I appreciate City posting this piece. There are some important ideas here that merit serious consideration, but also some hard truths about Rochester politics.
My first exposure to Rochester politics was a quarter-century ago, when I worked for the president of the Monroe County legislature before the Democrats lost the majority. Unfortunately, I had a front-row seat to the decline and fall of the Democratic Party in Monroe County, and it remains a shadow of the party operation it once was. That decline coincided with the economic decline of Rochester and Monroe County. As Rachel says, some political leaders have done little more than manage decline. Others, sadly, fight like animals over the scraps of what's left. I've seen them with my own eyes, baring their teeth and snarling at each other. It's truly disgusting.
Rochester urgently needs a new generation of leadership with high competence, a vision for the community's future, a plan to get there, and a willingness to take smart risks along the way. Call it a "third way," if you will. What's especially appealing about Rachel Barnhart's piece here is that she's not only clearly putting herself on that path, but also inviting others to join her in walking it.
So arguably Rochester's most incompetent mayor ever responds her challenger's policy-focused campaign announcement with a dismissive insult? That says a lot about the current state of Rochester politics: dysfunction, factionalization, and pettiness.
I'm glad there is a candidate who is trying to rise above that and find ways to move the city forward.
The fact that prominent African-Americans are not only leaving the Warren camp, but also are not aligning with Sheppard speaks volumes about their viability as incumbent and prospective challenger, respectively. Rochester has never been well-served by either identity or factional politics, and in 2017 I hope that Rochester voters take the opportunity to rise above both.
Oy. I'm reading this in open-mouthed astonishment at the defensive barrage from City, unleashed against the non-endorsed candidate's rebuttal. A rebuttal which certainly does pointedly express some frustration with the general lack of detailed coverage of this key primary, and several key things about the incumbent's record that were not even glossed over, but went entirely unmentioned. Yet despite that, NOWHERE in the rebuttal do I see the challenger actually accuse City of any ethical lapse.
No, what I see is a sentence addressing that one of the incumbent's supporters was quoted in the endorsement, but not one of the challenger's supporters was quoted, or apparently even contacted. That's an entirely reasonable thing to point out. But the challenger goes further, attempting to make the point -- and this is how I read it -- that if City has the time to call about an ad, it should have time to call to get a balancing quote from one of the challenger's supporters. That makes sense to me, especially as I recognize the name of the quoted pro-incumbent supporter as someone who has attacked the challenger on social media in a way that calls her clear-headedness into question, to say nothing of her impartiality.
What I don't see here is a sentence or even sentence fragment in the rebuttal calling City's ethics into question. But what I do see is a FOUR PARAGRAPH LONG blast-back from City against an allegation that was never made. Perhaps that defensive offense resulted from City anticipating responses to its endorsement that would point out exactly what the rebuttal rightly pointed out. And so perhaps City was on a hair-trigger, ready to fire back with the full broadside salvo that we see here. Except that the salvo -- like a B movie about an accidental nuclear war -- was triggered by a false bogey. The challenger, in her rebuttal, simply did not, demonstrably, impugn the ethics of City or its fine employees (many of whom I know personally, and whose body of work and dedication I admire).
Perhaps City was goaded into this over-the-top response by the simple question raised this morning on social media by 1370 Connection host Evan Dawson, about whether City's solicitation of an ad from a candidate -- or any media outlet's solicitation of ads from candidates during an election cycle -- compromises or colors their endorsements? Either in actuality or in perception? He went further to suggest that perhaps media outlets should curtail ad solicitation of candidates during endorsement season. Having written for alt-weeklies and online publications myself, I can see right away why that wouldn't be practical, but they were reasonable questions and suggestions. That kind of thinking out loud is what social media is for. But again, in asking those questions, Dawson didn't lodge any actual ethical charge against City.
Bottom line: there is simply no actual justification for City to assume a posture of high dudgeon over this. Methinks City doth protest way, way, too much here.
This is all a way-too-long way of saying, "hey, no harm, no foul here." And this would be a good place to end this comment, except for the need to point out that there has been some actual harm done here: to the challenger. Four paragraphs of blasting the challenger over a phantom allegation say, "Bad challenger! Bad, bad challenger!" In my opinion, that really merits a dialing back. Perhaps this piece should be reposted with those four paragraphs removed, or reworked to way tone them down. Or perhaps an apology to the challenger. Or even reaching out to confirm whether there ever was, indeed, an intention to question City's journalistic ethics. I understand that the rebuttal and City's response won't appear in print until next week, so that gives plenty of time to clear this up and bind up the wounds.
We all know politics ain't beanbag. Tensions rise and tempers are short during campaign season. Everyone is sick of the TV ads, the polling, the robocalls, the knocks on the door. Everyone is sleep deprived and from time to time folks lose their cool or type something that gets misconstrued. That goes with the territory.
But let's all stick to substance, and not add any extra silly to Silly Season.
Eleven summers ago I was one of the organizers of the "Chill the Fill" campaign against filling the subway tunnel. With my background in local government (worked for president of the Monroe County legislature, a Democrat who represented LD-24) and local politics (worked full time on campaign for first LT governor candidate to be backed by the Working Families Party) I was the one frequently tapped for media interviews. Not being a TV person, I didn't initially know most of the reporters, but one stood out for her knowledge of the issue and savvy questions: Rachel Barnhart. At a crucial moment for the effort came one of the savviest moves I've ever seen in local journalism: when the candidates for mayor (there were five in '05) arrived for a debate hosted by her station, Rachel asked each one on camera about the subway tunnel. Each and every one was against filling it. Rachel's story, "Victory for Chill the Fill," was indeed the sign that we had won the battle. (Although a portion was later taken down, Mayor Duffy left most of the tunnel intact.)
After that, I kept an eye on Rachel Barnhart's career, and have seen several such moments, most recently the re-opening of the Torres conviction. Rachel has asked the right questions, refused to back down, declined to go away (ask former RCSD Superintendent Brizard), and has always had the pulse of the community. The opportunity to have someone like that representing them in Albany is one that is too good for the community to overlook, as this endorsement does -- dismissively, in my opinion.
As for Assemblyman Harry Bronson, while he may work hard behind the scenes, and have a lawyer's grasp of the legislative process, he also is a poster child for much of what is wrong with local and state-level politics. You get rewarded for playing ball with the local party, and with the downstate-dominated leadership of the legislature. Harry has taken that to an extreme: when asked by Evan Dawson on WXXI about the indictment of Speaker Silver, a despised figure on our side of the Soda/Pop Line, he fondly referred to Silver as a family member.
This year, of all years, when people across the state are disgusted even more than usual with Albany culture, the last thing the area needs is an elected official who so clearly embodies it. Overlooked by your endorsement is Bronson's abuse of franking (free mailing) and travel reimbursements, of which he was the second-highest recipient. That's astonishing. Whatever promise he might have shown as a county legislator, he's clearly been so marinated in the Albany culture that it's become part of his DNA.
Finally, Bronson is so tone deaf and clearly out of touch with his district that it's nothing short of astonishing. When reporters for CBS6 in Albany finally managed to track him down to ask him about his franking abuse, he was caught on video pushing away the microphone and saying "I'm done." When WHEC's Brett Davidsen asked him about whether it's OK to get reimbursed for travel expenses never incurred, he said he'd take a look at it. Bronson's challenger has discovered that even prime voting Democrats in large swathes of the district have neither seen nor heard from Bronson in his six years in office.
After everything that's happened in Albany recently, this should be a "throw the bums out" year. But the reason incumbent Albany bums -- who embrace corrupt leaders, abuse privileges, and lose touch with their constituents -- don't often get thrown out is because local party leaders and hometown papers (as evidenced by this endorsements piece) keep supporting them. Sure, Albany is corrupt, and we hate Albany, but we like *our* guy. So most communities send *their* guy back again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
2016 is a great opportunity for the 138th Assembly district to replace some dead wood by electing someone who is, in every respect, exactly the kind of person we should be sending to Albany. Your endorsement has it exactly backwards.
This is an outstanding, model project of which Rochester can be rightfully proud. Folks should make every effort to make this project a case study, and emulate whatever aspects of it they can in other neighborhoods. Most especially, this is about seizing on and building on any and all assets in the community, and finding creative ways to bring people together for positive change.
Also, this project is a case study of good leadership -- and good followership. Sadly, one of the major hurdles to the long-term success of initiatives in Rochester is sustainability: both the staying power to keep things going over the long haul, and not crashing on the rocks of ego clashes, turf battles, and leadership failures. This effort has threaded that needle, and it's worth learning how.
To address an earlier comment, I wouldn't describe Buffalo's $1B as "free" -- in the sense of someone just showed up and handed the money to Buffalo & WNY. I live in Buffalo and was somewhat involved in the WNY regional economic development plan, and I can tell you it was based on a foundation of preparation & work done over a decade or so, including long-term planning efforts like Queen City Hub and Queen City Waterfront. Those efforts informed WNY's regional economic development plan and proposal. It proved to be exactly what the Governor and the Brookings Institution (advising the REDC process) were looking for. The Rochester/Finger Lakes REDC plan, in contrast, was sprawl-tastic, and wanted to scatter-shoot $$ at ill-considered laundry-list projects that had been floating around looking for funding. Perhaps not a surprise, given that the chair of the Finger Lakes REDC is a businessman with no planning experience, whose family has spent decades disinvesting in the urban core and profiting from sprawl. And that the co-chair of that REDC is leader of a university that doesn't have an urban planning program.
But it sounds like Rochester is earnestly trying to catch up, if what this article says about the competition focusing on strengthening the urban core is correct. My earnest hope is that Rochester and the region develop a solid plan that, regardless of whether it "wins" the competition, will guide the region forward.
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