Just like anyplace else, politics in Rochester are a complicated affair that, when you get right down to it, aren't really all that complicated after all.
Take a bunch of ambitious, outgoing men and women, add the lust for power, sprinkle generously with cash, and voila... you've got a crazy, quirky kind of world only an American-style democracy could produce. Rochester's no exception to this, and on the surface, it's pretty much like any other mid-sized Rust Belt metropolis.
The city, a melting pot of races and ethnicities, is heavily Democratic (about three registered Democrats to each Republican) and, in many neighborhoods, very poor. The suburbs, overwhelmingly white and wealthier by varying degrees, are somewhat more conservative; with a few exceptions, Republicans tend to dominate the further you get from downtown.
First, the city: Rochester's City Hall is still getting its sea legs in the first year of Democratic Mayor Bob Duffy's tenure. The popular former police chief won a primary against City Councilman Wade Norwood, the party's pick. Now Duffy's administration has the task of remaking City Hall in its own image after the 12-year tenure of the last mayor, Bill Johnson. Every single councilmember is a Democrat, a fact that doesn't necessarily mean they always get along with Duffy, or each other.
Two blocks south, the CountyOfficeBuilding hosts an entirely different kind of government. Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, a Republican, is finishing up her first term in office after defeating then-Mayor Johnson in 2003. The 29-seat CountyLegislature is also dominated by Republicans, so Brooks' legislative agenda rarely runs into any snags. That's a source of much frustration for the minority Democratic caucus --- mainly from the city and inner-ring suburbs --- who routinely sees its proposals tabled or otherwise pushed aside. Last year, term limits enacted in the '90s kicked in, kicking out 10 veteran legislators. With a crop of new faces, both sides say they plan to play nicer from now on.
When it comes to national politics, the Greater Rochester area is also a bit of an oddity. Despite the Republicans' slight edge in voter registration, MonroeCounty went to the Kerry/Edwards ticket in 2004. The GOP here is a shade purpler than the regime in Washington these days. MonroeCounty is also strange in that significant portions of it lie in four separate congressional districts --- the 25th, 26th, 28th, and 29th.
The 28th, which includes the city (but stretches all the way to Niagara Falls and Buffalo) is held by Fairport resident and House veteran Louise Slaughter. Slaughter's a Democrat in a strongly Democratic district, but every other district here skews Republican and has a Republican in its seat. On the east side, a few towns are lumped into the 25th district, which is dominated by Syracuse and held by a representative from there, James Walsh. On the west side, Hill heavyweight Tom Reynolds' 26th district stretches from suburban Buffalo into a few Monroe towns. What's left over --- all or part of nine towns covering the southern swath of the county --- goes to the 29th district, represented by Hammondsport's freshman Congressman Randy Kuhl.
In case you still think there might be some rhyme or reason (other than getting incumbents re-elected) to the peculiar district boundaries, consider this little tidbit: Confused in the wake of a joint press conference by Slaughter and Kuhl to announce some federal money for the airport, we emailed a Hill staffer to ask whose district actually contains the facility. The airport terminal, the staffer explained, is in Slaughter's district, while the runways are in Kuhl's (allowing both to take credit for the pork-barrel spending it gets). Ah, the joys of gerrymandering.
If we still haven't managed to confuse you, just you wait. It's a midterm election year, and contests in all four of these districts are just around the corner.