Rochester is a city in need of fundamental transformation, said Mayor Tom Richards in his State of the City address tonight. Refusal to acknowledge that fact or to insist that nips and tucks will do the trick is to condemn the city to failure, he said.
Richards' sober address, given at School of the Arts, began on a cinematic note: Spider-Man appeared on stage to deliver the mayor's "forgotten" speech. The web-head's cameo followed a short video showing Spidey swinging around the city, making his way to SOTA. (The whole bit was obviously playing off the Spider-Man movie shoot going on downtown.)
Richards' hour-long speech touched on public safety, education, housing and business development, municipal funding, and opportunities for minorities.
He said the city has developed a strategy to deal with the flare up in public safety issues that typically accompanies warmer weather. He said the city would engage neighbors by offering competitive grants for neighborhoods to work with police to develop their own ideas for fighting crime and violence near their homes. The city will also continue to work to break up gangs, Richards said.
Richards has also put money in the upcoming budget — which is due out next week — to study how best to deploy police resources. Some people in the community want the city to add police sections — Rochester once had seven, but is now down to an east-west model. A smaller downtown section will open this summer. But Richards said he doesn't necessarily buy that the city was safer under the seven-section model.
On education, much of what Richards said was similar to goals stated by Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, including making sure children are reading at grade level by the third grade — an important benchmark of academic development. He also said he supports universal pre-k and longer school days — both also favored by Vargas.
Richards spent a good deal of time detailing the investment the city has made and is making in the city's neighborhoods. He described developments taking place in each of the city's four quadrants — sometimes sounding like a Sunday-morning real estate show.
Portions of Richards' address could be taken as open rebukes or rebuttals to his primary opponent, City Council President Lovely Warren, although it's not clear if that was his intention. Warren has hit Richards on the neighborhoods, saying the city doesn't do enough there. In his lengthy focus on the neighborhoods tonight, Richards said that for every $1 the city spends downtown, it spends $2 in the neighborhoods.
Warren has also been critical of the city school district. In tonight's speech, Richards said "no points are awarded for trashing the district," and that the RCSD needs a supportive, cooperative city administration behind it.
But Richards' main point was that Rochester is still shifting from a manufacturing-based economy fueled by three big-name companies, to a knowledge-based economy that demands a higher level of education and specialized skills.
And he said cities like Rochester can no longer rely on property taxes to survive, and a new funding formula must be devised. He said he would be "all over" Governor Andrew Cuomo to come up with a new method.