Officially, the campaign for Rochester mayor has narrowed to two candidates: City Council President Lovely Warren, who won the September Democratic primary, and Green Party candidate Alex White.
Before the primary, we endorsed incumbent Tom Richards, but Warren won, handily, and she now has the backing of her party for the November 5 general election.
Richards is still on the ballot on the Working Families and Independence Party lines, because the deadline has passed for removing his name. A week after his primary loss, however, he announced formally that he was ending his campaign, and he has not been seeking votes as a third-party candidate.
We are still convinced that Richards is the far better candidate. He has kept the city financially stable through an exceptionally difficult economic period. He has encouraged new business and residential development. He has worked with employee groups to keep labor costs down and worked with unions and contractors to insure jobs for city residents on public projects. He is experienced, progressive, and pragmatic, and he is uniquely qualified to lead Rochester in this challenging time.
For the general election, then, we've been faced with a difficult decision: do we endorse Richards, even though he is not campaigning for re-election; endorse someone we feel is not qualified for the job; or simply not endorse?
The members of our editorial staff who determine our endorsements have been divided on that question. Some argued for no endorsement at all rather than endorse a candidate who isn't running. But Richards is on the ballot, and that does give voters a choice. Since we believe strongly that Richards should serve another four years, we are endorsing him.
On Alex White: Running for mayor for the second time, White is an energetic, interesting, often entertaining candidate. But he lacks the experience and knowledge that is essential for the mayor of a city Rochester's size. And while some of his ideas sound appealing, they're often naïve and based on the thinnest of research.
A prime example: He would give the Rochester school district all the money it says it needs, and he says the city could finance the increase by not giving tax incentives to developers. As much as this newspaper objects to tax incentives, the City of Rochester is in intense competition with its suburbs and with other regions for development.
He says that redevelopment at the Midtown Plaza site would have happened without incentives. Where was White during those years when Midtown was emptying out and multiple attempts to lure development led nowhere? Tax incentives don't last forever, and new development provides new taxes. And it frequently spurs other new development.
White says that our inner-city deterioration and street-corner drug sales are the result of giving incentives to developers rather than investing in education and jobs. No, they're not. They're the result of sprawl and concentrated poverty, and without new development in the city, those problems will get worse.
On Lovely Warren: As we said in our endorsement of Richards in August, Warren certainly has strengths. She has been a strong advocate for Rochester's poorest, most vulnerable residents, pushing for better housing, better schools, better neighborhoods, and more jobs. She has pushed for more minority hiring by the police and fire departments, and she personally helped recruit candidates.
She has become an eloquent, charismatic public servant, and her primary win was impressive. It does not erase our concerns about her, however. Some of her initiatives will be expensive, and we think she's naïve about how they can be paid for, given the city's financial challenges.
She wants city government actively involved in education, and her plans to help charter schools will undoubtedly undercut the efforts of the Rochester school district.
As we said in our pre-primary article, Warren is eloquent when she talks about Rochester's problems. She is less strong when it comes to having realistic ways to attack them. And most important, she does not have Richards' deep management experience and his broader view of what Rochester needs.
As Warren has noted repeatedly, Rochester is very much two communities: one is "growing, prosperous, and has a bright future." The other, "often invisible Rochester," she says, "is characterized by high rates of unemployment, crime, poverty, and despair."
The residents of both of those communities – but particularly those of the poorest and most vulnerable – need and deserve the best mayor possible. We remain convinced that Tom Richards is that person.