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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Seeing the Screenplay Reading of Nickel and Dimed

Every time I've attended, I find the Hornets' Nest series script-in-hand readings at Nextstage at Geva (75 Woodbury Blvd.) to be evocative and fascinating. Today's performance was of Nickel and Dimed by Joan Holden. It's based on Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and continues the first-person memoir-style of the source material.

The gist is that Ehrenreich is an essayist who, in 1998 and 1999, left her comfortable upper middle-class lifestyle to try and make it as an unskilled worker in America. She did three experiments in different parts of the country; each time she attempted to find work under the best circumstances. What she found was that she was not able to hack it. The short of it is that minimum wage is not a living wage for a single person, so she was doomed to failure by attempting to both find shelter and food on those wages, succeeding only when she worked two jobs 7 days a week.

I was not particularly surprised by any anecdotal facts presented. Perhaps it was people like Ehrenreich who opened this world to me so I can say that now, or perhaps it was my own observations. Nonetheless, I wasn't "shocked" to hear that cleaning people don't know how safe the cleaning products were, or that some people innovate by living in their car at a hotel parking lot to save on housing costs, or that single mothers can'tt afford the luxury of competent child care. Through the narrative, I found myself empathizing with … er, no: pitying them.

Because I wasn't shocked, I did have a hard time understanding the perspective of Barbara (Ehrenreich's narrator character). It seemed she was constantly appalled that people didn't have luxuries that she did, or that some people had to do jobs that she found distasteful. I wondered, looking around at my fellow attendees whose demographics were dominated by 50 to 70-year-olds, if there really was others who believed like Barbara? But, as it was revealed later, only a few people among the several hundred in attendance had ever even hired cleaning staff. Apparently Barbara was not as similar to this theater's audience as expected.

Afterward, I was disappointed to realize that nothing has particularly changed in 10 years and I wondered, as always, how can I help fix this? As I mentioned in the discussion that followed, I think it's an absolute myth that people will seek the cheapest prices on everything. As it stands, I look for local goods made and sold by independently-owned small businesses using quality, responsible parts or ingredients. And, if I had a way of knowing, I'd add "with workers who all earn at least a living wage." I have weaned myself from the allure of dollar-store garbage, and now look for quality and reliability: and I'm willing to pay many times more than the cheapest version of whatever I seek. But maybe I'm as myopic as Ehrenreich — that I'm the only one out there.

And finally, despite my best efforts, I found I gravitated toward Barbara's point-of-view more than I thought. When I left, I stopped by Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) and I couldn't help but look at my friends in a different light. With such a diverse crowd, I know some earn enough, but others might just be scraping by on whatever work they can get. Eventually I realized what I think Ehrenreich missed: money isn't the most important thing for everyone else. Although they have their share of frustration and challenge without enough, they don't wallow in the misery Barbara expected in the play's other characters.

[P.S. Yes, this was posted on Friday after the main page was updated.  If you noticed, I can't speak to whether that makes you not crazy.]

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Seeing the Headless Woman at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman). I had carefully read the calendar summary and noted some dangerous phrases: "intriguing and surreal", "whose perfect life may be a dream", "droll, enigmatic fable about bourgeois discombobulation". What I mean is that I was braced for an inaccessible art film — one that I'd have to endure … or worse (and under rare circumstances) leave early.

I talked with Antonella Bonfanti beforehand and was reassured that the movie was interesting. In her introduction to the film, she pointed out that the film requires attention. By creating the scenario of a mystery — wherein the titular woman never knows whether she killed a child in a dramatic accident in her car — I found myself compelled to pay attention. I was constantly looking for clues, and in the process, noted the subtleties of the story. The film calls attention to Argentina's growing rift between rich and poor, forming a de facto caste system. It gets a bit blunt with things, as the lower class is frequently paired with the sound of dogs (although I can't recall many images of dogs), but overall it's an excellent movie.

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July '64 at the Little

I headed to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see July '64 for a second time. It's an interesting view of what happened (in detail) on three nights in July, 1964. The flash point — shortsightedly referred to as the "cause of the riots" — was when police attempted to arrest an intoxicated man. Friends of the man had it set in their minds that they'd take care of him and keep him out of trouble; police had it set in their minds that he was to be arrested.

Taking one step back, this is an indication that the police were not trusted — they were not welcome in the neighborhood as protectors and more likely considered thuggish oppressors. Take another step back and you'll find that the blacks were forced to live in the 3rd Ward and 7th Ward of the city (if I remember correctly): if they applied for housing in other areas, they were either rejected or their application ignored, so college students and day laborers alike were crammed into crowded housing. Take another step back and you'll see that blacks were similarly dismissed for positions in the cornerstone companies like Kodak and Bausch and Lomb — unless they were willing to work as janitors.

So now you have a situation where you have to put up higher and higher walls to keep the "dangerous element" in the 3rd and 7th Wards contained in their prison. At some point they revolt, though, and July 1964 was a taste of that.

Filmmakers Carvin Eison and Chris Christopher were on hand to answer questions. They said they wanted to compare the situation to today and see if things have changed so they had The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) (1 South Washington St.) perform a study. The results were, well, frightening: the social and economic conditions in the two Wards compared to the City of Rochester in 1964 are almost exactly replicated when comparing the City of Rochester to the County of Monroe today. As "zero tolerance" efforts escalate, as relatively well-off people move to the suburbs and take industry with them, and as suburbanites soak in the belief that the city is a dangerous urban wasteland, conditions are ripe for another revolution.

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