It's a rare thing when politics take a back seat in a political endorsement process. But that's happening in Rochester this season.
This September will make 13 years since the writers at the Democrat and Chronicle have had a contract. Members of the Rochester Newspaper Guild --- the union for newsroom employees --- have pushed in a recent ad campaign and series of protests to make their struggle more public. Now they've hit upon a fresh way of doing that: They've persuaded every candidate for mayor in the upcoming Democratic primary not to cross their picket line to attend endorsement interviews.
The guild says they had planned to ask candidates for a wholesale boycott of the endorsement process, but adjusted after a sudden companywide management shuffle sent past publisher David Hunke to Detroit and brought publisher Michael Kane to Rochester.
The move was meant to convince Kane to reverse the paper's policy and accept a federal mediator at contract negotiations, according to a guild newsletter circulated in the D&C newsroom last week.
"This will all simply be resolved with a sign from Mr. Kane or other management leaders within the building that a federal mediator will be welcomed at the next bargaining sessions," the newsletter stated. "Again, this is not a major request. Nothing a mediator recommends is binding. His or her role is simply to try to move the process towards a fair resolution."
At least one candidate tried to use the situation to broker a discussion between both sides. In a Monday email to Kane that stressed the paper's civic role in the community, Wade Norwood offered to spend the time slated for his endorsement interview to meet with Kane and union reps.
Norwood's campaign manager Chris Christopher says she's putting it politely when she states his effort was "rebuffed."
"The publisher felt that it wasn't within Wade's purview to bring the two sides together," Christopher says.
Norwood said the reply, delivered to him verbally by Kane's secretary, conveyed "a strong sense that the offer that I had made was inappropriate," a response he found "disappointing."
Through his secretary, Kane declined to be interviewed for this story, directing inquiries to a company spokesperson.
By Monday afternoon, when the last of the interviews was scheduled to take place, none of the four candidates had kept their appointments, according to editorial page editor Jim Lawrence.
Now what happens?
"At this point, we haven't decided what we'll do," Lawrence says. But a decision will have to be made by the end of the week, he added.
Tom Flynn, veep of communications, seemed less worried about the missing interviews.
"That's just one small piece of the endorsement process," speaking from his vacation. As for the labor dispute itself, Flynn freely admitted he had little to say beyond the official line, which is that the dispute is a private personnel issue.
"We do not comment out of respect for our employees," he says. "We continue to negotiate with the union in good faith."
But the union's demands are very specific: It wants the paper to allow a federal mediator into the negotiations. After a 13-year stalemate, why is that such a bad idea? Flynn's initial response was that the question of allowing a federal mediator was too "complicated" to explain. Pressed, he responded "I leave that to the company's labor lawyer."
That lawyer, Wendell Van Lare, hadn't returned phone calls by press time Tuesday.
Bob Hawkes says a recruiter for the Marines called his house a few weeks ago looking for his son.
When the phone rang, Hawkes' wife answered, and the officer on the other end asked if he could speak with her kid.
"No!" she said. "And you can't have him."
"Well, thanks a lot for your patriotism ma'am," he snapped and hung up.
The city Board of Education just revised its recruitment policy so scenes like that can be avoided. Starting this September, a new form will be attached to the Emergency Contact sheets sent home with students. It will notify parents of their right to grant or prohibit disclosure of their child's student directory information to potential employers, colleges, and the military. All parents have to do is indicate their choice and return the form.
"The language is very explicit. If we do not receive input from the parent, we will choose to protect the student's privacy," says commissioner Willa Powell. "Some people may see this as a de facto opt-in policy. And it's not. When we enter responses in our computer, we will identify those students as a 'no response' in the system."
Clarissa Room owner John Starr, known for his fedora and ever-present smile, died unexpectedly on Saturday, August 27. He was 50 years old.
Starr was responsible for rekindling the jazz and blues flame in the historic Clarissa Street neighborhood by reopening the club previously known as Shep's Paradise. Much of Rochester's musical elite has graced the bandstand since the club opened exactly one year ago last week. The Clarissa Room jumped on weekends like an old roadhouse with Starr running the whole affair as if he was hosting it in his own living room.
Starr's children, Mike and Jennifer, will carry on with the club, set to open again on September 9.
"Do you know how pissed he'd be if we didn't?" Mike says. "He's probably pissed we closed Saturday."
A memorial service and open jam will be held at the Clarissa Room, 293 Clarissa Street, this Friday, September 2, at 4 p.m. 325-5350.