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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.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

If I had to name the top two projects at City Hall that get officials excited, they would be Midtown and filling in the Inner Loop.

The mayor frequently talks about how downtown is designed for a fast exit. He wants you to stick around for a while. The Inner Loop is underutilized, cuts off neighborhoods and is a “noose around the neck of downtown.” Filling in the eastern portion of the Inner Loop would free up about 9 acres of land for development and save the city future maintenance costs.

Senator Chuck Schumer has gone to bat to get the city federal TIGER funds. When Rochester was passed over for a $15 million grant last year, Schumer said he’d help the city improve its application. In February, city council authorized nearly $2 million in design work to bolster the 2012 TIGER funding application.

The TIGER application was due in March. The city never submitted it. Instead it only submitted an application for funding for the $26 million intermodal station. The city says the intermodal station is further along in design and has crucial state support. Besides, the city can’t expect to get two big projects funded in the same round.

Funding is not a sure thing for either project. Putting off the Inner Loop application is a risk construction could be delayed a year or more. It will likely not coincide with the marina dig at the port. The fill from the marina was to be used to fill the Inner Loop.

What’s surprising about this development is the city had not touted the intermodal station much until a couple weeks ago when a design was unveiled. It’s not a project anyone talks about with enthusiasm, not even the mayor. The Trailways bus owner said he doesn’t think the station will be built in his lifetime.

There’s only one person who is a champion of the intermodal station: Louise Slaughter. She has always wanted a true intermodal station, one that combined all of the city’s buses and trains in one spot. Many believe Slaughter pressured Bob Duffy to drop his support of Renaissance Square, which didn’t not align with her vision. Several years later, RGRTA is building its own bus station, anyway.

The city says it didn’t put the intermodal station ahead of the Inner Loop at Slaughter’s urging. A mid-afternoon email to her spokesperson wasn’t immediately returned. It’s possible there’s nothing more to this sudden switcheroo than pure strategy to maximize federal dollars. I suspect that’s not the whole story.

***

In other news, 90 percent of Chicago teachers authorized a strike. This gives them more leverage at the negotiating table. It’s a rather astounding development, given it’s Jean-Claude Brizard’s first year in Chicago. You may recall, an overwhelming majority of Rochester teachers voted no confidence in his leadership in a union ballot, results backed up by a Center for Governmental Research survey.

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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