Rochester-area business leaders want County Executive Jack Doyle to not seek re-election next fall.
Officially, the reason is the "personality clash" between Doyle and Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson. But it's clear that members of the business community are deeply concerned about Doyle and his effect on the community and its economy.
They made their concern public in a Democrat and Chronicle interview with Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Mooney and Industrial Management Council President Sandy Parker, published on Saturday.
In that interview, Mooney said he would "advise" Doyle not to run because it has become impossible for Doyle and Johnson "to join hands and have leadership."
Mooney and Parker framed their announcement in tactful terms. They focused on Doyle, they said, simply because he is up for re-election next fall. Johnson's term doesn't end until 2005.
"I would say that if it was the mayor's term to run," Mooney told the D&C. "That duo has to be broken up for the long-term benefit of the community."
But Mooney went further: He was speaking out, he told the D&C, because "I have never seen such frustration among such people that should be natural supporters of the county executive..., people who all go to his county executive's ball and pay $500 or whatever."
"They go to all the dinners," Mooney told the D&C, "they all make the contributions, but off-camera and out of hearing of those elected officials, they are very upset at the way things are going. And they want to see some change."
"And," said Mooney, "they won't be the one to come forward to say it because they don't know when the next contract will be put out for a new stadium, they don't know when the next engineering job is going to be let. They can't [say it]."
Mooney's spokesperson, Chamber vice president Wyoma Best, confirmed that the D&C quoted Mooney accurately. Business leaders, she said, view next year's county-executive race as a "window of opportunity" for change.
Asked specifically whether it's primarily Doyle whom business leaders are concerned about, Best responded: "It's a question of timing and a volume of business feedback against Doyle himself."
What precipitated the business leaders' move, apparently, is the region's economic decline. "They are frustrated about the economic climate," she said, "and they feel the tension between the mayor and the county executive is standing in the way of progress."
There is "an extremely high level of concern about our economy," said Best. "We can't depend on traditional approaches. While we have been able to hold our own because of manufacturing, that is declining seriously. And while other sectors are growing, they don't pay the wages manufacturing did."
"Tom and Sandy are quite unified on this," said Best. "They feel the swelling of concern, and they felt that they had to say something."
Given Mooney's comments to the D&C, does this mean the business community feels it's Doyle, not Johnson, who is standing in the way of progress?
"I don't think they would feel comfortable saying that," said Best. "I think they would say this is an equal responsibility for both." And, she said, "they are optimistic that new leadership could allow this community to move forward."
Might Republican Party chair Steve Minarik urge him to leave, to give a successor (presumably County Clerk Maggie Brooks) a better chance at winning in November?
Minarik continues to defend Doyle, and Doyle's approach to governing seems as much Minarik's as the county executive's. If Minarik picks Doyle's successor, will business leaders feel that the county will be any better off?
There have been rumblings, since early in the Doyle administration, that some people in the business community were deeply concerned about Doyle: about his taking control of boards such as the Transportation Authority's, and about his engineering of staff appointments to public authorities. Those rumblings continue.
Doyle's budget proposal this fall, with its deep cuts in social services and the arts, upset many community leaders. So did his arrogance about those leaders' concerns.
And last week, Doyle found himself under fire line again. Right in the middle of the Trent Lott mess, out came a Doyle doozy, published in the December 16 Democrat and Chronicle.
Doyle was ranting about the "disassembling... deteriorating" City of Rochester. "If there was a mayor that looked like me," he told the D&C, "it would be a whole different landscape." Some Democrats jumped on that statement, insisting that it was racist. Doyle, according to the D&C, says he simply meant that the city would be far different under a Republican mayor.
In the aftermath, Republican Party chair Steve Minarik accused Democrats of playing the race card. And rather than recognizing the racial overtones of his statement, Doyle dismissed criticism with a terse denial.
Doyle's record is not blatantly racist. But as with Trent Lott, context and history are important. Doyle hassaid plenty of things that are divisive and are derogatory about poor people.
He frequently pits suburban residents against city residents, complaining that the county has to shoulder the responsibility for the problems of city residents. He is not, however, talking about all city residents. Doyle himself lives in the city, a block off Park Avenue. When he complains about "problem" city residents, he's not talking about himself --- or his neighbors.
He's talking about poor city residents: the ones who need welfare, the ones who need Medicaid, the ones who get arrested and sent to the county jail.
And he knows that a disproportionate number of those "problem" residents are black and Hispanic.
The Democrats may have been playing the race card, hopping onto Doyle's remark. But Doyle's record is one of inflammatory statements against the poor of the City of Rochester, no matter what their color.
Richards, who is widely admired in the business community, is chair of Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc., the new regional economic-development effort, and he chaired the committee appointed to study the county's fiscal problems.
Richards told the Rochester Business Journal recently that he wasn't interested in the county-executive's position. "I haven't even contemplated it," he told the Business Journal. "That's not something I'm thinking about now."
On the other hand, says one business leader, maybe if there was a groundswell of support, Richards would change his mind.
Part of the delay is that Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson --- who is considered their strongest candidate --- is still undecided about the race.
The election for county executive isn't until next November, and officially, Democratic leaders will select their candidate in the spring. But the Democrats will have to raise a substantial amount of money to have any chance at winning, and spring's too late to start. So party leaders hoped to coalesce behind a candidate much earlier.
Publicly, Johnson has said bluntly that he'd rather not run. Republicans have a strong hold on the County Legislature, which could make it difficult for Johnson to accomplish much. And Johnson has sparred with some Democratic legislators.
Many Democrats continue to urge him to run. But others are worried about whether he can be elected. The concern is Johnson's stand on regional planning and metropolitan government. He has given presentations on suburban sprawl to community groups throughout the county and has brought supporters of metro government, including the mayors of Nashville and Indianapolis, to Rochester to speak.
Other Democrats interested in running for county exec are Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel, State Assemblymember David Koon, and County Legislator Chris Wilmot. Wilmot, like Johnson, has suggested that the community consider blending city and suburban school districts. Frankel and Koon, however, have not advocated metro government or a metro school approach.
Ted O'Brien, who recently resigned as Democratic Party chair, typifies the mental struggle within the party. Frankel, Koon, and Wilmot would be good candidates, said O'Brien, but Johnson has higher visibility. And O'Brien believes Johnson is the strongest leader.
"The question we face as a party," O'Brien said in an interview last week, "is, Do we want to go with the strongest leadership? Or the most electable or 'least offensive'?"
"We have surmised," said O'Brien, "the leadership in the party has surmised, that if the mayor were the candidate, the Republicans would run against him by showing inner-city kids, black kids being bused out to the suburbs."
But, said O'Brien, Johnson has qualities that should be compelling to suburban residents. "The knock on Democrats is that we can't get things done," said O'Brien, but Doyle's record is reduced to keeping taxes flat. The major projects about to be launched are kicking off because Johnson stepped in, said O'Brien: "The ferry doesn't get done unless the mayor gets it done. The soccer stadium doesn't get done unless the mayor gets it done."
"Moody's has a higher credit rating for the city than for the county," said O'Brien, "and a more favorable outlook for the city --- even though that's where the poverty is. And the mayor has more clearly articulated a vision for a prosperous and viable community."
For Democrats, "it comes down to the question of who is electable as opposed to who is the strongest leader," said O'Brien. "I think you go with the leader, even if he's been somewhat strident."
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