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A changing City Council faces major challenges 

The City of Rochester continues to be a place of sharp contrasts: deep, persistent poverty existing side by side with affluence, college graduates working in tech firms a mile or so from neighborhoods where high-school drop-outs are hanging out on street corners. A medical center's research labs in one quadrant of the city, drug dealers selling heroin in another. Luxury apartments filling up downtown, deteriorated housing being demolished in a nearby neighborhood.

Concerts, art-gallery openings, major jazz and arts festivals, riverside trails, parks... and a school district whose problems have put it under state scrutiny.

Many of the city's problems aren't of its own creation. Suburban sprawl, federal and state policies, racism, the loss of major industry: All have created a city that shoulders the region's heaviest burdens, houses a disproportionate share of the region's poorest people, receives less state aid, proportionately, than other New York cities.

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And yet property values are rising in some areas, the city seems to be attracting new residents, it has consistently had one of the state's highest bond ratings, and it has been pushing ahead with bike lanes, energy conservation efforts, and a major project opening up the riverfront to more public use.

Successive city administrations, neighborhood associations and other citizens groups, institutions, and individual citizens and businesses have helped Rochester avoid the financial problems and service cutbacks that some other cities have faced. But the next few years could be crucial. The city's challenges – particularly related to poverty and to the Rochester school district – are enormous.

Actions by city government will continue to be crucial to Rochester's future. And in a June 25 primary election, Rochester voters will start choosing the officials who most closely represent them: the four district City Council members. Winners of the primary will compete in November's general election, and the Green Party is running candidates for City Council. But in heavily Democratic Rochester, the Democratic primary winners often win easily in November.

This year is an unusual one: Only one incumbent district Council member – the northeast's Mike Patterson – is seeking re-election. Molly Clifford in the northwest district and Elaine Spaull in the east district are retiring, and in the south district, Adam McFadden – who had served on City Council since 2005 – left in April after pleading guilty to fraud charges.

That means that next year, at least six of Council's nine members will have less than three years' experience. Council President Loretta Scott and at-large member Jackie Ortiz joined Council in 2010, and Mike Patterson in 2013. But at-large members Malik Evans, Mitch Gruber, and Willie Lightfoot took office in January 2018.

"We are losing a lot of knowledge," says Evans.

A City Council with a majority of relatively new members will be called on to help the mayor deal with multiple challenges and to serve as her counterweight. While the majority of the current members are Warren supporters, they have occasionally broken with her, most notably in developing legislation for a Police Accountability Board that has broader powers than the mayor wanted.

In interviews over the past several weeks, current city officials have pointed to numerous issues the new Council will face. Among them:

Business development and housing, in the neighborhoods and downtown: City officials typically want to encourage development, which provides new housing, jobs, and tax revenue. But they also have to ensure that the development benefits everybody, not just the wealthy.

Government can affect development through action on tax benefits and through zoning and planning. City officials are getting increasing pushback for providing tax benefits for developers of high-end downtown housing.

There's growing concern about poverty, equity, and affordable housing. While some neighborhoods are doing well, others aren't. "We have to remember that we have neighbors and neighborhoods where we have not had as much investment as we had hoped," says Spaull.

The future of Parcel 5, the huge city-owned lot on the former Midtown Plaza site, is still not clear. If the Warren administration doesn't present a proposal within the next few months, the new Council could find that on its plate.

Policing: In November, Rochester residents will vote on whether to approve legislation that Council passed on May 21, establishing a Police Accountability Board. If voters turn it down, the new Council may vote on a revised form. If voters approve the legislation, the police union is likely to sue. Either way, Council will have to deal with the issue.

And, Malik Evans notes, establishing a Police Accountability Board is just one of many criminal-justice issues city officials need to address. "A Police Accountability Board is not going to solve police-community relations problems," Evans says.

The city school district: City government has little control over the Rochester school district; its one leverage is that it votes on the school budget each year. Most of the district's money comes from state and federal governments and from grants, but some of it comes from the city, in an amount governed by state law. City Council votes on the entire budget, and it can only approve or disapprove the budget. It can't vote against individual spending items.

Mayor Lovely Warren has been pushing for a voice in how the district spends the city's part of the revenue, and Council might become involved in that issue.

Warren has also been one of the community leaders calling for change in the governance of the district. One option would be to give control of the district to the mayor herself. Warren has said she's not interested – and Council member Malik Evans, who is a former school board president, says mayoral control would be a mistake. It would be very expensive, he says, and "everything else takes a back seat. You stop talking about police, development...."

Change in governance would have to come from the state legislature, but local officials such as City Council members have influence.

Reform in the district is essential, says retiring East District Council member Elaine Spaull, and city government has to maintain a partnership with the district. The trick, she says, is figuring out "how to help where we can and not make it worse."

Other issues city officials will be dealing with include the major riverside development project known as ROC the Riverway; the city's proposed new Comprehensive Plan, the future of the soccer stadium – and possibly rent control and marijuana legalization's impact, if the state legislature approves legislation related to those issues.

It's a full plate. And it'll be a big job for a Council dominated by new and relatively members.


SOUTH DISTRICT


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LaShay D. Harris

Educated at MCC. Employed in Rochester City School District's Career Pathways to Public Safety program.

Community work: Appointed to City Council in April to fill Adam McFadden's unexpired term. Former Monroe County Legislator. Former president of 19th Ward Community Association, has been board member of American Heart Association, Do the Right Thing, REOC, and other agencies.

Cites as her qualifications: Leadership and government experience, strong relationships with the communities she serves..

Her district's main issues: Crime, affordable housing, and supporting small business.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Co-sponsored and voted in favor of City Council legislation establishing a Police Accountability Board.

Rent control: Wants to assess how rent control would impact Rochester. Rent control measures can be implemented by providing affordable housing and adding rent control provisions to new zoning and development.

The Rochester school district: The city must support more work-based learning and vocational programs for children. Supports early intervention by promoting Pre-K programs and the community school model. Wants to work with and challenge the RCSD to improve city schools.

Affordable housing: City should support efforts to keep housing affordable. Provide incentives to developers and property owners who are rehabilitating homes. Help protect people who become victims of predatory practices associated with gentrification.

Downtown development: Development should continue downtown, but city must ensure that more affordable housing is available there along with amenities to support downtown growth.

Neighborhood development: City government should find more ways to support small neighborhood businesses and reduce crime. Will push for affordable housing.

Other issues important to her: Council should more strongly support the mayor in her work with the Rochester Monroe County Anti-Poverty Initiative. Community leaders should challenge institutions that don't pay wages that enable people to be self-sufficient.


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Ann C. Lewis

Rochester school district special education teacher.

Community work: Member of Corn Hill Neighbors Association Board, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Aenon Baptist Church, former CSEA union representative, former Camp Stella Maris board member, founder Frederick Douglass Walk for Hope.

Cites as her qualifications: Committed to serving her neighbors; has insight into community problems through work as a city school teacher, a rehabilitation counselor for Monroe County jail, and a victims service worker for the Rochester Police Department.

Her district's main issues: Lack of trust in government, education, health care, good jobs, access to healthy food.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Supports a Police Accountability Board with fair and binding sanction for officers.

Rent control: Supports a fair and equitable rent control policy for landlords and tenants.

• Rochester school district: Although City Council's power is limited, it must work with parents on goals for the district. Supports quality neighborhood schools.

Affordable housing: Supports Mayor Warren's effort in this area and says it must remain a priority.

Downtown and neighborhood development: Development efforts must include feedback from residents of those areas. Developments must always allow equal access to people of all race, age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and income.

Other issues important to her: Uniting communities and getting the support of elected officials to allow all residents to thrive.


NORTHWEST DISTRICT


Leticia D. Astacio

Educated at MCC, University of Buffalo. Employment: Law office of Leticia D. Astacio

Community work: Career in public service as attorney and former City Court judge. Member of Rochester Black Bar Association, Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys.

Cites as her qualifications: With law degree, can help in creating and assessing legislation; passion for the city; not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Her district's main issues: violence, access to education, community-police relations.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Stop allowing police to police themselves and allow for an independent review when there are allegations of misconduct. Explore having new RPD officers meet a city residency requirement. Talk to community members about proactive monitoring of their neighborhoods.

Rent control: Stop allowing the gentrification of the city, displacing people who have lived in communities their entire lives. Ensure affordable housing and an equal distribution of income to help reduce poverty.

The Rochester school district: Partner with schools in the district to ensure basic needs are being met and to coordinate giveaways to assist parents in need.

Affordable housing: See rent control.

Downtown development: Keep developing, with more focus on inclusion as opposed to replacement.

Neighborhood development: Ask the people who live and own businesses in the neighborhood what development they need. Re-implement block parties and community parties to encourage neighbors to get to know each other and become actively engaged with their community.


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LaShana Boose

Educated at Regent University and University of Buffalo; works in Rochester City School District's contracts division; adjunct professor, Monroe Community College.

Community work: Member of Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals and Monroe County Democratic Committee, mentor at Upward Bound, volunteers with Women Helping Girls.

Cites as her qualifications: Hands-on candidate, connected to the community through work with local organizations like Action for a Better Community; master's in public policy.

Her district's main issues: Job creation, poverty reduction, safer neighborhoods.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Supports stronger accountability of police to enhance safety and security for all of the city. Wants to maintain communication between residents, city government, and law enforcement.

Rent control: Supports. It provides stability and keeps families in their homes.

Rochester school district: High priority. The community must work together to create positive school atmosphere with adequate resources and competent teachers.

Affordable housing: City should continue to expand opportunities for safe and affordable housing.

Downtown development: High priority. Believes downtown development will have a significant impact in creating jobs, expanding the tax base, and attracting tourism.

Neighborhood development: Emphasizes robust partnerships between community members and law enforcement to keep neighborhoods safe.

Other issues important to her: Encourage all young people 18 years and up to register and vote.


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Jose Peo

Educated at SUNY Brockport. Is mortgage loan officer at RMS Mortgage.

Community work: Vice president of Charlotte Community Association; helped lead Clean Sweeps in Charlotte-Turning Point Park, worked with Veterans Outreach Center, Junior Achievement, and Habitat for Humanity.

Cites as his qualifications: Experience and leadership in community association, background in finance and small business, US army veteran.

District's main issues: Keeping students in school; vacant, neglected homes; red tape frustrating small and mid-sized businesses.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: After it goes into effect, continue to get community input on Police Accountability Board legislation to ensure it is working.

Rent control: Encourage local investors to buy in the city by streamlining and simplifying the process of buying; assess red tape that hinders investors.

The Rochester school district: Bring back community schools, trade schools, and military schools (for students with disciplinary issues). Have the district use school buses rather than RTS.

Affordable housing: Update permit and zoning laws so people can build more tiny homes and boarding houses, to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Downtown development: Stop giving tax breaks to affluent developers and shift toward low-interest loans.

Neighborhood development: Empower neighborhood and community associations to tell the city what they need and want, and give them the resources to get it done from within their own community.

EAST DISTRICT


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Michael Geraci

Educated at Le Moyne College, University of Dayton Law School; attorney in private practice.

Community work: President of the Rochester Ataxia Foundation; board member of the Colin F. Kennedy Foundation; Teen Court mentor, attorney volunteer; former Little League coach.

Cites as his qualifications: Community servant and advocate for many years; would bring a unique perspective and legal expertise to the Council; endorsements from the Rochester Teachers Association and the Rochester FireFighters Local 1071 and from City Council members Malik Evans and Elaine Spaull.

His district's main issues: Absentee landlords who diminish the character and value of the homes in the district. Wants to propose a point system to help ensuring proper care and maintenance of the district's many rental properties.

(Geraci did not provide answers to the issues portion of CITY's questionnaire.)


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Wayne Harris

Educated at Roberts Wesleyan College, University of Virginia, FBI National Academy. Self-employed consultant; recently retired after 30 years in the Rochester Police Department, including service as deputy chief.

Community work: Board member of MK Gandhi Institute, Teen Empowerment, and Rochester Youth Violence Partnership; involved with project TIPS (Trust Information Programs and Services); financial secretary of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; co-founder of Shakespeare from the Street program for Rochester youth.

His district's main issues: Challenges in the school district, poverty and limited economic growth in some neighborhoods.

Cites as his qualifications: Service in the RPD, which gave him familiarity both with the unique demographics of the southeast quadrant and the operations of city government, and experience in youth service organizations.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Council should seek representation from all parts of the community for a Police Accountability Board, including those with law-enforcement background, and should keep disciplinary power with the police chief. The city should also adopt some of the recommendations of the 2015 President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Rent control: City should implement rent control, with proportional increases to account for rises in operational or housing costs.

The Rochester school district: Establish an Educational Excellence committee to work with the Mayor's Office of Educational Initiatives and to serve as liaison to the city school district and area charter schools.

Affordable housing: Council should require that a percentage of new housing be made affordable to all residents of the City of Rochester.

Downtown development: Council should continue to work on this but also focus on how the economic benefits can be poured back into neighborhood development.

Neighborhood development: City should make this a primary focus, as it is important to the health and welfare of the city.


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Mary Lupien

Educated at RIT; is a Rochester City School District bi-lingual consultant teacher.

Community work: Board member of Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition; member of City-wide Tenants Union, City Roots Land Trust, Police Accountability Board Alliance; organizer with Mothers Out Front.

Cites as her qualifications: A mother, a city teacher, and an activist involved in community work for over a decade.

Her district's main issues: Prefers not to make distinctions between her district and the city as a whole. "Extreme, systemic poverty is the biggest problem facing Rochester."

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Supports civilian-led, independent Police Accountability Board with power to investigate complaints and enforce discipline of officers.

Rent control: Supports. Affordable housing crisis can't be solved just by building more units; government must keep rents from rising to stop displacement.

Rochester school district: The city and school district should better align their programs and services to support families. Offer financial workshops for Summer of Opportunity participants. Publicize programs to families better. Partner on transportation from schools to city programs and events.

Affordable housing: Would fight for renters' rights; supports requiring a percentage of city developments for people with 30 to 50 percent of the area's median income. Would meet with tenant and neighborhood groups to identify improvements needed in city code. Fund more aggressive code enforcement.

Downtown development: City should invest in affordable housing, transportation, recreation, infrastructure, and public spaces rather than incentives for large companies and developers. Supports making Parcel 5 into a public, flexible, mixed-use community gathering place.

Neighborhood development: Wants more city funds allocated to neighborhood development rather than focusing on downtown.

Other issues important to her: Climate change (city should strengthen conservation and renewable-energy efforts). Transportation (improve public transit, walking, and biking). Systemic racism (city should help teach about racism's history and allocate money to historically marginalized communities). Accessibility (identify and address places that aren't accessible to people with disabilities). Youth (invest more in public libraries and recreation center).


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Stanley Martin

Educated at Old Dominion University, Virginia, and University of Rochester. Employed at the Center for Community Alternatives and the Safer Monroe Area Reentry Team.

Community work: Member of the executive committee, Rochester Police Accountability Board Alliance; organizer, City Wide Tenants Union and City Roots Community Land Trust; member, Criminal Justice Reform task force, South East Area Coalition, Opioid task force, and other organizations.

Cites as her qualifications: Work experience serving people and fighting for equity; courage, integrity, and diligence.

District's main issues: Unequal access to opportunities like food, affordable housing, education, jobs, wealth disparity.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Provide adequate funding for the Police Accountability Board, intensive training for its members, and regular evaluations to measure outcomes and increase transparency.

Rent control: If allowed by the state, the city should opt into rent control. Regulate privately owned rental housing to prevent displacement and help small landlords upgrade their properties.

The Rochester school district: Implement programs, including anti-poverty initiatives, that combat families' socioeconomic disadvantages to combat low student outcomes. Increase funding for the school district to address underlying trauma and/or fund programs for families that address trauma and other issues.

Affordable housing: Create a city development program so the city doesn't have to depend on developers; provide incentives for housing development for renters with 0 to 30 percent of the area median income; use the community land trust to keep housing permanently affordable.

Downtown development: Reassess using tax credits as incentives for developers; give more input to people who live downtown; add more bike lanes; lease land downtown rather than selling it so that it remains owned by the public.

Neighborhood development: Create a stronger public input process, make first-time homebuyer programs more accessible, create incentives for people to start small neighborhood businesses and hire within the neighborhood, give tax breaks to help people fix up their homes.

Other issues important to her: Over-incarceration of people for low-level, non-violent offenses. To prevent: Work with the mayor, district attorney, and police department to provide intensive case management to people needing services.


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Bryce Miller

Educated at MCC and RIT; operations coordinator at Jaguar Land Rover.

Community work: President of North of East Main Neighbors Unite, vice chair of North Winton Village Association.

Cites as his qualifications: His neighborhood association work, which he says gives him knowledge about how neighborhoods work and what they need.

His district's main issues: Continuing its growth, supporting area businesses and residents, being heard in City Hall.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Opposes a Police Accountability Board. Instead, the city needs to recruit more police, have better response times, and enable officers to send more time with citizens.

Rent control: The city should assess whether it would help or hurt neighborhoods. Capping landlords' revenue could deter them from making improvements to their properties. Government needs to make sure that tenants are well taken care of and that rents are fair, but that apartment ownership is financially feasible.

Rochester school district: Provide better oversight of the school district and how it spends city money. City and school district need to work together, not against each other.

Affordable housing: The city should make sure all residents have a safe, clean home. Rochester needs housing that attracts all walks of life: affordable, middle-class and luxury housing.

Downtown development: The city has spent millions on downtown development at the expense of neighborhoods. It's time to focus attention on neighborhoods.

Neighborhood development: Bring new jobs and businesses into the neighborhoods. Provide grants for city residents to fix their homes. Strengthen neighborhood associations, create better police-community relations, make grocery stores available in neighborhoods, increase code enforcement and beautification measures.


NORTHEAST DISTRICT


Michael Patterson

A Rochester native, Patterson has represented the Northeast City Council district since December 2013. He chairs Council's Neighborhood and Business Development Committee and is a member of the Finance Committee and Arts and Culture Committee.

Before joining City Council, he was a member of the Monroe County Legislature. He is a past member of the Metro Justice Council and chaired its social action committee.

Patterson did not respond to requests to participate in CITY's candidate survey.


Norman Simmons

Educated at Buffalo State; employed at Jordan Health Center.

Community work: Public relations community and events coordinator at youth empowerment organization Chase the Dream Enterprises Inc., public relations officer at community organization Free Enterprise.

Cites as his qualifications: More than 10 years' experience working with and programming for at-risk youth; is from the area; will listen and be a strong community advocate.

His district's main issues: Community engagement, connecting youths and formerly incarcerated people to resources and programs, not enough play spaces for children, police accountability, vacant lots and homes.

What City Council should do about key issues:

Police accountability: Supports the Police Accountability Board; it's a chance to help bridge the gap between police and community residents.

Rochester City School District: The district needs to find a way to work with family, communities, and schools to best help the students.

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