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Looking for leadership for our next four years 

This column was written with a sense of dread. Given our publication deadlines, it was written before the polls close, but regardless of the election results, on November 9 we’ll be entering a new phase of a very troubling time.

Eight years ago, the presidential campaign ended in an atmosphere of optimism. Certainly not everybody liked the results, but Barack Obama’s popular vote margin was sizable, and the country’s mood seemed positive. Hopeful.

This year? Seems to me that no matter what the outcome, Americans who voted for Donald Trump will be angry – celebratory, if he wins, certainly, but angry nonetheless. Those of us who voted for Hillary Clinton will be troubled, discouraged by the vitriolic campaign and worried, if she’s elected, about what Congressional Republicans’ might do come January.

Worse still, many Americans didn’t want either candidate or are so alienated from the political process that they don’t care who wins. It will be difficult for the new president – regardless of who it is – to gain their respect and support.

All this when there are so many challenges, and so much that needs to be done. If we’re to accomplish anything, we’ll have to be far more united than we are. We’ll have to start healing our multiple fractures. And given the bitterness of the presidential campaign and the bitterness in Congress, I suspect the healing will have to start at the local level, not the national.

I’d like to think that’s possible, and certainly there are plenty of organizations and institutions capable of helping. Some of them have been trying to overcome our racial, ethnic, and religious divisions for years.

But political leaders will have to be involved in that healing, and what I’ve seen from some of them recently isn’t encouraging.

For example: A few weeks ago, I watched a panel discussion about politics featuring two current elected officials, both of whom are from the suburbs, and two former elected officials from the city. Some of what they said was downright inspiring. The four acknowledged the problems in today’s politics, but they also talked about politics as a public service. All four clearly believed they could help people through elected office.

They talked about the importance of character, the importance of “not demonizing people,” of listening to “the other side to understand why they feel the way they do.”

And then it was time for questions from people in the audience, many of whom were high school students. And at that point, one of the key divisions in the country – our separateness, our lack of knowledge of those not like us, and our failure to take responsibility for the common good – exhibited itself.

“What will you do to stop the youth violence in the city?” asked a Rochester student.

The response from one of the officials from the suburbs: “I can’t speak for the city.” He said it was important to get “the community” involved. But there was no sense that this elected official thought he was part of the community he was referring to. No sense that he felt he bore any responsibility. The community he held responsible was within the city limits.

And then we have State Assembly member Joe Errigo, who dumped on a Rochester neighborhood he grew up in, insisting on Evan Dawson’s WXXI show that it is now so dangerous that he wouldn’t go there – even “in an armored car, because that’s how dangerous it is.”

No, it’s not. And the D&C’s David Andreatta deftly documented that by visiting the family of Eduardo Alonso, current owner of the house of Errigo’s childhood. Told about Errigo’s “armored car” comment, Alonso had the perfect response: “Does he think we live in Afghanistan or something?”

No neighborhood in Rochester is so dangerous that you should venture in only in an armored car. But unless Errigo was deliberately lying, he was just repeating a myth and hasn’t felt any responsibility to find out whether it’s true.

I’m not sure how we reach people like Errigo. I’d like to think that elected officials feel a responsibility to search out the truth – and to get to know communities that border the district they serve. They serve all of us, not just the people who can vote for them. But our divisions are incredibly strong and deeply ingrained. It’ll take a lot of effort, on all our parts, to move beyond them.

Healing will need to start with getting to know one another, with being well informed. And that needs to start with elected officials. That’s a key part of being a leader. Maybe it’s time for some cross-district listening tours.

Gary Stern

Whether a city has a healthy, vibrant future is dependent on a lot of things. But a key component is a group of developers who have faith in the city, who will invest time and money and energy in it, and who are visionary.

Two years ago, we lost one of them, Buckingham Properties’ Larry Glazer. Last week, we lost another: Gary Stern, whose vision and determination transformed an old printing plant into a thriving, multi-use complex, died on November 3.

Gary and his Village Gate project have been long-time neighbors of this publication, and we’ve watched as he bought and developed one property after another, resulting in an influx of new residents, restaurants, offices, and an eclectic collection of retail.

Gary wasn’t the only person whose efforts led to the dynamic growth that our Neighborhood of the Arts has experienced. Visionary, persistent neighborhood leaders sparked it, and in addition to Gary, numerous residents, businesses, institutions, and government leaders have carried it on. But Gary believed intensely in it, invested heavily in it, and made an enormous contribution in helping to shape it into a community that is the delight that it is today.

Gary has helped spur the city’s revitalization. And all of us owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

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