Of all the great human institutions created during the past centuries, democracy ranks right up there at the top. It has its warts, but there is no other political system I would trade it for. Democracy works best when people actually vote and make an effort to inform themselves about the issues and the candidates.
During the next few months, "prime" Democrats (those voters who frequently go to the polls) will get mailboxes and telephone answering machines filled with cutesy slogans, promises to work hard for the people, and a stream of warm fuzzies.
Rochester is at a very important point in our city's history and the time for slogans, promises, and fuzzies (warm or otherwise) is over. Rochester needs elected officials in City Hall with experience in actually making positive change happen. Our community has many strengths that others can only dream about: the best bond rating of any upstate city, vibrant colleges, a re-discovered Genesee River, great music, and diverse neighborhoods, to name just a few. But like other cities, Rochester has challenges that we must face head-on together. This is no time for on-the-job training among our local elected officials.
I was elected to City Council almost eight years ago to work with community leaders, residents and business owners to move Rochester forward. During the past several years, I have done this by working with my Council colleagues to create programs that made sense, by expecting accountability, by asking the tough questions that needed to be asked, and by seeking public input.
I am proud to report that I have taken a strong leadership role on Council. Specifically, during the past four years, as Council's chair of the Finance Committee, I have:
• led Council's review of the annual city budget, which has allowed for a fuller discussion of the budget details, and permitted more time for Council's questions and concerns about the budget to be addressed;
• overseen Council's review of the city's annual Capital Improvement Plan, which carefully spends millions of dollars repairing our streets, bridges, water supply system, and other key city programs;
• crafted amendments to city contract bidding legislation to protect taxpayers and promote fairness among small business owners;
• sponsored legislation to promote city residency among city employees;
• led Council's efforts to ensure that property inspections protected tenants' safety and property owners' privacy.
On the hundreds of issues that have come before City Council during the past several years, I have studied each one on a case-by-case basis. What makes sense and what doesn't? Can we do something better and cheaper?
I'm proud of the work I've done on Council, the no-nonsense positions I've taken, and the time I've spent bringing our community into the process. Our city faces many tough challenges, but with strong leadership and an engaged public we can move forward together.
During the next several weeks when local democracy reaches its late summer and fall apex and the flood of mailings and robo-calls begin, ask yourself if candidates are using action words like "created or accomplished" or vague advertising-speak designed to appeal to a marketer's idea of the average voter.
I ran four years ago on a promise of asking critical questions before voting on any program affecting jobs, public safety or youth. I ran as a community advocate who understood the impact an engaged elected official could have on neighborhoods. Four years on, I still believe that engagement is the most important thing a local elected official can do.
So, what've I done?
On jobs, I supported Rochester's first Project Labor Agreement. This agreement not only advances significant investment in our community like the redevelopment of Midtown, but also invests in our people, providing jobs and essential training to maintain those jobs for a lifetime.
Similarly, I supported a bond measure not only because it made financial sense by reducing borrowing costs, but because it invested in key projects, like the demolition of dangerous, abandoned houses. These projects put people to work now, while making critical investments in our neighborhoods.
On public safety, I've supported the growth of our police department to one of the largest number of officers in RPD history. That said, you can have all the cops you want, but it means little if there isn't trust in the system. That's why my service on the committee overhauling the Civilian Review Board is meaningful. The overhaul provides greater transparency and accountability to our policing, including an advocate position to help citizens bringing complaints.
Four years ago I saw City Hall and the school district had a troubled relationship. It's hard to solve problems when adults aren't speaking with each other. That's why I'm proud to chair the newly revived 3:3 meetings between Council and school board. We aren't solving all our problems, but we've solved one — we're talking. And it's paying off. The city signed an agreement with the district that saves more than $300,000 by streamlining and sharing fuel facilities for our fleets.
Finally, I don't spend a lot of time inside City Hall. I spend my time in neighborhoods, working with residents to solve problems, like advocating for more community engagement in the School Facilities Modernization Project. When neighbors were concerned about proposed changes to School 17, an outstanding neighborhood school, we worked together with district and city officials to get the process back on track and ensure the school continues as a neighborhood resource.
When the LGBT community shared that a transgender person could be kicked out of Rochester Housing Authority property simply for being Trans, I worked with RHA to change that policy.
When special interests, looking to save money, threatened the city's rental inspection policies — which have led to dramatic drops in childhood lead poisoning — I went to bat with community health advocates to ensure that the health and safety of our children remained first and foremost, not special interests.
My time on Council has been gratifying. But more importantly, I believe I have been an active and effective member of Council, delivering on the promises I made four years ago. With your support I'd like to serve for four more.
I have loved Rochester from the moment I moved here 20 years ago. And I hate to see this city hit hard times. But here are the facts: Rochester has the highest poverty in the state. Approximately one third of our residents live in poverty. Rochester is ranked seventh highest for childhood poverty in the nation.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli states, "The city's unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in November 2012, and has been persistently in the range of 9.4 percent to 11.9 percent since early 2009. This is significantly higher than the statewide rate of 7.9 percent." Citizens of Rochester are also twice as likely to be burglarized or murdered as are the citizens of New York City.
Crime is the direct result of unemployment and poverty.
Unemployment and poverty are the direct results of Rochester's policies, decisions, and legislation over the last eight to twelve years, which are designed to restrict and prevent local businesses from thriving and from hiring entire shifts of employees.
City Council restricts the hours locally owned businesses can operate, but does not restrict the hours of the corporate chains which are allowed 24-hour function. Last September, Council voted unanimously to further restrict hours of operation for local businesses and restrict their inventory — placing local businesses at a competitive disadvantage to their corporate rivals.
Rochester continues to use the nuisance points system which punishes local businesses with points whenever they are victimized by criminals. So the more crime has occurred in Rochester, the more our city leaders have closed or restricted businesses. This creates unemployment, which creates more poverty and more crime.
Monroe Avenue's Big Deal Pizza and Texas Blues BBQ, are busiest when the bars close. Yet Rochester's Office of Neighborhood and Business Development employees recently issued these businesses $500 tickets for the crime of being open, employing citizens, and collecting much needed sales taxes — which account for 26 percent of our city's revenue. Yes. The Office of Business Development is fining local businesses for conducting business.
I have been involved in local activism since moving my business, Park Ave Pets, to Monroe Avenue eight years ago.
Most recently, on July 16, 2013, myself and a group of citizens offered $100,000 cash for Midtown Tower and its adjacent parking lot to prevent the $2 sale of this property to a campaign contributor. City Council approved the $2 sale over our $100,000 cash offer. The city will now give 11.9 million tax dollars to this campaign contributor for renovations, and Midtown Tower will be property tax free for 20 years.
Rochester's city leaders need to rethink their priorities and make their citizens' prosperity their top focus. We need to stop lining the pockets of the rich and the corporations with our citizens' money. Rochester can be turned around. All it takes is jobs, some new ideas, a more sensible fiscal plan, and perhaps the unique perspective of a small business owner. I hope you will join me in this vision and will vote for me in September.
My oldest son and daughter-in-law delivered my first grandchild in January. In 21 years, Rochester will celebrate its bicentennial. Two hundred years is a significant milestone for our city. What kind of city will my grandson find in 2034, when he turns 21?
We have made great strides in development in the city. I am looking forward to the continuation of that effort. Over the next 21 years, we should have completed the renaissance of downtown, and will have made great strides in rebuilding city neighborhoods through Council-supported efforts like selective demolition, greening strategies, and providing space for more developments similar to Newcroft, and Brooks Court. Both of these developments have created new, market rate, single family, owner-occupied housing. We will also continue to insist on a percentage of affordable units in all housing development projects.
The challenge of unequal educational outcomes is affecting all children. As a progressive community, we should be ashamed that recently released results show 5 percent of RCSD students meeting standards. Poverty is not new, and it should not be an excuse for underperformance in our educational system.
Concentrated poverty, however, is something that overwhelms our systems, eliminates role models, strains our resources, and makes it hard for even the best students to survive, much less succeed. As a community, we must implement a solution that allows all children access to schools that have poverty levels of 40 percent or less. City Council must encourage and support any movement to de-concentrate poverty in our schools.
There is much work going on right now in our community regarding race and equity. As a model society, we must accept no less than complete equality of opportunity for every member. We must work hard to eliminate racism, sexism, ageism, and all of the other "isms" that separate us. We must focus on efforts like the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and recognize that we can ill afford a society where almost one-third of the young black male population is under criminal justice supervision, and the homicide rate for black males is seven times that of white males.
City Council passed a moratorium on fracking. Over the next 21 years, this wise decision will protect our abundant clean, fresh water supply. By marketing this resource widely as water shortages in the southern and western states worsen, we will attract more businesses like food processing, and even computer chip manufacturing.
As "onshoring" picks up speed and jobs continue to move back to the US from China, Rochester will be well-positioned to recruit companies looking for highly-skilled workers. Our relative lack of natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, and forest fires makes our location perfect for data centers, call centers, and high-tech manufacturing facilities. Council has supported plans for more power redundancy, and improved utility infrastructure. I will continue to push for renewable sources like solar and wind.
Twenty-one years will be here quickly and I want what you want: safe neighborhoods, great schools, and a vibrant downtown. There is still work to be done.
In walking, living, and working in the neighborhoods it is clear we are still struggling. In many of our neighborhoods we still have blighted, abandoned, and boarded up structures. We still have hot spots of criminal activity. Some of us pass these images each and every day, and some of us even live right next door to them.
All serve as hindrances to increased property values and intensify quality of life issues. But even worse is the feeling for some that things appear to be hopeless. But all is not lost. Despite our challenges, we are making progress. We must engage more with our residents and further those relationships. Our people are our greatest treasure and I truly believe we are the key to our success. I believe in this city, in my neighbors, and those I work with.
We have not solved our neighborhood issues, but if we take a second look you'll see beautiful gardens, where a vacant structure once stood, now jewels for which neighbors have come together and toiled over for months or years, beautifying neighborhoods while establishing strong relationships. You'll see clean green spaces which once served as drug, prostitute, and other criminal activity havens. You'll see young children and new families moving into renovated homes brought back to life. These are images of inspiration, of hope, and are priorities I have made as your Council woman.
I have made it my goal to engage in dialogue, work hand in hand with neighborhood groups to develop plans to maximize their opportunities and take ownership of their community. The answer is not the same for every area and it is up to residents to determine what will work for them. But supporting them in that endeavor is our responsibility.
I support the acceleration of blighted, vacant structure demolitions, and we are on target for an additional 500 by the end of calendar year 2014.
As chair of the committee on tax liens, we investigated the concerns of community members on how our fiscal practices may not be serving the neighborhood, even weakening development efforts. We listened and partnered together and have completed a thorough evaluation of the city's bulk sale of tax liens and have been approved for a New York State Land Bank. Both are producing improvements to our current strategies and practices, providing additional tools to positively change the landscape of our city, and increasing homeowner occupancy.
Working with the administration on additional avenues to encourage action from lax property owners who are not subject to tax delinquency measures has also been critical. In a parallel path, advocating for additional funds to rehabilitate owner-occupant homes and piloting a holistic approach to neighborhood revitalization inclusive of education and training opportunities are areas I stand behind.
As a lifelong city resident, city school graduate, and business owner, I believe it will be critical to continue supporting the stabilization and growth of our neighborhoods. In a second term, I hope to enhance and be more strategic in those efforts, engaging more residents, as well as focus on the vibrancy of small business, ensuring that minority and woman owned businesses have a fair shot at success. It has been my privilege to serve as your Council woman and would be honored to have your continued support.
During my past four years as a member of Rochester City Council, I have worked tirelessly to address the issues which adversely affect our neighborhoods. I bring a unique blend of public, civic, and private sector experience to City Council. I have served on numerous nonprofit boards, led a city department that prided itself on listening to and creating opportunities for our residents, operated a small business, and raised a family here in the city.
When I took my oath of office as an at-large City Council member, I made a personal pledge to find a way to connect the work of the city with one of the pressing needs of many of our residents: gainful employment. I approach this task by thoroughly reviewing all the legislative proposals before Council to make sure that they represent the most effective use of public funds and offer the highest level of public good. Paramount to me is establishing a connection between budget expenditures and a positive economic impact for Rochesterians.
Thankfully, the experience I gained over my 20 years as a senior level department head was especially useful in helping me identify ways to push that agenda forward. I have advanced simple but important measures, such as requiring information on the number of jobs created or retained for every city construction project. Through this exercise, we know that the $65 million we've spent on capital projects generated an estimated 700 jobs during the past four years. Another example is the new requirement to regularly monitor compliance with the Living Wage Ordinance, which applies to many city contractors.
Having served on the administration side of the aisle in City Hall, I have seen many solid, well-intentioned Council initiatives lie fallow or fail to produce the desired results due to the lack of follow-through and focus. The ground-breaking Midtown project labor agreement, which established mandatory participation of women and minorities in the construction trades, could have suffered the same fate if not for Council's due diligence. Finding that the Midtown project was significantly behind in reaching the promised diversity goals, we hired an independent monitor dedicated to seeing this historic agreement succeed.
We can't afford to accept excuses for not making city money work to benefit our citizens, and we have the intelligence and capacity to meet the expectation that it does.
Rochester is at an important crossroads. While I am proud of our progress, the work is not over and the challenges are many. I believe that I bring a passion for the people, a strong commitment to serve, and a generous level of knowledge and expertise about various issues related to governance to my work on City Council. But even good intentions and hard work are worthless if Council doesn't ensure that policies and ordinances are monitored and enforced. And it is my job, one that I take very seriously, to make sure that they are.
I won't deny that the current members of Rochester City Council have attempted to put forth their best efforts in their quest to move Rochester forward. But we can also trace the collision of urban transformation with a complacent Council viewed by many citizens as relaxed, quiet, and influenced by party politics and partisan governance. We are seeing this play out in the Democratic race for mayor today. And with the exception of a few members of City Council individually, you really don't hear from City Council most time collectively.
Now that the Democratic petitioning process (getting the required signatures to appear on the Democratic ballot on September 10) is complete, we need to turn our attention to the platforms and proposals of all City Council candidates and not the mayor's only.
As with most years that we have a mayoral campaign, the attention most time has been on the three candidates pursing that office only, but the unavoidable question is: where are all the rest? And in a season where the city's population and density continue to decline, returning swaths of inner cities to empty lots and weed-filled fields, now is not the time to remain quiet in the face of global economic threats. We need a proactive City Council independent but cooperative to the executive branch who will stimulate growth in sectors from food manufacturing to health care, creating loads of new jobs and transforming once sleepy neighborhoods into thriving commercial centers.
We need a Rochester that works for all people regardless of race, origin, religion, sexual preferences, family situation, and political ideologies. In fact I have my "Great Communities" plan that lays out a legislative priority in a visionary attempt to advance Rochesterians not by skin color, but by stubborn issues that are threatening lives. I encourage you to review the plan by going to www.MarloweWashington.com.
With that said, and with one party running government in Rochester for the better part of the last 30 years, many have lost sight that it is the executive branch (the mayor) who actually reacts to the legislative branch (City Council). It is the job of the legislative branch to craft proposals to better Rochester. That course of action is how I plan to engage once elected to City Council.
I intend to be an independent voice working on behalf of the people who sent me to City Hall, not partisan politics. Rather, the kind of politics I wish to introduce is the one that exudes progressive hope addressing the serious problems of unemployment and social discord — and the alleged renaissance of Rochester conveniently forgetting vast swatches of empty factories, sites of buildings returned to fields of weeds, boarded-up houses, and lives stunted by poverty right in the shadow of shiny new office towers and lofts. I believe the mayor sets the tone. I just don't believe City Council should sit fiddling their thumbs "waiting" for the mayor to give them new marching orders either. That's not what City Council, as an independent branch of government should do, and that's not what I will do. We need a stronger City Council.