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Rochester Democrats’ Political Landscape: 2013
Rochester Democrats’ Political Landscape: 2013

Rochester, NY (January 28, 2013) -- They say at ballgames that you can’t know the players without a scorecard. Rochester’s political players do not change frequently, but 2013 may be a watershed year in terms of what positions these players occupy.

Consider what is on the line:
- The office of mayor is up for election -- Mayor Thomas Richards has not said he is NOT running, but neither has he clearly announced his intention to seek re-election. The clock is ticking on such a decision. Loudly.
- The five at-large seats on City Council are up. But some members may compete for mayor, depending on Richards’ decision.
- Three School Board positions are up. These races are usually competitive as they serve as an entry point to elected office for city Democrats.
- Mayoral control legislation has been re-introduced in Albany -- in a legislature that is far more “machine-like” in its operation.
- The chairmanship of the Monroe County Democratic Party may change hands.

In short, Democrats could face some major upheavals. Some existing alliances could shift and control of party institutions could become a major bone of contention.

The main prize: Mayor
What drives much of the political machinating this year is the fact that Rochester will elect (or re-elect) a mayor this year. Entering February, time is running short for those interested in seeking the post -- but all are looking at the current mayor. Richards has sent mixed signals. He clearly does not relish the political side of the office. He is an executive and a manager. His motto has been “focus and finish” -- not the type of rallying cry that would drive a re-election campaign. Astute political observers, like 13 WHAM’s Rachel Barnhart, have watched his actions closely and have wondered aloud if he will run. Generally speaking, one does not kick off their re-election campaign in midst of speculation about their possibly not running.

On the other hand, Richards strategy might be to wait until the latest possible moment to declare his candidacy. The logic is fairly simple: while he is an incumbent, he may not have the same support he had two years ago. Back then, the Gantt-Morelle axis -- always a marriage of convenience -- backed Richards in order to keep a lid on the Special Election process. That was relatively easy to do with no primary option. This year, however, there is the possibility of a primary -- and candidates are free to enter a primary at will. Richards may be waiting to see what potential challengers emerge. Then he can decide whether the field is one he can handle.

Potential mayoral candidates lurk right down the hall from Richards at 30 Church Street. Councilmember Loretta Scott was a strong vote-getter in a crowded field in 2009 and has years of City Hall experience. Councilmember Dana Miller is widely recognized as an intelligent and moderate voice on Council. He has a background that would make him a strong candidate in all parts of the city. But the main person to watch is City Council President, Lovely Warren.

Warren has many assets: as City Council president she can claim a measure of rank over he colleagues. She has been a longtime protégé of Assemblymember David Gantt, but has demonstrated that she is a capable political actor in her own right. This could be a liability in some quarters, but her relationship with Gantt has more positives than negatives for her politically -- she will not be apologizing, in any way, for having worked closely with him. But one of her strongest assets is the personal contrast she would bring next to Richards. Warren is the prototypical “favorite daughter” candidate: born and raised in Rochester with many family connections, Warren worked her way through college and law school -- suffered a setback in her first political contest -- but came back humbler and wiser.

Warren is tough to run against. I worked with Jim Bowers in his Northeast District Council campaign against Warren in 2007. The challenge in running against Warren was precisely the story described above: she was well-liked (by many) and had no particular blemish on her record -- aside from the Gantt connection which, for many, was no liability at all. She defeated Bowers, a former School Board Commissioner by more than two-to-one. If I were, say, an older white male with a weakness in describing my vision or the future, I would think twice about just how I would defeat a candidate like her in a primary.

Morelle and his many hats
You may want to have a second look at the person checking your gas and electric meters this month -- it could be Joe Morelle. He currently chairs the Monroe County Democratic Committee, he is a full time member of the Assembly, he has recently been appointed Majority Leader of the Democratic majority in the Assembly and he is the father of a potential new member of the County Legislature. Who knows how many other side jobs he may be working. Add to the list patiently waiting for Louise Slaughter’s Congressional seat to become available.

Kidding aside, Morelle’s appointment as Majority Leader is a major responsibility. It is going to challenge his ability to effectively chair the local committee -- and it may be the last straw for those who have felt that Morelle’s leadership has not exactly generated a Democratic Renaissance in the County (repeated failures to capture a County Leg majority and no serious contention of the County Executive office). If Morelle leaves, vacant party leadership will provide an opportunity for a significant symbolic battle for control of the party. Old factions (Gantt versus the anti-Gantt insiders versus the reformers) could emerge.

Give us your predictions! Take Our Poll

City Council and School Board control to shift?
Five council seats -- a majority of the body -- are up this year, as are three of the seven School Board seats. On the Council side, most of the candidates are strong vote getters: Loretta Scott, Dana Miller and Carolee Conklin are likely to sail to re-election should they choose to run. Jackie Ortiz and Matt Haag are newer to the scene -- there staying power would get its first true test this year.

On the School Board side, Van White should easily win re-election should he choose it; White is not allied with Gantt and might consider a mayoral bid, creating an opening on the Board. Jose Cruz and Cynthia Elliott are also up -- Cruz ran solidly in 2009, but Elliott narrowly squeaked by Nancy Sung Shelton for her spot that year. Shelton appears to be planning a run for office this year -- the second time could be the charm.

Looming over both races is both the mayoral contest (which could attract some of the above-mentioned members, like Miller and White) as well as the issue of mayoral control, which has once again been revived in Albany. This is yet another point where Assemblymember David Gantt becomes a key player.

Mayoral Control... part ?
Mayoral control has not been in the news for a while -- largely owing to Mayor Thomas Richards throwing cold water on the idea early in his tenure. While not ruling it out, Richards clearly stated that it was not a priority for him. That signaled fence-sitters in Albany, like Sen. Joe Robach, that there would likely be no political fallout if they did not push the measure.

But a new mayor -- or at least a new mayoral candidate -- could change that dynamic. Although the reports of Gantt’s reintroduction of the mayoral control legislation was greeted with yawns by the local media, there is reason to be more inquisitive. Gantt is not the type of politician to waste his own time. Granted, introducing bills is pretty effortless, it is simply not Gantt’s style to do anything without reason. Gantt clearly favors mayoral control. His introduction of the legislation might be intended to put the issue back on the agenda to (in his view) benefit candidates he favors. 

Consider a Lovely Warren primary of Thomas Richards: Warren comes out for mayoral control and questions why Richards has not pushed for more reform in the school district. The issue damages Richards on two fronts: one, it reminds voters that he is not demographically representative of most of the students in the district (begging the question, “could someone like him really care as much as district parents?”) and two, it reminds voters that he has not offered a major vision of change for the city. Whether for or against mayoral control, the issue brings to the fore the future of the city. Richards stated position on it has been somewhat middling -- he would have a lot of difficulty taking a credible position on the issue either way at this point.

So, Rochester Democrats, you could have a new party leader, a new mayor and some shuffling of the deck on Council and the School Board. Indeed, the relationship between the school district and the city could hang in the balance.      

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Member Opinions:
By: vote4harry on 1/29/13
Let's not forget our recent history and how we got here as David Gantt makes his bid to take over Rochester and the City School District. Maybe I should run for Mayor? :)

Commentary: Mayoral fiasco tarnishes the electoral process

By Arthur J. Giacalone
Posted: 6:15 pm Wed, March 9, 2011

Rochester’s City Council and former corporation counsel have done a grave disservice to the residents and taxpayers of the City of Rochester, and have tarnished the office of mayor and the electoral process.

The ‘problem’ is not the mayoral vacancy law.

Contrary to what city officials may want the public to believe, the law for filling a vacancy in the mayor’s office is not confusing or ambiguous. The City Charter sets forth a simple, straightforward process: The City Council must appoint a new mayor to fill the position, and the person appointed holds the office until Jan. 1 when the winner of a November election takes over as mayor for the remainder of the unexpired term.

The City Council’s obligation to make the appointment is explicit, and contains only one condition:

“The council shall fill a vacancy in the office arising otherwise than by expiration of term by appointing by a majority vote a person who is registered in the same political party as the person who vacated the office.”

The City Charter also provides a simple means for ensuring that the duties of the mayor’s office are carried out between the time the mayoral vacancy arises and the City Council appoints a person to fill the opening. It creates the position of deputy mayor, “who shall be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the mayor,” and states that, “The deputy mayor shall act as the mayor until the vacancy is filled as provided in this charter.”

A fail-safe mechanism is built into the charter for situations where the council intentionally disregards its duty to appoint, or is unable to attain the five votes needed to appoint:

“If the council fails to appoint a mayor within 30 days of a vacancy in the office of mayor, there shall be a special election held within 90 days of such vacancy to elect a successor to serve the unexpired term.”

The City Charter does not need clarification or amendment. The problem is not with the law, but with the officials who were obliged to carry out the City Charter’s mandates.

Political maneuvering rather than statesmanship

Robert Duffy’s Jan. 1 resignation as Rochester’s mayor, only a year into his four-year term, was an event that had been anticipated for many months. Prior to his departure, Duffy named City Hall’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel

Thomas S. Richards, as his deputy mayor. City officials had plenty of time to ensure that there would be stability in the office of mayor.

Unfortunately, at a time when statesmanship was called for, Mr. Richards and a compliant City Council engaged in self-serving political maneuvering.

Rather than advising the City Council of its duty under the City Charter to promptly appoint a person to fill the mayoral vacancy, the corporation counsel’s office told the council members that they had two choices: Either appoint a person to the vacancy, with an election for the unexpired term in November 2011, or schedule a special election for the end of March 2011. Appointment of a mayor was characterized, not as an obligation under the charter, but as a discretionary option.

Deputy Mayor Richards coveted the title and office of mayor, but he apparently was convinced that his chances of winning an election for mayor would be enhanced if the vote were held in March rather than November. He declined the invitation to be appointed to the mayoral office as provided in the charter, unwilling to participate in a full campaign in November where opponents would have the opportunity to fundraise and a primary battle would almost certainly occur.

On Dec. 29, 2010, even before the vacancy created by Mr. Duffy’s Dec. 31 resignation was in effect, Council President Lovely Warren introduced a resolution proclaiming that, “the City Council does not intend to fill the vacancy by appointment and desires that a special election be held.”

At no time, before or after the first of the year, did the council members publicly vote on an appointment.

Deputy Mayor Richards was aware, prior to his swearing in ceremony as mayor on Jan. 1, that he might be vacating the mayor’s office early to avoid a potential violation of the Hatch Act.

Two of the options open to him were accepting appointment to the mayor’s office with an election in November, as called for in the City Charter, or resignation and the scheduling of a special election in March by a compliant City Council.

Despite that distinct possibility of resignation, Mr. Richards failed to exercise his power and duty under the City Charter to appoint a deputy mayor. As a result of that omission, the city’s legal team was compelled to search for a “creative” argument to justify assumption of the powers and duties of the mayor’s office by R. Carlos Carballada.

‘Extraordinarily convoluted’ approach harms electoral process

Rather than the straightforward appointment of a person to hold the office of mayor through the end of 2011, as envisioned by the City Charter, city officials took what the Hon. John J. Ark, supreme court justice, diplomatically characterized as a “less direct” and “extraordinarily convoluted” route to designating Mr. Carballada “acting mayor.”

While I concur in that assessment, I respectfully disagree with the court’s conclusion that use of city code provisions expressly meant to respond to “an attack or a public disaster” provides the legitimate bases for Mr. Carballada’s exercise of mayoral authority. The Feb. 28 decision dismissing former mayoral candidate Harry Davis’ lawsuit fails to supply any explanation on how the court reached its determination.

It does, however, suggest why Justice Ark chose to embrace the tortured logic proffered by the same City Hall crew that had closed its collective eyes to the council’s duty to make an appointment: a desire to have someone exercising a mayor’s powers and duties.

I, for one, would prefer a short hiatus without a mayor to the current situation. City residents now have an acting mayor who chose to just go along with the “extraordinarily convoluted” process concocted by politically-motivated officials who preferred a special election over stability in the office of mayor.

Lawsuits and months of uncertainty could have been avoided if either Mr. Carballada, or Mr. Richards, had simply accepted appointment to the position of mayor, as called for by the City Charter. City voters also are stuck with a March 29 election that unfairly favors the man who did the most to distort a simple succession process and turn it into a convoluted mess.

Attorney Arthur Giacalone is a native Rochesterian who has spent the majority of his adult life practicing law in the Buffalo area. His solo practice focuses on zoning and development issues.

Read more: http://nydailyrecord.com/blog/2011/03/09/commentary-mayoral-fiasco-tarnishes-the-electoral-process/#ixzz2JOR8NOee

Harry Davis
Rochester, NY

By: saman1 on 1/30/13
Your mayoral primary poll candidates are interesting. Apparently, you think it makes sense to put in names of people that are unlikely to run against each other (i.e. Loretta Scott and Lovely Warren) but no real potential matchups like Lovely Warren and Elaine Spaull. What about Malik Evans or a dark horse like... Tim Mains?

Saul Maneiro

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