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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.

25 Responses to What WAS the Duffy Era, Anyway?

  1. September 18, 2013 at 9:05 am DominionROC responds:

    Its quite obvious that both Duffy and Richards were DINOs….Democrats in Name Only. How did they sneak into a democratically controlled city? Economic development was massive subsidies to well connected developers…not in improving amenities for the average resident.

    Its now time for a new aggressive direction for our city. Good luck to our new DEMOCRATIC Mayor…she will surely assist ALL the residents of the city…not just a few developers!

    • Please expound and tell us why Duffy is not a Democrat.

      What do you use as criteria to classify someone as a Democrat or a Republican?

      You seem very ALL or NONE in your comments. I think it is sad that in your eyes someone can’t espouse views from each party, since neither one is always right.

      Try to learn to exercise tolerance. If we all realized that there are more than two flavors of ice cream, and why some people like ones we don’t, then maybe we can see other viewpoints don’t have to be wrong, they are just different.

  2. Duffy sure had that crony thing down pat. “Developers were friends: From the $1 land sale to Dutch Summers to build $200,000 condos on Plymouth…” That’s the same Dutch Summers that is married to Sandy Parker, the one that sold Duffy his Keuka Lake getaway for $527k, without having to go through a real estate agent. Amazing how they can scratch each other’s backs.

    Note that this sale puts Duffy in Tom Reed’s congressional district, so if Duffy gets sick of waiting for Louise Slaughter to keel over, he has the option of running against Tom Reed for Congress, if he wants.

  3. Critically, and often overlooked, Duffy put a stake through the heart of Neighbors Building Neighborhoods, a model initiative that’s been borrowed by Buffalo and perhaps other cities. Over time it had gotten off track, but it could have been mended, not ended. One of the reasons I campaigned for Bill Johnson in 2011 was the hope of bringing back NBN. Warren might want to consider making that part of her platform.

  4. Also: when Duffy first took office, he was widely touting the book, “Good to Great.” Under Duffy/Richards, would many people say that Rochester went from “Good to Great”–?

  5. September 18, 2013 at 10:33 am Urban Explorer responds:

    Some impressions:

    Re: Midtown
    “The pace of the tear-down, rebuild and redevelopment has been glacial”

    Excuse me? This shows a lack of understanding on your part on the complexities of tearing down and redeveloping a massive asbestos laden building with public money. The pace has been lightening fast, all things considered. You want it down faster? The private sector could have done it faster… maybe. But the mall languished for decades without the private sector touching it. Unless we still want to be looking at a run-down mall at the center of downtown, the Midtown project has been an big success.

    “The problem is there’s no plan for the remaining parcels.”
    There is a plan. The remaining parcels are shovel ready development parcels, ready for any developer to step up and proposed something. The same as any other vacant city-owned parcel. Like the Party in the Park site. Like the vacant land on the riverfront south of Time Warner. Like the “tennis bubble” site next to Strong Museum. Better to have clear land ready for development than a vacant and deteriorating mall.

    • September 18, 2013 at 10:39 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Columbus closed its mall in 2009 and by the end of 2010 it was hosting events and development was springing up around the site.

      Having a site shovel ready is not a plan. Where are the developers lining up to build? Oh right….

      • September 18, 2013 at 10:49 am Urban Explorer responds:

        How can the city MAKE developers build something? It tried that by selling land to Dutch Summers for $1 and you don’t seem to like that approach.

      • September 18, 2013 at 10:57 am Urban Explorer responds:

        Also, the Columbus Mall was built in that late 1980s, meaning it didn’t have asbestos abatement to deal with. Ohio laws relating to publicly funded projects are likely less onerous than New York State’s famously bureaucratic processes. Finally, the redevelopment of the site into a 9-acre park was done by Columbus Downtown Development Corporation and Capitol South, private, non-profit development organizations.

        Midtown redevelopment could probably proceed faster if it was done by a private non-profit rather than the lumbering bureaucracies of State and City government. But the powers that be are lukewarm at best on the idea of creating a private non-profit entity for Rochester that could spearhead development.

  6. September 18, 2013 at 10:43 am Dwight E Wascom responds:

    Duffy launched a very expensive, tax-payer funded, public safety effort, Operation Impact to deal with the city’s violence. “Arrest the way out of crime.” Gave a lot of jobs to lawyers, police, and jailers. AND THE VIOLENCE RATE?

  7. September 18, 2013 at 10:47 am Urban Explorer responds:

    Additional thoughts:

    Re: MCC
    “MCC plans to ditch downtown (Big box Kodak complex doesn’t count)”

    By most definitions of downtown, State and Platt Streets is downtown. Not the downtown core, but certainly downtown.

    “City Hall was super-friendly to developers”

    Very true. Looking forward to the Warren era when maybe developers will be a bit less entitled and be forced to compete in the actual real estate market without public handouts. If you can’t make money building apartments at Mt. Hope and Elmwood without public money, you’re not that bright.

    Ruining Party in the Park(ing Lot). ‘Nuff said.

    Re: Mt. Hope Avenue
    “Access for pedestrians and bicycles was sacrificed for cars.”
    How? Where? Sidewalks are wider and more comfortable and there are plans for a cycle track along Elmwood Avenue.

    “I bet it will be as congested as ever, meaning this widening of the road will not have accomplished its goal.”
    Mt. Hope only got wider because of on-street parking (a good thing) and a center median and turning lane (also good). Still two lanes in each direction, just like it was before. So to say the road was widened is a bit disingenuous. And the primary goal of this project was to increase safety on what had been one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in the county. Smoother traffic flow was a secondary goal.

    Re: Change
    “There was a change when Duffy took over City Hall. There was a corporate mentality. Citizens were referred to as customers.”

    Agreed. City government is not a business. The “customer” is not always right. I hope we can return to referring to people as citizens.

    “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.”

    Agreed. Let’s hope there will be more openness in government. On a minor (but symbolic) side note: it would be nice if the new mayor gave up their dedicated city hall parking spaces and either made them available to people who have business with the city or followed the example of Ithaca’s mayor and turned them into a mini-park. The mayor and deputy mayor can well afford to pay for parking downtown like everyone else… or take the bus.

    • September 18, 2013 at 10:50 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      “By most definitions of downtown, State and Platt Streets is downtown. Not the downtown core, but certainly downtown.”

      – Being in a big box surrounded by parking lots will do nothing for downtown development. People will get in their cars and go.

      “the primary goal of this project was to increase safety on what had been one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in the county. Smoother traffic flow was a secondary goal.”

      – Please read Jeff Speck’s Walkable City, in which he argues the type of thing the city did on Mt. Hope is the opposite of what’s needed to improve walkability and safety.

  8. September 18, 2013 at 11:02 am Urban Explorer responds:

    I’ve read Walkable City. It’s an incredible book. For the most part, I don’t disagree with you.

    Mt. Hope turned out to be too highway like. But that’s not Duffy or Richards fault, really. Blame civil service level city staffers (engineers) and engineering consultants who slavishly follow decades old standards that prioritize the automobile. Blame the Federal Highway Administration that mandates the use of the those standards. Blame the U of R for not exerting more design control over their new front door.

    But at the end of the day, Mt. Hope is better than it was and when Collegetown is constructed, the city will have substantially “urbanized” what had been a 1950s era auto-oriented suburban style corridor.

  9. September 18, 2013 at 11:27 am theodore kumlander responds:

    I always like Rachael’s insightful but plain talking explanation of city politics. It always seems the case that Men like Bob Duffy and Barak Obama run against the establishment to win office and than become corporate shills.
    It is time for Rochester to have a woman mayor. unfortunately if Lovely Warren has drank the Eli Broad Kool-Aid on charter schools she will be a one term mayor whose term will be ineffective and the waste of a lot of money.
    Charter schools are well dressed carnival sideshows that rip off the suckers.

    • Theodore,
      Please tell us your relationship to any teacher or union so we can judge how independent your comment is.
      The students at charter schools do better and the parents choose for their children to go there.
      What is more important than a child receiving an quality education?

  10. My thoughts on the Duffy era….he turned out to be a BIG politician and NOT the outsider that he tried to convey.. He listened to and followed the Democratic power boss ( Joe Morelle ). He protected his supporters with good jobs ( Molly Clifford ). On the positive side, he did seem to have a vision of economic development and not strictly whine about a lack of social programs. He also tried to keep the fire and police unions in check. He did critisize the RCSD and tried to get involved. I think the city did better by having Duffy as opposed to what may have occurred if Wade Norwood had become mayor. Of course,, we will never know that. Lets see what happens under Lovely Warren. I don’t see how the city could improve in any way under her guidance. Time will tell.

  11. Why does the corporate media keep crowning Warren as the Mayor of Rochester when she has yet to win a general election? Talk about bias…

  12. Duffy added the Office of Public Integrity and used it for show and to give some of his friends high paying jobs. The office accomplished very little. It is said to be independent, but basically only investigates and then makes recommendations to the mayor. I know for a fact that they will not investigate high ranking appointed City officials accused of some very serious things.

    • September 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm RaChaCha responds:

      I have mixed feelings about the Office of Public Integrity. They investigated the notoriously corrupt former executive director of NEAD, but apparently nothing became of it.

  13. Duffy is a DINO … really? Thats why Cuomo picked him for Leut Gov, thats why he’s always in lock step with Louise Slaughter (on REN).. hes a DINO? You can’t be serious.

    “Bill Johnson was a great mayor”– really? Forget the Fast Ferry, how about the illegal and secret side letters he authored committing the city of Roch to pay for port rights in Toronto? He should be in jail for those. Does integrity matter any more to anyone? How about his spending of 250M in High falls to COMPETE with the East end private business owners. Giving incentives to Syracuse based bars and restaurants to come to ROCH and open up in the High Falls … how’d that work out?

    “Charter schools are well dressed carnival sideshows that rip off the suckers” You can’t be serious. The results of charters vs the RCSD grad rates are? If Charters are a rip off what would the RCSD be, a double rip off?

    Midtown tower is a success? Really. We have had that rusting frame leading our skyline for 4yrs now and thats success? What does failure look like in your world?

    IT is amazing what people will accept as competent leadership as long as they are Democrat leaders in charge.

    No Integrity, 40+yrs of bad failed schools, failed urban development at every turn…but hey vote for me, I’m a democrat.

  14. Re: Mt. Hope

    As someone who crosses it with some regularity, I have to say I feel loads safer with the median in the middle and the parking spaces as buffer zones. And it will be even more pedestrian friendly (and car unfriendly) when the new light halfway between the 15/15A split and Elmwood (across from Chipotle) turns on, severely limiting the speed that you can go down the road (not that I’ve ever really noticed a huge amount of speeding on that part of Mt. Hope anyway… the rest of the street is a different story). I’m very pleased with the changes.

    As for whatever that roundabout on Kendrick is… not so much. Worked by SeaBreeze, just seems to make life more congested for no reason down by the laser lab.

  15. Really glossed over the gutting of the fire department Rachel. Duffy and his puppet Caulfield cut on duty staffing by over 10%, got rid of 9 individual units that handle a large amount of the EMS runs whos increase was the reason behind the need to cut the fire department. Then in the past few years, the city has had a rash of fatal fires right in the area the firehouses that used to have little trucks covered. There’s a lot more to the cuts than the media published.

    Duffy was a corrupt bully that used this city as a stepping stone. The only good thing he did was kill RenSq an awkward jumble of unrelated projects.

    • The Fire Dept likes to make “fire runs” when ever possible. I’ve seen ladder trucks at bicycle accidents, trucks at homicides, and crews shopping at the Dollar Store. At one auto accident with a skateboader, rolled two ambulances, three cursers, and a ladder with a pumper. Trying to pads the stats are we?

  16. September 27, 2013 at 10:22 pm Andreas Rau responds:

    Does it really matter, anyway, about the “Duffy Era?”
    Bob Duffy is laughing all the way to the bank!

  17. October 18, 2013 at 1:47 am la moore responds:

    Don’t forget his “Do the Right Thing Award” blasted all over channel 10 haha – sorry, I was a still a kid during his “era” that’s mainly what I remember. But reading the post above, I was right even then: never trust a cop.

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