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Poverty and potential: Rochester in 2005

First in our series on the race for mayor

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On July 21, 5-year-old AJ Gibson died in inner-city Rochester. Police say they are investigating "apparent injuries" to his small body. His mother is in jail, charged with first-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

This is the face of the City of Rochester.

So is this: New housing development nearing completion downtown. Playgrounds full of children. Lines of movie-goers waiting to get into the Little. A downtown street corner packed with young adults from throughout the county, enjoying a warm summer night. Workers facing layoffs at Kodak, where downsizing also means the shuttering of buildings and a further drop in the city's tax base.

Some teenagers graduated from Rochester high schools last month ready to go to Ivy League colleges. Many more failed to graduate at all and will live out their lives jobless and in poverty.

On Saturday night, Rochester lost yet another of its young men, shot to death, police say, in an argument.

This is the city a new mayor will inherit next January.

In November, Rochester will elect its first new mayor in 12 years --- and only the second in more than 30. The first step: the Democratic primary on September 13.

Registered Democrats will choose from among four candidates. The three major contenders are progressives with a clear understanding of Rochester's challenges. All three care passionately about the city. All three have had experience that makes them strong candidates for the office they're seeking. And so far, with a few exceptions, their positions on important issues differ very little. (The fourth candidate, a 26-year-old political novice, is also a progressive but has views that are markedly different from the other three.)

Deciding among the candidates may be one of the toughest jobs Rochester voters have faced in decades. What prospective mayors say they'll do --- what they hope they'll do --- may bear little resemblance to what they're able to do when they get into office.

The city's immense fiscal constraints, the almost overwhelming level of poverty in some neighborhoods, the frequent tragedies that unfold in those neighborhoods: These will pull against the bright ideas, talent, experience, and dedication of the next mayor, whoever he is.

And yet the city's mayor cannot give up. Neither can its residents.

There is great potential in Rochester and in the Greater Rochester region. A major job for the next mayor --- while he tries to keep crime down, the streets clean, and the budget balanced --- will be to help the community tap that potential.

The job for Rochester voters, over the coming weeks, is to determine which of the candidates running for mayor is best qualified to lead this city.

This week, we begin our coverage of the mayoral campaign. We'll be analyzing the issues facing the city and discussing those issues with the candidates. Between now and the September Democratic primary, we'll focus on race; after that, the candidates in the general election.

On the following pages in this week's issue: a discussion of economic development and public safety --- and a pop quiz for the candidates. Next week: the mayor and the schools.

Explore more of Election 2005 by clicking here!

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