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The test of your life 

Isabel Rosa, Duncan McElroye, and Ebonee Johnson want everyone to get tested. And they can't say it enough.

"We want to get them tested," McElroye says. "We can't say what number, but any number. Just to start the ball rolling."

The three work at Action Front Center, an HIV/AIDS outreach center on Chestnut Street, and are organizing the third local celebration of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day. In Rochester, events will include a candlelight vigil and free HIV testing at seven locations.

"We want them to mainly get educated, know their status, and get their partner's status, also," Johnson says.

"And their cousin's, their uncle's, their friend's, their brother's and sister's --- everybody," McElroye adds.

The National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is five years old; it's been honored in Rochester for three years --- free testing is always a major component. It's the old "knowledge is power" idea. There are giveaways to get people in the door and past the stigma of entering an AIDS clinic --- T-shirts, movie tickets, gift cards --- "whatever it takes," Johnson says.

And there is good reason for the effort. African-Americans are 12 percent of the US population, but half of the people diagnosed with AIDS in 2002 were black.

"When you look at that number, there is a very broad disparity," McElroye says. "We have to educate and let people become aware of what is happening in the black community."

Johnson blames the high rate of infection on a lack of education and health insurance, poverty, and a whole host of socio-economic factors, including the fact that people just don't know it's not just a gay or a drug-users' disease.

"There's a lot of myths and taboos about it," McElroye says. "All we want is for them to get tested. Then they'll know their status."

Awareness Day events are on Sunday, February 6, and Monday, February 7. Call 262-4330 for more information. For testing locations and times, call 800-962-5063.

--- Erica Curtis


Poll watching

Technically, the race for Rochester mayor hasn't started yet; the primary election isn't until September. But the drama in the Democratic Party is well under way. (In the heavily Democratic city, the winner of the Democratic primary is almost certain to be the winner of the November general election.)

At the moment, this is a campaign between the supporters of a candidate and a non-candidate: City Councilmember Wade Norwood, who has said that he'll run, and Rochester Police Chief Bob Duffy, who hasn't.

Other possible candidates are City Councilmember Tim Mains, School Board President Darryl Porter, and State Assemblymember Susan John, but right now the recent media attention is on Norwood and Duffy --- and a poll commissioned by Duffy's supporters.

Until recently, Norwood has been presumed to be the heir to Mayor Bill Johnson, and he has lined up the support of many elected Democratic officials. State Assemblymembers David Gantt and Joe Morelle are chairing his campaign.

Duffy insists that he hasn't made up his mind about running, but his supporters have formed a committee that's hard at work. Chairing the committee: realtor Mark Siwiec, retired Monroe County Elections Commissioner Betsy Relin, and attorney Pat Malgieri. They've put up a website: www.duffyformayor.com. And they're touting the results of their poll, which was conducted among registered city Democrats.

Norwood's campaign says the Duffy group violated election law by not filing the poll with the Board of Elections. That would have made the full poll results available to the public. Duffy's supporters say they didn't violate anything, since Duffy isn't yet a candidate --- and they posted the poll on their website.

The poll shows Duffy beating Norwood handily --- 52 percent to 22 percent --- if the Democratic primary were held now. In the poll, Duffy (who is white) beats Norwood (who is black) among both white and black voters.

The poll shows Duffy with a higher "favorable opinion" rating than Norwood. The two received virtually identical, low "unfavorable" ratings. But by far the better known was Duffy, who because of his job gets enormous media exposure. While Norwood has served on City Council for 15 years, councilmembers typically are not highly visible public figures. The mayor, not councilmembers, gets the media coverage in City Hall.

How significant is the poll? A lot will change once the campaigning and the campaign advertising begin.

Still, people fascinated with local politics may find the poll interesting reading. For instance, it highlights some areas in which both Duffy and Norwood may be vulnerable.

When poll respondents were read a statement charging that Duffy "has no experience on important issues like improving schools, creating jobs, or bringing businesses to Rochester," 60 percent said they now had at least some doubt about voting for him. Told that Norwood's affiliation with David Gantt might make him beholden to powerful Albany interests, 54 percent said that created doubts about voting for him. (Until recently, Norwood was Gantt's chief of staff.)

--- Mary Anna Towler


School daze

The battle over which elementary schools the city will close is about to reach an emotional climax.

Starting Thursday, the district will hold three public hearings (details below) on the 15 buildings that the School and Community Advisory Committee recommended for closure consideration (see "The incredible shrinking district," January 19). The news of the recommendations reverberated throughout the city, sparking plenty of backlash, and prompting "save our school" rallies and committees in many neighborhoods, some in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Now much of that energy will likely be directed at the hearings. If protesters like city school district teacher Howard Eagle have their way, school officials entering Douglass prep school Thursday evening will be greeted with chants like "Johnson, Rivera, Big Business / Y'all ain't slick / We all know this is about money and politricks," and "Up with schools / Down with prisons."

According to Eagle's press release, the protest will call for the School Board to close no schools at all.

But overshadowed in all the emotion is at least one positive development, says Board President Darryl Porter. Once the initial shock of the announcement wore off, he says, parents and community members began coming to the district with their own research, citing concrete reasons for keeping their schools open. That signals a new level of public participation, Porter says, a healthy step for the district.

The district's public hearings on the advisory committee's recommendations are: Thursday, February 3, at Frederick Douglass Preparatory School, 940 Fernwood Park; Monday, February 7, at James Madison High School of Excellence, 200 Genesee Street; and Wednesday, February 9, East High School, 1801 East Main Street. Each runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Call 262-8363 to sign up to speak. Child care for children 3 and older will be available. Info: www.rcsdk12.org.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


Empty chair

Saying she was tired of the divisions within her ranks, Monroe County Democratic Committee Chair Molly Clifford announced her resignation at a press conference Monday.

The move takes effect Friday, and a new chair will need to be voted on 20 days from then. Executive Vice Chair Jim Vogel will handle the reins of the party until the vote.

On paper, Clifford's tenure doesn't look that notable, but most Dems praise the job she's done, especially when it comes to fundraising and running campaigns for lower-level offices.

When critics point to her failure to wrest control of the County Legislature from Republicans, Clifford and other Dems say their party's structure just wouldn't free up the necessary resources. Unlike her Republican counterpart, Steve Minarik, Clifford had no control over donations, so she relied on high-profile officeholders to raise money for her lower-level campaigns.

She also says she spent much of her time in a party wrought with warring internal factions. Asked if the party infighters included Assemblymember David Gantt, Clifford responded "yes" but refused to name other sources of discord.

As for Clifford's future: "I will not go away," she says. With all 29 lej seats up, and a mayoral race that promises to keep generating headlines, it would seem like the best time to be involved. "I will in one way or another," says Clifford.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


Hill and Chuck

The Senate confirmed Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State last week, but not without protest. Twelve Democrats and the Senate's sole independent --- James Jeffords of Vermont --- voted against her.

Missing from that group: New York's Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer.

The protesting Dems: Daniel Akaka of Hawaii; Evan Bayh of Indiana; Barbara Boxer, California; Robert Byrd, West Virginia; Mark Dayton, Minnesota, Richard Durbin, Illinois; Tom Harkin, Iowa; Ted Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts; Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey; Carl Levin, Michigan, and Jack Reed, Rhode Island.

In her statement explaining her vote, Clinton criticized the administration's Iraq policy, which, she said, "has been, by any reasonable measure, riddled with errors, misstatements, and misjudgments."

She criticized Rice for "misleading statements about the presence of weapons of mass destruction" and for having "tremendous difficulty in even admitting error, though obvious errors abound."

But Clinton said she was more concerned about the president, vice president, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And, she said, her decision to support Rice's appointment was influenced by Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who object to the Bush Iraq policy but "think it worthwhile to give her a chance in this new role."

--- Mary Anna Towler


Early and often

This year, in addition to the high-profile mayor's race, all 29 County Legislature seats are up for grabs. In one key city district --- Legislative District 21, currently held by the term-limited Chris Wilmot --- the race for the democratic endorsement is already taking shape.

Democrat Carrie Andrews, a 29-year-old union activist with New York State United Teachers, formally announced her campaign with a press release sent to City Newspaper last week.

She faces a challenge within the party from fellow Dem George Moses, an organizer with North East Area Development. Moses tells City that he intends to run, but won't formally announce until March.

Both will be vying for the support of the district's committee at its mini-convention April 2. Moses chairs the committee, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's guaranteed the endorsement.

"It's a competitive district," says school board member Jim Bowers, who also sits on the district's committee. "I don't think either would have a lock on the committee."

--- Krestia DeGeorge

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