley’s tax breaks, publicly accused Republican Monroe County leaders on Tuesday of stalling the deal. Richards said he was told by county insiders this was payback for his opposition to Monroe Community College’s desire to move out of Sibley to Kodak property.

That makes no sense for a few different reasons:

1. The Sibley deal isn’t contingent on MCC staying there.

2. The Sibley people had a meeting scheduled with COMIDA the next day. (The owners say the deal was never in jeopardy anyway.)

3. It’s not unreasonable or unprecedented for COMIDA to take a little time with such a deal. Taxpayers already took a $20 million haircut on this property.

4. Republicans don’t care what happens to MCC downtown.

Let’s examine that last point. Democrats believe the GOP secretly wants MCC’s proposed $72 million new digs at Kodak, complete with a power source, to be part of their fiefdom. But when have Republican elected officials expressed any kind of enthusiasm  for MCC vacating Sibley? County Executive Maggie Brooks, when asked about MCC’s move, says, “MCC has the right to choose where it wants to be.” That’s not the same as saying, “Yay, Kodak! Yay, MCC moving! Woohoo!” Her support has been lukewarm, at best.

Democrats don’t seem to understand they’re pretty close to winning the MCC fight and may have a secret ally in Monroe County. The county was instrumental in getting MCC to extend its lease at Sibley for another five years. That’s a long time. Over this period, the Sibley renovation and a changing atmosphere on Main St. will make it very hard for MCC to go anywhere. Furthermore, money for the new campus could dry up.

Former mayor Bob Duffy and now Mayor Richards don’t get that Brooks cares about downtown. She is the biggest champion in the county for MCC staying downtown.  A GOP source said the rest of the Republicans wouldn’t care if MCC packed up and moved back to Brighton.

Finally, all of this begs the question of why Richards knocked Brooks so publicly. It turns out the mayor was wrong. Either this was a genuine misunderstanding or he owed Louise Slaughter a favor. Richards doesn’t strike me as someone who plays politics, so I’m going with the former.

It’s good news Sibley is going forward, despite last minute – and unwarranted – drama.

Links of the Day:

– College at Brockport police officers have been worried about safety issues.

– The RPD struggles to find the resources to add foot patrols, which are popular among residents.

– New York congressional races could dictate outcome of who controls the House.

– Why are gas prices so high in Western New York?

Seneca Park Zoo

Rochester newsrooms got quite a chuckle when Monroe County sent out a press release titled, “BROOKS, ZOO OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE GIANT STEP IN POLAR BEAR REPRODUCTION.”

The press release had this line:

“Monroe County is now positioned at the forefront of the preservation of polar bear species…

It turns out, Monroe County is at the forefront of a lot of things, in addition to polar bear insemination.

Forensic Science: “This Crime Lab now puts us at the forefront in forensic science…”

Alternative Fuel: “Our Alternative Fuel Conversion Program stands at the forefront of nationwide efforts in discovering new and improved energy sources…”

Public Works: “Honors such as the State’s APWA ‘Project of the Year’ and ‘Technical Innovation’ awards put our community at the forefront of public works efforts…

It’s good to know our government is so accomplished. While Brooks is at the forefront, the governor is making history.

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Links of the Day:

– Maggie Brooks is pro-life. The candidate for the 25th district congressional seat did not reveal to the Democrat and Chronicle how she would vote on abortion-related issues (or much else):

“I have not let social issues define my governing ability or style here in Monroe County and that would continue,” she said.

On abortion, Brooks said she has a “personal pro-life position” but that she governs for “everyone” and tries to balance different interests. Asked if she would seek to change access to abortion, Brooks said she wouldn’t talk about “hypotheticals.”

“Until you’re faced with a piece of legislation that has specific language and specific detail, I don’t think it’s fair to sit here and say I would or I wouldn’t,” she said. “Because most often it’s not a yes or no answer.

Meanwhile, Brooks’ opponent, Louise Slaughter, is co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.

Brooks’ position on social issues could factor big into the race. One GOP insider told me “east side Monroe County Republican women” are very moderate and may not go for a pro-lifer. This person thought the abortion issue could bring a lot of outside campaign money into the race on both sides. Although Brooks hasn’t been very specific about her social views, we knew they were conservative after she opposed benefits for the same-sex spouses of county workers legally married in other states. (The county lost in court.)

I couldn’t find a poll about Monroe County voters’ views on abortion. But a recent Voice of the Voter poll showed local voters don’t place a huge premium on social and moral issues.

Could that change in this election?

– The Buffalo News opposes a downtown casino, saying local patrons would create local problems. The paper doubts it will be a tourist destination.

– Some states allow certain companies to keep the state income tax they collect from employees. Say what? Rochester’s own David Cay Johnston breaks it down.

– Should movie theaters charge more for hits and less for flops? Pricing based on demand seems so obvious, doesn’t it?

Maybe living together before marriage isn’t such a great idea.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter is back in Rochester undergoing rehabilitation at Strong Memorial Hospital. Her office issued this statement Saturday:

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in Rochester,” said Congresswoman Slaughter. “The outpouring of support that I have received has truly been humbling and is a reminder of how fortunate I am to represent the wonderful people of my district. As you are already aware, I took a spill while in New York City and broke my left leg. I am well on the road to recovery and have begun undergoing rehabilitation so that I can continue fighting for the hardworking families of Western New York.”

“We expect an excellent and functional recovery from Congresswoman Slaughter,” said Stephen L. Kates, M.D., professor in the URMC Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. “She is undergoing rehabilitation therapy at Strong Memorial Hospital, and there is an excellent chance she will be discharged within the week. Because the Congresswoman has no other health conditions to contend with, she can focus solely on her broken leg and will quickly be able to return to Washington to deal with the important issues facing our nation.”

“Like all of you, I’m looking forward to spending this holiday weekend with my family,” said Slaughter. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done both in Washington and here at home, including our work to support American businesses on trade issues, grow our economy and create middle class jobs, and end the overuse of antibiotics in meat and poultry production, which gravely jeopardizes public health. The President’s signing of the STOCK Act, while certainly a proud moment, is just a part of my continued efforts to bring reform to Washington so that our government reflects the principles of integrity and trust that the American people deserve.

“I look forward to the opportunity to speak with all of you in the very near future to discuss how we’ll be moving forward with this and other important initiatives in the weeks and months to come.”

The statement is an attempt to blunt any questions about the 82-year-old’s ability to continue with the campaign against Maggie Brooks. Her doctor pointed out she has no other conditions. That’s important, given the GOP-generated rumors swirling about the congresswoman’s health.

Republicans may harp on Slaughter’s age. Already, it’s a sensitive issue. Viewers – perhaps supporters – are calling TV stations asking that Slaughter’s age not be included in stories that don’t also mention Brooks’ age. Slaughter’s age was relevant in this story, because breaking a leg can be a lot more serious for octogenarians. Furthermore, her office didn’t provide many details about her condition, leaving people to worry and speculate.

Fortunately, it appears Slaughter has a good prognosis.

It seems every high-profile campaign has a mystery poll. The phone-calling has started early in the Brooks v. Slaughter race.

Several people say they’ve been called at home and asked whom they would support in a Brooks-Slaughter match-up and a Brooks-Morelle match-up.

That would be Joe Morelle, Democratic party chairman and state assemblyman. He’s not running, however. Slaughter is the candidate.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties deny they are behind the poll. Assuming the party chairs are not lying, someone affiliated with their parties doing this without their knowledge.

If Republicans are behind this poll, they could be worried Slaughter will drop out. The GOP has also been pushing the “Slaughter is ill” rumor for a while. Conducting a poll and hoping it makes the news (or a blog) could be a way to discredit Slaughter, but that seems like a lot of effort to further a rumor. People conduct polls because they want data.

Slaughter seemed just fine at a press conference a couple weeks ago and says she’s in good health. She also insists she’s running and there are absolutely no indications she’s even thinking of backing out.

If Democrats are behind the poll, they could have inside knowledge about Slaughter’s intentions. Even if she’s in 100 percent good health, she’s 82 and anything could happen. That’s a pretty cynical way to look things.

I expect we’ll see a lot of mystery polls, campaign literature and other stuff this campaign. It’ll be a long seven months.

Proposed 25th District

There’s one major reason Maggie Brooks decided to enter the congressional race: Monroe County.

The newly-created 25th Congressional District encompasses most of the county, a place Brooks has won four countywide races as clerk and executive. She wins big, too.

Check out the refrain she repeated often during her announcement: “Our country can learn a lot from our county.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

Brooks’ challenger, longtime Democratic incumbent Louise Slaughter, has already sent out a fundraising email blast. Slaughter hasn’t faced a major challenger in years. She will not go down without a big fight.

Slaughter has a long record, which she refers to in her statement responding to Brooks’ entry in to the race. Brooks will now have to spell out where she stands on national issues, which she didn’t do at her press conference, other than to say she “leans conservative” and likes some parts of national health care and dislikes others. The national Democratic committee already sent out a list of questions to ask Brooks on her policy positions. Does she support birth control coverage? How would she have voted on the debt ceiling?

Both women will run on their name recognition and popularity. Slaughter will make this about national issues. But Brooks said today, “All politics is local.”

This is going to be a long campaign. Political analyst Curt Smith said, “Anyone who bet a nickel at this point should be basically assigned to an asylum.”

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The clock is ticking for Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks to decide if she will run for Congress. Redistricting has put her and incumbent Democrat, Louise Slaughter, in the same district.

Brooks is seriously looking at a campaign. It’s the only other job she wants in politics, she said. Brooks got a nice plug from former governor George Pataki, who told the GOP convention in Rochester Friday she belongs in higher office.

“With the crisis of leadership we have in Washington, I hope that she can be convinced we need to put her talents on a national stage,” Pataki said.

More than a few GOP supporters and elected officials at the convention said they expect Brooks to run.

The new Monroe County-centric congressional district would have a Democratic enrollment edge, but Brooks said that doesn’t phase her.

“Monroe County has always had a Democratic edge since I’ve run for office since 2004,” she said.

Brooks wouldn’t lose her job as county executive if she runs, as she was just elected to a third term.

The petition deadline is Tuesday, but Brooks doesn’t know if she’ll have a decision by then. She said there’s a mechanism for the party to pass petitions without designating a candidate.

Slaughter has been in Congress two decades. Like Brooks, she is very popular. Will she relish a race against Brooks or bow out? She will be 83 in August, but says she’s in good health.

It would be a memorable matchup and a lot of fun to cover.

Should Brooks run? Who do you think would win?

Update: Brooks is expected to announce she is in the race Monday morning. 3/18 RB

Is Xerox, which posted profits of $1.3 billion last year, getting a call center courtesy of taxpayers?

Xerox – after several weeks of mildly threatening to locate the call center elsewhere – decided to proceed with plans to renovate a portion of Building 200 in Webster. The call center would employ 500 people over two years and cost $4.3 million.

The company had already been awarded $271,000 in county sales tax breaks. But the state press release made clear what sealed the deal: a $1 million grant and $5 million in job creation tax credits.

If you do the math, $1 million plus $5 million minus $4.3 million means Xerox comes out ahead.

Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and County Executive Maggie Brooks seemed genuinely started when I pointed out the call center would essentially be free and questioned the accuracy of the state’s press release.

But both defended giving the project incentives.

“It’s not about giving anyone a free call center. It’s all about leveling the playing field for companies that want to stay here because they have a larger investment,” said Brooks.

“I can assure you that other governors in other states would be right there offering to build this,” said Duffy.

A Xerox spokesman disputed the idea the company would be getting a free call center. He tax credits are not cash and they are paid out after many years and only if Xerox creates and retains jobs. But the spokesman could not say exactly how much money the tax credits would be worth.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, also said this is not a free call center. He said tax credits are paid out over 10 years and Xerox must adhere to its job creation and investment agreement.

“Only after verifiable proof has been demonstrated will the company get the tax credits,” Shafran said. “The tax credits are paid off over a long term period, get paid off over 10 years.”

Shafran says it’s not fair to compare tax credits with Xerox’s $4.3 million investment. I disagree because Xerox may not have moved forward with the call center without the incentives. Tax credits are worth money, whether Xerox realizes that savings up front or down the road. The fact is the company could eventually recoup its $4.3 investment.

As for the jobs being created, Xerox couldn’t say how much they would pay. Innovation Trail points out call centers don’t pay a whole lot. Also, Xerox is being rewarded for creating 500 jobs after eliminating 500 local jobs in 2011. (Two-hundred-fifty were outsourced to another company, much to the consternation of those workers.)

Whether the state foots the bill for some or all of this project, it’s clear taxpayers are paying a lot so a multi-billion dollar corporation can rehab an existing building to create low-paying jobs.

Links of the Day:

Communities across New York State, including Brighton, have enacted bans on hydrofracking. Would they hold up if the state eventually allows drilling? The Associated Press reports a state lawmaker is introducing legislation that would allow home rule:

New York law does allow municipalities to zone mining activities that have significant surface impacts, such as gravel mines. But in 1981, state law was amended to exempt oil and gas from mining activities subject to local regulations. The home rule bills would remove that exemption.

– State senator Jim Alesi and Assemblyman Joe Morelle are sponsors of a bill that would require registered nurses to get bachelor’s degrees. There is a trend of nurses getting master’s degrees and doctorates. But in a time of growing health care shortages, would this impede entry into the profession?

Bob Lonsberry says Maggie Brooks should have exercised “justice or mercy” when Airport Director Susan Walsh was busted for DWI. She did neither:

The next day, Maggie Brooks said nothing of substance. Since then, the matter has disappeared into the black hole of an “internal investigation.” More than a week later, there is no new information or leadership from the county.

That is unacceptable. This matter has been mishandled by the county executive, to the hurt of the public interest and to the abandonment of the responsibility of leadership.

UPDATE 3:28 p.m. – Susan Walsh has resigned.

A New York Times Room for Debate asks if teachers are overpaid.

– A final note on Rochester’s lame New Year celebrations. Check out this photo from Buffalo’s festivities.

We should talk about Renaissance Square.

I join you in wishing we never, ever have to talk about the failed project again, but this week’s events make it necessary.

Renaissance Square would have combined a performing arts center, bus station and Monroe Community College campus on the northwest corner of Main and Clinton. A bunch of eyesore buildings would have been knocked down. The $230 million project was funded with the exception of a performing arts center.

The project was led by Republican Maggie Brooks. Democrats (and the public) never warmed up to it. When then-Mayor Robert Duffy finally became engaged with the details – after $24 million and years of planning – he had major reservations. Bickering over performing arts center funding and the size of the bus terminal ended up dooming the project.

Did I mention Renaissance Square was funded??? The bus company told the city if money for the theater never materialized, the city would get that parcel back for development. A clean shovel-ready site at Main and Clinton. (I’ve always believed a theater could be funded if the mayor and county executive truly championed it.)

But City Hall effectively killed Renaissance Square. Brooks could have continued negotiations with the city, but she’d had enough. She shares some blame for walking away, but it’s not like Duffy went running after her to salvage anything.  The whole thing left Senator Chuck Schumer, who fought for project funding, truly baffled.

Fast forward two years. The bus terminal will be breaking ground this spring in the same Renaissance Square location with essentially the same design.  MCC is saying “good riddance” to Main Street, putting in jeopardy plans to develop the Sibley Building. A performing arts center hasn’t raised any funds and would be more expensive to build at the preferred Midtown site. The eyesore block at Main and Clinton still stands, with no development proposals ostensibly in the works.

Killing Renaissance Square had major consequences. The biggest, we now see, is MCC’s departure from the heart of downtown. Unless developers come out of the woodwork to revitalize Main Street, the death of that project still looms large.