While you ring in the New Year, Darren Blum will be prepping for his first Imperial March.
Blum, a Rochester native, will be marching in the 118th Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, as one of 200 Imperial Stormtroopers, the infamous white-helmeted baddies from the "Star Wars" movies. Led by "Star Wars"creator and Grand Marshal George Lucas, the parade group will consist of members from the 501st Legion, a fan club dedicated to building accurate replicas of Imperial costumes.
The 501st Legion claims more than 3000 members from 22 countries. They often make appearances at conventions, town festivals, and charity events. "It's so much fun being in costume, especially when you see kids' expressions," says Blum, the commanding officer of Garrison Excelsior, the group's local chapter. "With Imperial costumes, it's easier to look like you just walked off the movie set."
In June, Lucasfilm asked the 501st Legion for audition tapes of members marching in full Stormtrooper regalia. Blum sent in his tape, and in late October, he was invited to show off his marching chops in the 2007 Rose Bowl Parade. Blum was the sole member selected from Garrison Excelsior and one of only two from New York.
For four days prior to the parade, seven hours a day, Blum will practice his moves with Colonel Anthony Toledo, a former Army drill instructor. "They're going to whip us into shape," Blum says. Toledo will teach the 501st members how to march military-style in their homemade armor --- no easy task, considering that the costumes are heavy and inflexible, and the helmets block most peripheral vision. For Blum, it will be even harder. This will be his first parade as a Stormtrooper; around the Rochester area, he's better known for his 7-foot Chewbacca costume.
You can catch Blum and the rest of the Stormtroopers when the Rose Bowl Parade airs Monday, January 1, at 11 a.m. on ABC.
--- Lara Crigger
Midterm elections may have just wrapped up, but the next round of campaigns is already getting under way.
In November 2007, there'll be elections for county executive, CountyLegislature, and Rochester City Council district seats, and the rumor mills are already churning, particularly about the Council races.
All four district seats will be on the ballot.
Probably the most interesting race will be in the city's east district, which encompasses downtown east of the river, most of the city's southeast, and a portion of the northeast. That's the district currently represented by Council President Lois Giess. The longest-serving member of City Council, Giess was first elected in 1985. She hasn't said publicly whether she'll run for another term, and rumors have been flying that she won't. But when City Newspaper asked if she'd made up her mind, she said simply: "Not yet."
If Giess decides not to run, her seat may be the most likely to generate a primary. Loretta Scott, who was the city's Commissioner of Parks, Recreation, and Human Services in the Johnson administration, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. So has Saul Maneiro, who was an aide to former State Senator Rick Dollinger and is a Housing Council program manager. Maneiro ran unsuccessfully for an at-large City Council seat two years ago.
Few other names for Giess's seat have been mentioned, but party observers say they'd be surprised if the city's whitest, most liberal quarter didn't also field a white, liberal candidate.
The next most senior Council member is Bob Stevenson, who has represented the northwest district since 1988. If Stevenson decides to run again, he'll likely be unopposed, at least for the Democratic designation. (His district includes areas that were the last Republican strongholds in the city and would be the most likely to field a Republican Council candidate next year). If Stevenson doesn't run, there's almost universal agreement that there'll be a Democratic primary, but no one's throwing out names.
The councilmember who may face the toughest challenge, according to the rumors, is Ben Douglas in the northwest district. Douglas joined City Council in 1991 and says he plans to run again in 2007. One potential challenger frequently mentioned is Lovely Warren, who lost in the 2007 Democratic primary for City Council by only a handful of votes. Warren works as counsel to State Assembly member David Gantt and is president of the Rochester Black Bar Association.
Also mentioned as a possible challenger to Douglas is former School Board member Jim Bowers. A political science professor at St. JohnFisherCollege, Bowers served a term on the Rochester School Board. At times he's been critical of both Douglas and more publicly, of Gantt, Warren's boss and mentor.
Southwest district councilmember Adam McFadden is just finishing his first term, but he's one of Council's more visible members. It's McFadden, for instance, who first pushed for a curfew. And he's built up a base of support in his district. Political insiders we spoke with said he's likely to face a primary, but that he'll probably weather it just fine. One of the few names floated as a possible challenger: Tony Reed, a party activist who has frequently run for public office. Most recently, he unsuccessfully challenged Willie Joe Lightfoot Jr. for a CountyLegislature seat in 2005.
--- Krestia DeGeorge
Should students with low grades be permitted to play football and take part in other after-school activities? The Rochester School Board, which has been debating that issue for several months, will likely vote on it in January. And its fate may hinge on incoming board member Van White., who will replace board member Jeff Henley in January.
Currently, students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average to participate in activities like sports. School Board member Tom Brennan and some community activists have pushed for loosening that requirement. Sports and other activities keep poorly performing students interested in school, they say, and deter dropouts. They want to allow students to participate in extra-curricular activities even if they have an F on their report card, as long as they can demonstrate that they are improving the grade. Their proposal includes several measures to help students improve, such as additional tutoring and daily progress reports from teachers.
Superintendent Manuel Rivera opposes changing the change.
"The board certainly has the ability and the authority to make a change to this policy," he said at last week's School Board meeting, "but it is possible for a student to have a 2.0 GPA and still fail a core subject. That would mean the student was allowed to play sports, but may not graduate."
Rivera has also noted that some of the requirements in the new policy would require a buy-in by from the district's unions.
Joining him Rivera in opposition at last week's meeting was board member Willa Powell, who said the change was being proposed without confirmation that a single student has dropped out after being denied participation in sports.
"This doesn't show the numbers of students we are talking about," she said. "There is no quantification of the problem. We don't know if this has impacted any students at all beyond anecdotal information. And what this attempts to do is legislate caring and concern, which is impossible."
But iIf the School Board had voted last week, the proposal would have passed. Four board members voiced support for the change: Tom Brennan, Jeff Henley, Malik Evans, and Cynthia Elliott.
Brennan says the policy proposal will be revised before the board's January meeting to include a requirement that students have passing grades in core subjects: math, science, and English.
"Our intent has never been to ignore the importance of passing the core subjects," says Brennan.
But Jeff Henley --- who said that as a teacher, he has seen positive results from similar policies --- won't be on the School Board when it votes next month. His replacement, Van White, seems inclined to vote for it. "Conceptually," he said late last week, "I like to think the policy is consistent with trying to get kids to stay in school, and this could be an opportunity to entice them into graduating on time."
--- Tim Louis Macaluso
The ferry is officially gone. Kind of.
The city hasn't closed on the sale, but at least the boat has left Rochester.
The ferry departed abruptly for Shelburne, Nova Scotia, on Thursday. The city will pay about $300 a day to dock it there; that's cheaper, according to city officials, than it has cost to dock it here.
On Saturday, after clearing the St. Lawrence Seaway locks in Massena (getting scraped up a bit in the process) the boat made an unexpected stop in Matane, Quebec, to ride out rough weather. Early this week, it headed to Halifax, where it'll undergo repairs and an inspection before heading to its winter berth in Shelburne.
The decision to move the ship was made after Bay Ferries, which has been running the vessel for the city, advised that if it didn't sail on Thursday, there might not be another chance before the Seaway closed for the winter at the end of December.
City officials had hoped that a deal with Euroferries, the primary prospective buyer, would be completed before the boat left. A last-minute request from one of the company's two financing partners quashed that, according to Mayor Bob Duffy.
Regardless of whether Euroferries consummates the deal, city officials were upbeat last week about getting the boat out of the Seaway system. If another prospective buyer comes along, the city can sell the boat without waiting for the Seaway to reopen (which usually doesn't happen until around the first of April). The Great Lakes, said Corporation Counsel Tom Richards, are "the worst place in the world to sell a boat" for that reason. "No one can buy it if it's locked this side of the Seaway."
If Euroferries fails to put together its financing, it's agreed to pay for the cost of moving the ferry to Nova Scotia, city officials said.
--- Krestia DeGeorge