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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Not Quite Dead Yet

I was walking back home from Ali's and I saw a car stopped in South Avenue in front of Al Sigl Center (1000 Elmwood Ave.). The driver was tooting his horn and yelling to someone. I thought he was being nutty, but once he drove through the parking lot to the bus stop, the headlights of the car revealed a figure slumped over inside.

He and I tried to rouse the person (it looked like a man, but appeared to have a purse, so I didn't know) but they didn't wake up, although still clearly breathing. Neither of us were sure what to do so we left. The driver of the car mentioned the smell of alcohol and commented something to the extent that drunks are on their own, apparently clearing his conscience … or just assuaging his guilt.

I decided to call 911 and they said they'd send someone. I felt bad, on the one hand, because I knew the care this person would receive would likely not be adequate to set them on a path to a healthy life. Then again, I really know nothing about the situation. They could have been like me some particular Saturday night, stumbling into a bus stop to "rest" after carrying a curbside string trimmer that held some valuable parts — only to pass out stone drunk as I have been known to do. They could have fit my stereotype of a homeless person — someone who is probably mentally challenged (or at best ill equipped to scratch out modest success in this modern world) and this was the best they could do for the night. They could have chosen that life and actually been prepared for the conditions — after all, they were bundled in what appeared to be no fewer than 3 layers of clothes, and seemed possibly adequately warm to survive.

So I don't know whether I even should have interfered. In my defense, I was unable to get any response, much less a satisfactory one — even if it was just to leave them alone. I don't much care for disrupting someone else's freedom to live as they choose, but I also feel that once in a position where you can't respond, you leave yourself vulnerable to such disruptions.

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