JayceLand's Endorsement for Mayor: Alex White

On Tuesday, March 29, the City of Rochester will hold a special election for interim mayor. Although the election defies the City Charter (which directly specifies that the Council appoint an interim mayor), it appears that the election will take place and the results of that election will be supported over the Council's transgression — at least until the next election cycle.

On the ballot are Alex White, Bill Johnson, and Tom Richards along with an active write-in candidate Ann C. Lewis. I wrote about the candidates at the Gleason Works debate, and had a chance to hear them discuss issues on March 14 at St. Anne Church (1600 Mt. Hope Ave.) where they reinforced my original report.  As I see it, there are several challenges the City of Rochester faces that the mayor should be addressing.

First, the City needs to innovate to survive. While it is important to examine other cities' successes, copying those plans simply sets us back at least a couple (if not ten) years, for those cities plans germinated long ago. We need a mayor who knows Rochester and how to leverage its strengths and repair its weaknesses. We also need to examine the reality of the coming major economic disruptions: ever-increasing fuel costs and the related dwindling supply, changes in the balance of power in global economics, and environmental attacks on our generous and clean water supply.

Next, the City also needs to abandon the harmful practices of the past. First is to stop using public money for private projects, avoid the ulterior motives of developers' "suggestions", and (as I explained earlier) to stop affecting the assessment of business risk (that is, to stop paying for part of a private project to "sweeten the deal" for a potential business). Nearly all of the past boondoggles could have been avoided by following those practices. Second is to equalize the tax base so small businesses can compete with big ones: as it stands now, big businesses are strongly favored for tax breaks and public money leading to a proliferation of unsustainable monoliths (that is, unsustainable if they had to pay full taxes like small businesses do).

Finally, the City must address the crippling poverty. This is the cause of numerous problems in Rochester, including the troubled school system. Poor planning on the City's part to mitigate it has resulted in an explosion of police presence — a desperate last-ditch effort to effectively imprison the "problem".

Alex White is a small business owner with tremendous skills in long-term strategic analysis. He has demonstrated that he understands all these problems, has directly acknowledged them, and has provided potential solutions. His innovative solutions are rooted in modest changes on the governmental front (such as more flexible zoning), proper public-works projects (such as inexpensive electricity through a municipal power company), forward thinking (such as making the city more walkable to phase-out the need for constant car use), and using regional resources to our advantage (providing support for college graduates to innovate with new, in-city small businesses). He is not foolhardy with money and has short-term plans to patch budget shortfalls while understanding that it is necessary and efficient for the city to collect taxes and provide certain kinds of services.  He is the best candidate for mayour.

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The Mayoral Debate at Gleason Works

I stopped by Gleason Works (1000 University Ave.) for the Mayoral Debate tonight. On the ballot are Tom Richards as a Democrat, Alex White on the Green Party ticket, and former mayor Bill Johnson as an independent. Ann C. Lewis was in present as a write-in candidate (and handing out literature outside) along with a couple other write-in candidates who were more vocally upset at not being invited to the debate. I've known White a bit through a friend of mine, and I find him to be rational, methodical, strategic, and a real lover of living life. I don't think I've ever seen Richards, and I've only had passing contact with Johnson when he was mayor or around town on occasion.

Anyway, let me lay things out in broad strokes. Rachel Barnhart, acting as moderator, asked 5 pre-conceived questions then selected several more from cards from the audience. Alas, she didn't ask about the proposed RGRTA Bus Barn project on Mortimer Street nor about the City Schools, but instead found it more important to ask about suburbanite concerns about parking and about what to do with the riverfront. In general, all the candidates recognize the major issues before them and have similar directions they'd like to go in.

The differences, though, are what's key. All three candidates agreed that giant boondoggle projects failed to revitalize downtown — White cited a few, and Johnson added that he counted 27 in the past 60 years or so as part of his research as a college professor. However, only White wanted to move forward with caution. Johnson seemed almost bitter that the Renaissance Square was opposed and cancelled — he saw it as the first time in a long time that the city and county cooperated, but my perspective was less of a trophy of such an achievement and more that the county would defecate and the city would get to keep it. Richards cited value in a rivers-end marina being developed with high-priced housing adjacent; he apparently didn't hear that the real estate market's bubble burst. While Johnson and Richards play with hitting the proverbial lottery, White's "big project" was public transportation possibly using light rail — and at that, his proposal was for, at best, a modest start rather than a one-shot full system.

White also differentiated himself by understanding that he is, foremost, a champion of the people. Johnson continues to give more credence to businesses than people (and yes, I fondly recall how he was so easily contacted, often recommending people call his office and set up a lunchtime appointment). Richards was scarcely a Republican in Democrat clothing showing strong support for big business and high finance over actual people. For instance, when White proposed that abandoned houses be rehabilitated for low-income families, both Richards and Johnson jumped down his throat that (1) the houses are not worth salvaging (clearly, White was proposing for the many houses in salvageable shape), and (2) the city now has a policy to secure the houses so it is nearly impossible for people to get into them so they can be "preserved" and get sold later. Missing from the discussion is that homeless people can be paired with abandoned homes (at least temporarily) to help solve two problems.

White also proposed that Rochester attempt to supply municipal electricity, citing that the density of electrical service suits such a system and can drive utility bills down. He prefaced by acknowledging that Richards opposes the idea (purportedly because Richards was former CEO of RG&E, resigning profitably when it was sold to Energy East, then later Iberdrola headquartered in Spain). Richards countered by saying that municipal power wouldn't work because there is no reserve to tap from, adding that the utility company is a major taxpayer in the city whose revenues would need to be replaced. Obviously capacity consumed by RG&E customers would be freed up for municipal power, so his argument is essentially that it's better to spend $0.17/kwh (average what I pay) so that $0.02/kwh can go to the city and $0.10/kwh can go to profit (fictitious figures, but you get the idea) rather than paying $0.05/kwh for municipal power and making up the $0.02/kwh difference in additional property tax (for those not good at math, that's a savings of over 50% of the cost of electricity).

Anyway, in reading other media, I find they fall for the allure of Johnson and Richards slickly polished public speaking skills with Johnson and Richards having an edge with better sound bytes. However, White spends less effort perfecting his public image and more developing sound choices for the future of Rochester.

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