This year's county-executive campaign could have been about ideas, issues, and vision. It will not be. Steve Minarik's Republican machine has seen to that. To boost Maggie Brooks' chances against Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson, the Minarik machine has launched a campaign of fear, divisiveness, and hate. And a passel of Republican elected officials has fallen right in line.
It's bad enough that the Republicans have lied about Johnson's stand on metropolitan government, charging that he wants to abolish towns and villages. There is no one type of metro government; Johnson has simply suggested that we look at the possibility of some form of metro, expanding the consolidations we already have. Even if he wanted to consolidate every town and village, he could not bring it about. Only the voters could.
Far worse, the Republicans have injected the city's crime rate and "failing schools" into the campaign, as though those problems would spread if Johnson were elected. The rhetoric began June 30 with Jack Doyle's State of the County speech and continued two weeks ago with a press conference involving eight Republican town supervisors.
The Republicans' lies about metro government are abhorrent, but they were predictable. Their posturing on crime and schools, however, is unconscionable. And it is irresponsible.
The town supervisors are not stupid. Unless they've been living in a cave the last quarter-century, they know the challenges facing urban school districts across the country. They know that the Rochester district serves a population of predominantly poor children. They know that many of them enter school lacking the necessary emotional and intellectual development. They know many of them go to school with multiple physical needs.
It is one thing to oppose any blending of city-suburban school districts, to support small school districts with narrow boundaries. It is quite another to insist that no matter how severe the Rochester schools' problems are, and what the causes are, the mayor can fix them.
Even if you believe that without economic integration, Rochester could provide a quality education to its high-poverty population, the district could not possibly do it without help --- a lot of help. It would take a massive infusion of money for smaller classes, highly talented teachers and aides, and special programs. And it would take massive social-service assistance, for the students and their parents.
This is not a small issue. And it is most decidedly a county issue. The future of the Community of Monroe is heavily dependent on the quality of its workforce. The future of the Community of Monroe will be dramatically affected by its social service costs --- the costs of feeding, housing, treating, and, all too often, incarcerating its poor. Poor children who do not get a good education today will have to be cared for, one way or another, by Monroe taxpayers tomorrow.
The suburbs can continue to bar the city's poor from their schools, but that does not relieve suburban residents of the responsibility for educating those children. It does not relieve town supervisors from the responsibility for educating them. And that responsibility goes far deeper than sharing county taxes with the Rochester school district.
The education of allMonroe County children is the responsibility of allMonroe County residents. And all Monroe County elected officials --- led by the county executive, in a nonpartisan manner --- ought to be involved in finding a way to educate the county's neediest children.
Likewise, the town supervisors know very well the complexities of crime. And they know how little elected officials can do to prevent it. Mayors, town supervisors, county executives can beef up a police force to try to protect us from crime. But they cannot prevent it. Most especially, they cannot prevent the kind of crime from which Rochester is reeling right now: young African-American males callously shooting each other.
This kind of crime is not bred in wealthy neighborhoods. It is bred in impoverished neighborhoods spawning a culture in which hope for a productive future is low, life is cheap, and violence is acceptable.
This kind of crime is happening in the city because that is where the community's most impoverished people live. They cannot afford to live elsewhere.
This kind of crime is not a problem that any mayor, any city can solve. It is not a problem that the nation will solve overnight. It will require jobs programs, education, and health and social-service programs at a level not previously seen in this country. On the local level, it will require intense, prolonged involvement by government, religious groups, and citizens groups.
And it will require temperance and leadership from elected officials.
Instead, as the county-exec campaign gears up, Pittsford Supervisor Bill Carpenter --- of whom I had expected far better --- charges that Johnson and his administration have failed "to address the serious issues impacting city residents --- things like rising violent crime, plummeting property values, increasing taxes, and a failed school system."
"As a town supervisor," Carpenter said at last week's Republican press conference, "I have a responsibility for what happens in my town. Isn't it time Bill Johnson took responsibility for what happens in the city?"
The Community of Monroe has serious problems: poverty, urban crime, urban education, yes, but also a county fiscal crisis, a hemorrhaging of young adults, rising government costs, and increasing job losses. Last week alone, the mediareported that Kodak plans still more local layoffs, ABB may leave the area, Valeo is laying off employees, Wyeth has closed one local facility and plans to close another.
"Metro" is a concept, with many variations. Job layoffs are real. The Community of Monroe is in serious trouble. The county-executive race offers a unique opportunity to discuss these problems. That can't happen in a climate of fear and hate.
"Isn't it time," asks Pittsford's Bill Carpenter, "Bill Johnson took responsibility for what happens in the city?"
I have a question of my own, for Carpenter and other Republican leaders:
How much do you love this community? Enough to stop spreading your message of fear and division?