It was an interesting chain of events. Last Monday, July 7, City Newspaper received a press release from the Maggie Brooks for County Executive campaign committee. A press conference was scheduled for Tuesday, at which the county clerk and representatives from the Rochester Broadway Theater League would make "an important announcement about a community project that will preserve and enhance the performing arts in Monroe County."
But what does the county clerk's office have to do with "the performing arts in Monroe County"? And why didn't the RBTL itself send out a press release on this important announcement?
So we went to the press conference the next day. And there was Brooks, along with RBTL President Don Jeffries and RBTL Chairman of the Board Arnie Rothschild.
The announcement: Thanks to Brooks, Governor George Pataki approved a $1 million grant from the Empire State Development Corporation to the RBTL. The money will be used by RBTL to acquire the Auditorium Theatre from its owners, Raymond and William Saucke.
In addition to purchasing the theater, the RBTL will begin a $2.5 million renovation financed by a loan through HSBC, which will be paid off by ticket sales.
A press release issued the same day by the Maggie Brooks campaign committee said this was all part of Brooks' "$3.5 million plan to renovate the historic structure at no cost for local taxpayers."
Quoted in the same release was Jeffries: "The key element that allows us to move forward with this project is a $1 million grant from the State of New York that was secured by Maggie Brooks. Without Maggie's efforts on our behalf, this project would still be just another dream on a shelf somewhere."
So what, exactly, did Brooks do to "secure" this $1 million grant? She wrote a letter to Governor Pataki over a year ago, on June 21, 2002. In the letter, she lists all of the economic and cultural reasons why the governor should support the RBTL's request for financial assistance from the state.
Sending a letter like this appears to be a unique move for a county clerk. Especially considering it was sent well before Brooks announced her candidacy for county executive. But, as Brooks said during an interview a day after the press conference, she has a long-standing relationship with the RBTL, both as a patron and as somebody whose daughters have benefited from RBTL's outreach programs.
Besides, she said, "You'd be amazed by the things people ask me to become involved in."
"There are two pieces to my job," she said. "There's the governmental piece, which is my role as county clerk and what I do in this office. Then there's the broader piece as a countywide elected official. I represent everyone in Monroe County. And people come to me for a lot of issues that don't relate to what I do here in the clerk's office. And that kind of leads in to the political piece of what I do. When people call, I try and connect them to folks who will listen or advocate for them. It's something I feel I can do effectively."
"The letter," she says, "brought the issue to [Pataki's] attention. This was one case where we were successful."
Don Jeffries, also contacted the day after the announcement, said RBTL never asked Brooks to lobby on its behalf. He also said there's no way of telling how much of an impact Brooks' letter had on the governor, since RBTL was doing its own lobbying in Albany as well.
According to Brooks, she was simply aware of the RBTL's need to have a viable Broadway performance space while the debate over a new Performing Arts Center continues.
So Brooks had the pleasure of being the bearer of good news, as the PAC process continues at its achingly slow pace.
But perhaps she has more than the governor to thank for the opportunity.
In the year 2002 alone, the RBTL's Arnie Rothschild donated $25,500 to the Monroe County Republican Committee. His total donations for the same year to the Dems? 0.