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Skyline - featured 220X165With Tom Richards bowing out of the mayor’s race after his primary defeat, the Bob Duffy era has come to an end at City Hall.

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.

survillance-security-camera2– 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.)

Here is a list of city projects under way and completed.

 

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.

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.>

Skyline - featured 220X165

Rochester’s mayor was part of the “tin cup brigade” that went to Albany to testify before state lawmakers about the state of their finances and the governor’s proposed budget.

Richards said, “I’m forced to prove how poor we are.”

Richards, along with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, pointed out Upstate’s cities have particular challenges. Their populations have fallen, their residents are poor, their pension costs are high and their property tax bases have shrunk. The cities didn’t get in this pickle on their own. Decades of suburban sprawl – aided by state policies – have caused much of this distress.

“If Upstate cities are to be successful…we must continue to invest in them…all of that costs money,” Richards testified. “If we back off, Upstate cities will deteriorate.”

Richards called the property tax funding structure an “18th century model for a 21st century reality.”

 

Astoundingly, downstate Sen. Liz Krueger asked whether Rochester has thought about an income tax, one that would tax people who work in Rochester, but use city services. New York City once had such a commuter tax.

“We’re very much different from New York City. We brag about how our commuting time is one of the lowest in the country. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s very easy to get out of downtown Rochester….as a practical matter, the ability to go somewhere else is so much easier today…particular when the kind of industry we’re talking about is not locked into large industrial facilities that can’t move. As a practical matter, if we tried to impose a commuter tax or income tax on the city of Rochester, we would make things worse.”

When asked what he would propose instead, Richards said more state aid is an answer. He said it’s more “equitable.” The revenue comes from state income tax, Richards said, and the state already distributes it to schools in need.

“You’ve done it already. You’ve recognized cities like Rochester cannot pay for its school system,” Richards said. “The urban school systems have a demand that we cannot pay for.”

A local income tax would “further penalize people in need,” Richards said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s response to all of this is that cities have to buck up. He threatened control boards for the cities that cannot make structural changes. The Albany Times Union reports:

“The answer is not an additional, ongoing subsidy on a fundamental economic model that doesn’t work,” Cuomo said. “The Rochester problem, or an upstate cities problem — if it was a corporation in a private-sector setting, you would be talking about restructuring. If the corporation does not restructure quickly enough, it goes bankrupt, and it goes to bankruptcy court. You need a restructuring here. The answer is not an additional, ongoing subsidy on a fundamental economic model that doesn’t work.”

Such an approach exacerbates haves and have nots in municipalities. It treats cities – the centers of regional civic and cultural life – as second-class citizens.

Watch the testimony here. It’s about 3:20 in.

Links of the Day:

– I thought the Democrats won their fight on Monroe Community College staying at Sibley. They were stupid to allow the county legislature to bond for a non-specific location when a super-majority was needed. The county has wasted no time putting forth legislation to buy the Kodak buildings. The Democrats have no leverage anymore. No super-majority is needed.

– School districts – mostly wealthy ones like Fairport and Pittsfordwant to drop out of the federal school lunch program.

 

– The Dutch queen is abdicating. People in Albany apparently care.

– The Syracuse Post Standard is teaching people how to read the newspaper online.

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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.

Stephanie Miner

Stephanie Miner

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal throws a bone to cities. It lets them fix pension payments over time.

But Syracuse Mayor Stepahnie Miner thinks that’s just kicking the can down the road and one expert predicts cities will end up overpaying on their pension obligation.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy told her if she doesn’t like the proposal, say hello to a financial control board. The New York Times reports:

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy traveled to Syracuse for a previously scheduled meeting with journalists at The Post-Standard of Syracuse.

At that meeting, Mr. Duffy suggested he had an option in mind: “I would say to the mayor, if this is not sufficient, then I would suggest one viable option she would have is to request a financial control board,” he said — which would assume many of the mayor’s powers.

That drew a sharp response from Ms. Miner.

“I think that’s a false choice, to say to the people of New York State you either have to borrow more or give up democratic control of your city,” she said in an interview.

Good for Mayor Miner.

Upstate’s cities are struggling. They’ve been crushed by decades of people fleeing to the suburbs. That sprawl was aided by state and federal policies that subsidized and encouraged highway and infrastructure development, home-buying, company relocation to suburbs, and segregated school districts.

Cities have been left with a poor and needy population that needs more services and is unable to pay huge amounts of taxes. Cities are pockmarked with vacant lots and empty factories.

Of course our Upstate mayors have had it. The governor’s budget did not provide an increase in state aid. It’s not unreasonable for them to seek help from the state and federal government.

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards told the Democrat & Chronicle:

“I’m working on balancing a budget without anything, and it’s going to hurt like hell,” the mayor said Wednesday, adding later: “Every year since I’ve been here, we’ve reduced our employment. And if we don’t get any help this year, we’re going to do it again.”

Richards recently wrote an op-ed in City Newspaper explaining why cities are so important. The state can ill afford to have its cities fail. Whatever the state does or does not do to help its mayors, don’t blame them for trying.

Links of the Day:

– Rochester has a list of designated buildings of historic value. It’s a little arbitrary and hasn’t been updated in some time. (The house I grew up in and the house I live in now are both on the list.)

– Wegmans plans to build a store in Buffalo and residents say it looks too suburban. It sounds like the East Ave. store fight. The Buffalo store will also have an adjacent wine shop. (Surprise, surprise.)

– To cut down on vacant houses, Syracuse may fine owners.

– The NYPD is testing a device that can spot concealed guns.

– A former Jillian’s in Albany is being turned into a church.

Mayor Tom Richards has a decision to make. In the coming months he has to determine if he’ll run for his first full term as mayor. He won a special election last year and his term expires in 2013. This is what he told me in a report I did for 13WHAM:

“I’m the kind of guy who quite frankly never learned how not to work. That’s pretty much what I’ve done my whole life. I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I don’t play golf. But that’s something to think about. You want to make sure you’re healthy and vigorous enough to do this job. I think I am. It certainly takes that. There are other issues with my family and so forth I have to think about. This is a show up job…And if you do it there are consequences for the people around you.”

I think Richards will run. He held a $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser last week. But if he decides he wants to retire and spend more time with his family, you can expect a free-for-all in 2013.

I imagine the race would be like the one in 1993. Bill Johnson, head of the Urban League, emerged from a field of six Democrats to win the primary. It was considered an upset. The race would almost certainly be settled in a September Democratic primary, because of the city’s overwhelming Democratic enrollment.

Who would run? I have no idea. I expect City Council members Lovely Warren, Elaine Spaull and Dana Miller would be in the mix. Perhaps Molly Clifford would enter the fray. Former mayoral candidates Tim Mains and Wade Norwood could come out the of woodwork. School board members Jose Cruz and Malik Evans could jump in.

Or we could see someone out of the box. Bill Johnson, Bob Duffy and Tom Richards were not politicians before they were elected mayor. I have a feeling we’d be in for a surprise.

Links of the Day:

– An Ontario County supervisor wants people to set aside their “landfill hysteria.”

– A Buffalo FBI agent is busted for driving without pants.

– A judge refuses to send back to prison a Buffalo man who has leukemia and wants free health care.

– No one knows who invited former governor David Paterson to a party at Destiny USA.

– There’s a new way to light roundabouts, making them safer for cars and pedestrians.

– Cities want to attract young people, but do they really listen to what they want?

– On this day in 1901, there was a bizarre sidewalk collapse on South Ave.

Removed temporarily from the city, the good Rochesterian will eulogize the town to all who will listen and to many who won’t.

– Henry Clune, “Main Street Beat,” 1947

When you grow up in Rochester, you learn all about our famous residents of years gone by. You learn about the mills, the nurseries, the garment factories and the lilacs. You learn about the founding of Xerox, Kodak and Bausch & Lomb. You learn about garbage plates, white hots and Abbott’s. You learn about Sam Patch and his bear. You learn about the A Team and the B Team. You learn there isn’t another place like Rochester.

We’re Smugtown USA.

Governor Andrew Cuomo got the full Rochester come-on today aboard an RTS bus. Mayor Tom Richards stood at the front with a microphone, his arm wrapped around a pole. Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy sat across the from the governor. University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman sat on either side of Cuomo.

Richards was in his glory telling the governor all about the city. He explained why it wasn’t built on the lake. It was built at High Falls, because the falls powered the mills. “Genesee River is one of the few rivers in the country that flows north. It created this city.”

(On the tour, Richards revealed Duffy decided to ax the fast ferry before taking office in 2006. Duffy announced the decision in his second week on the job. Not surprising, but one has to wonder if Duffy knew he would can the operation before the primary. He demurred until the very end.)

Going up Lake Avenue, the mayor mentioned Duffy grew up in the 10th Ward. (So did a certain reporter sitting in back.) Cuomo frequently peered out of the windows as the bus passed the tougher parts of Lake Ave., south of Lexington.

When the bus went over the Smith St. bridge, Richards pointed out the old Bausch & Lomb factory site. “This is Old Rochester,” he said.

Passing Genesee Brewery, the mayor said, “We had to convince them this is a place to put their money…There are 500 good jobs there now.”

At Midtown Plaza, Richards gave Cuomo a mini-tour of downtown, pointing out the Sibley, Xerox, Chase, and Bausch & Lomb buildings. Cuomo asked about the occupancy of the Chase building. Richards said a couple floors are vacant. He said he’s frustrated the bank keeps moving people to Midwest.

The mayor pointed out Dinosaur Barbecue, Capron Lofts, and Washington Square Park. Richards said the park is famous for two things – the Occupiers and the crows. “It’s not that we don’t like birds. We don’t like what they leave.”

As the bus approached the Erie Harbor project, the mayor warned the governor, “You’re going to see right away the colors….It is growing on me, actually.” Richards said he stayed out of the paint job controversy, taking advice from Duffy, who told him in such situations to nod and say, “Gee, it’s lovely.”

Going up Mt. Hope Ave. the mayor talked about how the South Wedge emptied in the 1970s, as people fled to the suburbs. “Now, you can’t get a house.” Richards credited the U of R for the rebirth of the neighborhood.

After the tour, I asked the governor what stuck out to him. He said he’s been to Rochester many times and has been on similar tours. (Really?) He didn’t mention anything specific about the city, but said he was struck by the spirit of collaboration and energy among local leaders. He talked in generalities. I’ve criticized Cuomo before for not talking with any specificity about Rochester. But lack of knowledge clearly isn’t the issue, as he’d just gone on a tour. The folksy Schumer-esque style of “all politics is local” just isn’t Cuomo’s thing (at least not publicly).

I hope Cuomo appreciated the tour, which was way too short. Richards gave the tour we all give our visitors. He clearly enjoyed talking about our city – as all Rochesterians do.

“It’s the convergence of two pipe dreams. Two things that will never happen have decided to never happen together.” – Bob Lonsberry, WHAM 1180

 

One could easily laugh off the idea of a $750 million development along Route 104 in Irondequoit. The price tag is one of the very few details we know about the plan to revitalize Medley Centre. Developer Scott Congel, son of mall magnate Robert Congel, hasn’t given interviews or taken questions. He’s the man behind the curtain.

But Congel is known to local politicians, who have entertained his big ideas for the mall. According to state records, he’s paying Al D’Amato’s lobbying firm $15,000 a month to work on Medley Centre. There’s no question Congel is following the Destiny USA playbook of PILOTs and taxpayer support. While Destiny is not the behemoth promised, it is still something.

According to COMIDA documents, Congel has incurred $90 million in expenses so far on Medley. The East Irondequoit school district believes the PILOT says the money must be spent. COMIDA says it counts if he has the money secured. Either way, he has a ton of money in the deal and is current on the PILOT payments. (By the way, who else is clamoring to do anything with the mall?)

It’s easy to laugh off Congel until it isn’t.

Mayor Tom Richards dismissed the Rochester Broadway Theater League’s plan to ditch Midtown Plaza site and in favor of a theater at Medley in a report I did for 13WHAM News:

Is it the most important thing for my administration to be working on? No.

I’m sure they could build something cheaper. But cheaper is what it is. If they want to build a metal box out in Medley and that’s okay with them, then that’s okay.

I’m just not sure what kind of credibility this Medley proposal has and I’m not going to chase it. I’m just not.

The mayor isn’t going to fight for something he doesn’t think is real. He told RBTL to make it real by raising $15 million of private money. But I don’t think RBTL could have pulled anything off without a champion in the mayor. RBTL needs someone with power fighting for public and private cash.

I have a feeling if Medley moves forward, community leaders will get antsy. Only then will the fight for a downtown theater begin. If the city loses, future generations will lament the shortsightedness of moving Broadway to East Ridge Road.

Links of the Day:

– A tax-exempt Syracuse hospital will pay for city services. Rochester should go after institutions for deals like this one.

– Time Warner’s CEO says cord-cutting is limited to low-income Americans. (I must be one of them.)

– Football coaches at major colleges saw a 70 percent hike in pay over the last six years. (Did you even get a cost-of-living increase all of those years?)

– More New Yorkers believe in Santa Claus this year compared to last year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he wants the state’s regions to control their own destinies. But his aides are floating the idea of fiscal control boards for the state’s cities.

The New York Post‘s Fred Dicker wrote Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers are “close to bankruptcy” and looking for state bailouts:

“The mayors have got to come to the state with a plan that explains what’s causing their problems and how they plan to solve it. To come to us year after year for a handout as they have been doing, only to come back next year asking for the same handout, is a nonstarter. It doesn’t work,’’ said a Cuomo administration source.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and others have raised the specter of a statewide “control board’’ to oversee the finances of troubled communities, but the source said Cuomo is not considering such a move.

But a second source said, “Individual control boards for the cities are possible and, in some cases, likely.’’

As the name implies, control boards take away local control. They’re based on the premise a city is so messed up, it can’t be trusted to run its own finances.

Syracuse’s mayor was outraged by the report, telling the Post-Standard:

“I don’t believe for a second the governor authorized or knew of a statement whereby his staff would refer to the Upstate cities as beggars,” (Stephanie) Miner said. “People in the city of Syracuse are not beggars.”

There’s no question New York’s cities face enormous fiscal pressures. Their populations have shrunk. Their property tax bases have declined. Their industries have suffered. Their residents are poorer with greater needs. They carry large pension burdens from rosier times. They cannot tax their way out of the problem, because the state enacted a property tax cap and their residents don’t have the means.

The plight of New York’s cities is the result of decades of sprawl without growth.

Throughout its decline, Rochester has managed to maintain an excellent credit rating. It has cut hundreds of jobs over the years. It has lived under a state aid formula that pays its Upstate neighbors far more per capita. It has lived under a law requiring it to pay far more for schools than other cities. But this is not sustainable. There is a structural imbalance with the city’s budget.

It’s imperative the state help cities. They are the center of our civic, cultural and economic lives. They are important. They must not be allowed to rot or treated with disdain.

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards put it this way in his State of the City speech:

Cities do not exist to produce a balanced budget. They are vehicles for delivering services that create and preserve the quality of life that attracts people to urban centers. Cities will first face cultural and social bankruptcy before they encounter financial bankruptcy. We will be forced to cut services that make city living attractive, negatively impacting our quality of life. Libraries, recreation centers, festivals, fireworks and much of the investment that you saw earlier in this presentation are the sorts of things that get cut on the way to bankruptcy. And it is just such cuts that force those who would consider living in our city to make other choices.

Links of the Day:

– Good news for High Falls. More private investment in housing and offices is coming. (But I don’t think it’s dependent on MCC.)

– An optics plant on St. Paul St. has been refurbished. It’s a great story of a historical building and an immigrant who found success.

– Meet the Bills season ticket-holder who drives six hours to games.

– Heartbreaking story of a former state lawmaker’s struggles with his schizophrenic son.

– Sorry Edward Murrow, not much has changed.

– Stories like this make me insane. A Nebraska TV reporter leaves for another job and gets sued for breaking her contract. If the station thought she was so valuable, perhaps it should have paid her more than $28,000.

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?

Mayor Tom Richards delivered the 2012 State of the City address Monday night, the first of his administration.

Richards was matter-of-fact and plain-spoken. He’s not trying to solve the world’s problems. He acknowledged he can’t solve all the city’s problems. Sometimes being mayor “means just doing what you can.”

On Education:

The mayor shows great compassion and a hint of sadness when talking about city school children:

Someone loves these children…We have so many good kids. We have so many good teachers. Yet, when you look into the eyes of those students, you cannot help but remember the statistics. Less than half of them will make it to graduation. How could we have come to that? How can we be failing them so badly?

Richards, who admitted he didn’t have any solutions, offered up what he can do: provide city help with truancy and youth services coordination. He also offered up some sage wisdom not heeded by his predecessors in City Hall or Central Office.

We must be dependable and stable—like adults are supposed to be. Our children must be able to depend on us. At its most fundamental level, this need for dependability—for stability—should not be overcome by some debate over educational philosophy. Or by which group of adults gets to decide which philosophy is correct. It means that we pick some fundamental programs and approaches and that we stick to them.

This is not just a message for the School District, but also for those who want to help. This is where the failed good intentions come in. I question how helpful it is, that with the best of intentions we try to push on the school system a constant barrage of the newest ideas and programs. Dependability and stability trump the theoretical optimal.

Was that a knock on the current brand of education reform and mayoral control?

On Public Safety:

Richards said a lot of public safety is the public feeling safe, no matter what the statistics say about how fast a fire truck arrives or falling crime rates.

But public safety personnel are super-expensive and eat up much of the city budget. As he crafts his budget for the next fiscal year, he issued a warning.

Public Safety is important, often the most important, but it is not sacrosanct. That we need to provide public safety is beyond challenge. That we need to do it the way we always have done it is not. This approach can be threatening. Especially to those who believe that no departmental organization, work rule or benefit should change. The Mayor is sometimes the agent of that threat. My response is that we need to work together to balance the need for public safety and our financial stability or we will wind up losing both.

On Saving Cities:

Richards said the city has a major structural deficit. The city cannot tax its way out of the problem, nor can development occur fast enough to generate new revenue.

Cities do not exist to produce a balanced budget. They are vehicles for delivering services that create and preserve the quality of life that attracts people to urban centers. Cities will first face cultural and social bankruptcy before they encounter financial bankruptcy. We will be forced to cut services that make city living attractive, negatively impacting our quality of life. Libraries, recreation centers, festivals, fireworks and much of the investment that you saw earlier in this presentation are the sorts of things that get cut on the way to bankruptcy. And it is just such cuts that force those who would consider living in our city to make other choices.

(snip)

If we don’t get control of the system, there is a real danger of the innocent getting shot with the guilty. It is not a matter of finding fault. It is a matter of dealing with the problem that we must admit we all have. Government is not the gift that keeps on giving. It can break and when it does, we will all get hurt.

Next month when Richards unveils his 2012-13 budget, we will see what kind of control he has in mind. We’ll see what he can do. But that also means we’ll see what he can’t.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Links of the Day:

– The city released a summary of the mayor’s budget forums, attended by 170 people. Many complained about the back taxes owed by Wilmorite on the Sibley building:

Address the Sibley’s/Wilmorite tax delinquency.

“Collect property taxes owed to the City (Sibley’s).” (Edgerton)

“Wilmorite should not be able to walk away from paying taxes ($22m) – not being held accountable.” (Edgerton)

“Foreclose on Sibley’s.” (Adams)

“Collect unpaid City taxes from owners such as Wilmorite, Sibley’s etc.” (Cobbs Hill)

This issue will come to a head very soon. The company about to buy Sibley recently withdrew an application to COMIDA for tax breaks on the renovation. Mayor Tom Richards said that’s because “We want to get it all done at once.” He’s referring to a resolution on the sale, new tax breaks and old back taxes. The city isn’t likely going to get a lot of money out of the deal.

Participants also asked the city to stop subsidizing commercial developments through tax breaks and charge for parking at Ontario Beach Park, as well as Durand-Eastman. People were not enthusiastic about purchases for new surveillance cameras and asked the city to delay work in the port marina and Erie Harbor promenade. People do not want cuts to public safety.

– Some residents in Penfield are fighting a group home for veterans. “What if they snap?”

– No Child Left Behind mandates tutoring services for failing students. But the standards are lax, students aren’t getting the services and the services aren’t very good. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are wasted on the effort.

– The exploding deer population has become a problem in the City of Syracuse.

Mayor Tom Richards marks his first year in office on Wednesday.

It’s been a year filled with controversy but little chaos.

“There’s not a lot of drama,” said former mayor William Johnson, one of his opponent in last year’s special election. “I think he’s done a good job. I think he’s not flashy, very steady, approaches the office very business-like, which is good in these times.”

Johnson said Richards’ most significant move was immediately killing Assemblyman David Gantt’s attempted resurrection of mayoral control. Richards isn’t interested in reviving that debate, nor is he interested in running 131 W. Broad St.

Richards also scores high marks in his handling of PAETEC’s sale, which jeopardized the Midtown project. “He didn’t get too emotional and made the best deal he could under the circumstances,” Johnson said.

Some of my observations:

Richards knows how to bring the fight. Exhibit A: Monroe Community College’s planned move to Kodak. Richards will not go down without a battle.

Richards knows when not to fight. After the first night, he wisely did not allow Occupy Rochester to create the spectacle of mass arrests at the park. He let them camp out in the bitter cold and then left it to a court to kick out the protesters. He successfully avoided being the bad guy.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Richards says it may take 10 years to fill up the Midtown site. I wish there was a little more urgency and vision. I’d like to see the city attempt a true partnership on a performing arts center that could duplicate Buffalo’s success. Richards has consistently said there’s simply no money for the project. But…

Richards knows how to spend big taxpayer bucks. Like his predecessors, the mayor is not shy about giving big incentives to projects. College Town and Windstream are the latest in a long line of examples.

Richards explains things very well. Whether giving an interview to a reporter on the Sibley back taxes or presenting the city’s budget issues in community forums, he breaks it down.

Richards doesn’t panic. He didn’t get worked up over Kodak’s bankruptcy, PAETECs’ sale, Occupy Rochester, Emily Good or Buffalo’s billion-dollar-gift from the state.

Richards had a good first year. Will his administration be marked by a lot of small victories or will he go for some really big wins? If he wants a really big win, he’ll have to get fired up.

Links of the Day:

– It’s possible Mayor Tom Richards is trying to scare everyone by suggesting we close the soccer stadium, ax the mounted patrol, close libraries, cut firefighters and forego parking garage maintenance.

He admitted as much. The Democrat and Chronicle reports:

Shuttering the soccer stadium would save the city $415,700 — something Richards points to as an eventuality if the city doesn’t fix its structural budget problems. Garage maintenance costs the city $1.5 million a year. But would Richards really think of not doing it? “I put it on there just to make a point,” he said, “and hope people will look at it and think, (cutting) that is a dumb thing to do.’”

The mayor will present a bunch of options to the public on how to close a $25 million budget gap. As he did last year, he will ask residents to tell him what’s on and off the table. His strategy gives the public input and makes people take the budget very seriously. While the budget gap is a problem, somehow our mayors manage to solve it every year without huge pain.

The police chief told me last year he valued the mounted the patrol in a report I did on the unit. Police agencies across the country were cutting their mounted units, but not Rochester. I guess times have changed.

The soccer stadium is a rather shocking suggestion. The city and state have millions of dollars invested in the facility. It’s home to the Rhinos and Flash and a number of other activities. While it requires a subsidy, so do other assets. The costs of shutting it down may be more than keeping it open. A giant empty stadium in an already-struggling neighborhood would have consequences.

– Maggie Brooks says it’s too early to talk about her positions on issues. Really?

– I am a fan of playing Beethoven to disperse teen loiterers. This is a hysterical look at weird anti-loitering technologies, including harsh lights that expose acne.

– Why doesn’t Rochester debate tax breaks for developers to this extent?

 

I’m wondering why Winn Development and the City of Rochester haven’t launched a full court press to woo Monroe Community College and the public.

Kodak took the media on a tour of its complex. There’s been no such tour at the Sibley Building.

Mayor Tom Richards, Sibley’s champion, doesn’t want us to focus on fights at the Liberty Pole and the destruction of Midtown. He wants us to focus on what Sibley will be in the future.

What is that exactly? And how much will it cost?

For the first time today, Winn Development shared its vision of the Sibley Building. The renderings are impressive and exciting. The plan calls for reconfiguring the Liberty Pole area and a rooftop garden. The company says it will spend $200 million on Sibley, with or without MCC. Having MCC probably moves along financing much more quickly. Not having MCC may drag out the development, further delaying the point when Sibley can get back on the tax rolls.

Winn also dropped a minor bomb today, saying it can upgrade Sibley for MCC for only $20 million. That would be the bare-bones option, but Winn’s point is that there is flexibility.

MCC is understandably outraged at having its rent substantially raised. The college also doesn’t like its lease options. But I can see the Winn’s side – to close on this purchase and plan for the future, the developer needs to lock in a tenant or figure something else out.

I’d like to learn more about Winn Development, its plans for Sibley and the costs involved.

About the Liberty Pole…

Two hundred teenagers brawled at the Liberty Pole today. Some will say this supports the college’s decision to move out of Sibley. I’m thinking it may also support the overhaul of the Sibley building.

The decline of the Liberty Pole rests on the administration of former Mayor Bob Duffy. The area was not a teenage hangout before Midtown closed. When it became a problem, former Chief David Moore said there was little police could do, because teenagers have the right to congregate. The city’s solution was to up a police trailer and portable toilets. The city simply couldn’t get a handle on the mayhem – and it is having major consequences in terms of ongoing violence and development of Main Street.

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Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Is Rochester a victim of its own PR?

We felt royally snubbed by the Regional Economic Development Councils and the State of the State gifting of $1 billion to Buffalo.

Ken Warner, who advocates for union jobs, told the Democrat and Chronicle:

“It just seems like Rochester is getting punished for doing a good job,” Warner said. “Not only did we get the booby prize (from the economic development council awards,) we’re getting money we were already getting anyway” for the 390 work.

(I suspected as much about the 390 money in a recent blog post.)

I’ve long felt local leaders inappropriately downplay crises.

When reporters ask Mayor Tom Richards if he’s worried about Kodak going belly up, he says,”I wish them well…we’ll carry on.” That kind of dismissive attitude masks very real consequences for the city if Kodak cannot emerge from bankruptcy in a strong position. The company owns a ton of property, employs thousands of people and is part of the community identity.

Sandy Parker of the Rochester Business Alliance has also downplayed Kodak’s woes, saying her conversations with Perez gave her faith the company will not go bankrupt.

Rochesterians themselves don’t help their cause, tending to ignore the poverty of the inner city. Except when it comes to schools, downtown, and occasionally crime, a lot of people look the other way.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy astutely observed in the D&C:

“Rochester is not forgotten. We are not being penalized for our success at all. We are being recognized,” he continued, noting that the same people who touted the jobs report and other good news were among the first to criticize. “We can’t have it both ways.”

We can’t have it both ways. We want our local leaders to be cheerleaders, but we also want them to be honest.

Links of the Day:

– The Wall Street Journal’s report Kodak is near bankruptcy set off another round of obituaries. The WSJ has written many. One is particularly succinct. Excerpt:

This company failed long ago…When a company starts to sell its intellectual property, hacking off an arm here and a leg there, you know the end is near.

The Democrat and Chronicle has a good Q&A about what a Kodak bankruptcy would mean.

– Mayor Tom Richards was diplomatic when asked his opinion of the governor announcing $1 billion for economic development in Buffalo:

“He mentioned Buffalo and it’s a great proposal for Buffalo and I’m happy for them, but our situation in Rochester is in many respects the same,” Richards said. “I look at this as a positive development. I look at this as the governor, who I respect, who is a fair guy, recognizes that it’s time to start doing something with these upstate cities.”

The State of the State Address left many in Rochester feeling snubbed, especially after the Regional Economic Council awards.

Scorecard: Buffalo $1.1 billion Rochester $68 million

– “Alec Baldwin’s mom is one of those Wegmans people.”

New York Magazine (and the rest of the world) picked up the story 13WHAM-TV broke. I knew this would go viral when I called Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale Tuesday morning to confirm the ads had been taken off the air. I don’t think she had a clue it would blow up.

Although this is another example of a company feeling swift online backlash, it would be a mistake to say Wegmans learned the power of social media from this incident. We’re talking about a company that has had an entire Twitter team on staff for a couple years. It’s precisely because of Wegmans’ savvy the company immediately reversed course and reunited with Baldwin.

As a PR pro at Dixon Schwabl told me, “Wegmans listens to its customers.”