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Keep up the protests

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OK: We're all on edge about the war. And people on both sides are pretty emotional. But it's troubling to see war supporters challenging the patriotism of opponents.

            According to a good number of war supporters, protesters had their chance to speak before the war began. Now it's time to shut up and support the troops. But criticism of the war doesn't preclude support for the troops, and the protesters shouldn't be intimidated into silence or apology.

            It's also troubling to see Rochester Police Chief Robert Duffy complain about the expense of policing anti-war protests. Rochester, like cities across the country, is faced with budget problems. But the war protesters didn't cause those problems. In fact, many protesters have noted that the war will divert funds from critical domestic needs.

            Duffy has singled out college students, who (along with longtime peace activists, high-school students, and older women known as the Raging Grannies) are among the protest organizers. Duffy implies that because the students aren't permanent Rochester residents and pay no taxes, policing their activities imposes a particular burden.

            These are the same college students, of course, that we want to stick around and join our workforce after they graduate. I'm not sure they'll find Duffy's message a welcoming one. (And by the way: The students do help pay for Rochester police protection --- through their sales taxes, and, if they live off campus, through their contributions toward their landlords' property taxes.)

            So let's be clear: American citizens have the right --- and the responsibility --- to protest government policies with which they disagree. War doesn't change that.

            "If it is right to oppose a crime when it is being publicly contemplated," writes British anti-war activist Andrew Murray in The Guardian, "how much more important is it to do so when it is in the process of commission."

Heading toward fall

The mayor has made his formal announcement: He's running for county executive. And now the race begins.

            It'll be a crucial campaign --- in my opinion, one of the most important in the county's history. Monroe and its region are facing enormous challenges. And the county-executive race offers all of us --- candidates, political parties, and voters --- a rare opportunity: to have an election campaign with real substance. What the candidates, the political parties, and the voters do with that chance will tell us a lot about ourselves.

            A bit of disclosure: It isn't a secret that this newspaper is no fan of current County Executive Jack Doyle. He has wasted his intelligence, political skill, and leadership potential. He has fostered the impression that he'd rather award contracts to his supporters than serve the community. He has run roughshod over critics and the public. He has clung to a tax-cutting policy that contributed to the county's precarious financial state.

            Doyle has decided not to seek re-election. But that doesn't lessen my concern. The county is controlled by a machine, headed by Republican Party chair Steve Minarik. If Minarik's arm of the party keeps control of the county executive's office, little will change.

            It is also no secret that in my columns, I've urged the mayor to get into this race. Bill Johnson, I think, is the only Democrat who has a chance at beating the Minarik machine. And that machine's hold on the county must be broken.

            Republicans are already on the attack. An early "issue" is laughable: Johnson can't campaign for county executive and do a good job as mayor. Oh? I didn't hear Republicans saying Jack Doyle couldn't do a good job four years ago, when he was running for re-election while holding his office.

            But there are plenty of serious issues. The coming years will be no picnic for the next county executive, regardless of who that is. Monroe County is in serious financial trouble, and there'll be no painless way out. Some of the causes of that trouble --- the national economy, unfunded state mandates --- are beyond the county's control. But some of the problem is the result of Republican action and inaction, and the Republican administration has to be held accountable for that.

            The Minarik Republicans are positively gleeful about an issue Johnson himself has raised: metropolitan government. Good. Let the discussion begin. The community should have been discussing that issue for years. Our parochialism and our internecine competition are killing us. A political campaign may not be the best setting for a discussion of metro, but it's better than no setting at all.

            It may be too much to expect the Minarik machine to welcome a rational discussion of this issue. But voters ought to remember this: Bill Johnson has not offered a specific proposal for metropolitan government. He has simply suggested that we talk about the concept, that we learn from the examples of successful communities, that we think about how we might adapt what they've done to meet our own needs.

            If Minarik plays it right, he can use Fear of Metro to obscure the real problems the county faces --- and the role his machine played in getting us into the mess we're in. It's an easy, seductive campaign tactic.

            Voters can fall for the Minarik line. Or they can keep an open mind. For the moment, the power's in the hands of the public.

            Let the campaign begin.

            Want to comment? Write or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester 14607. Please include your name, address, and daytime phone number.

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