Even if she hadn't won last week, Lovely Warren would deserve credit for focusing relentlessly on the existence of "two Rochesters" during her campaign for mayor. Dealing with poverty and its consequences in Rochester's inner city is the most important challenge this city faces.
In less than two months, Warren will be responsible for leading the community in meeting that challenge. I don't know anybody who thinks government can do that by itself, but certainly government can do many things. Warren believes City Hall can do more that it has done, both on its own and by leveraging private and non-profit resources. And in her campaign, she outlined numerous programs she wants to pursue, all of them aimed at problems that so far, we haven't been able to solve. But each of her proposals has its own set of challenges and, in some cases, risks. To focus on a few:
Jobs: Warren hopes to reduce the poverty of inner-city residents through job creation and training. The challenge, though, will be to develop jobs that last longer than a construction project, jobs that pay well and will provide a stable future – and to match those jobs with Rochesterians whose education is woefully inadequate and who have little employment experience.
Education: While she says she won't pursue mayoral control, clearly Warren wants to involve City Hall much more actively in education. And while she says she will support the efforts of the Rochester school district, she also wants to provide funding and other support for charter and private schools.
All of us share her distress over the academic level of Rochester's children. But if Warren is successful in some of those initiatives – expanding charter schools, for instance – the community should understand what will happen: the Rochester school district will continue to lose students and state aid. And it will be left with the students with the most problems and with less money to teach them.
Crime: Warren is convinced that her administration can do a better job reducing crime – which is concentrated in the inner city – than the Richards administration has. And she has pledged to have police be more aggressive in going after drug dealers and other criminals. The challenge will be to do that without violating the rights of Rochester residents – and without sucking more African-American youths into the criminal justice system.
Development: Warren is not anti-development. Her record on City Council proves that. But she will have different priorities than Tom Richards has had, and she may offer less aggressive incentives to developers, particularly downtown. If Richards was correct in believing that the incentives were necessary, we could see the pace of downtown development start to slow. That will hurt not only downtown interests but also the neighborhoods that Warren most wants to help.
Warren may very well turn out to be the very person Rochester needs right now. Clearly, the majority of Rochesterians who voted last week believe she is. And if she runs City Hall as intelligently and successfully as she and her supporters ran her campaign, she'll prove that her critics (myself included) were wrong to worry that she wasn't up to the job.
With her campaign focus on the terrible human consequences of concentrated poverty, she did the entire community an important service. And with her election, she has brought hope to a lot of people in Rochester's poorest neighborhoods.
Early in her campaign, when critics suggested that she wait four more years to run for mayor, Warren said Rochester's poorest residents couldn't wait any longer for change. She can't work miracles, though; Rochester's problems are too large to be solved quickly. One of her biggest challenges, then, will be to avoid betraying the hopes of those who elected her.
The first step will be to appoint exceptionally qualified people to her administration. We probably won't have to wait long to learn how she does in that area.