Chris Maj wants Rochester to form its own militia. He wants us to stop paying state and federal taxes. He wants Rochester to become the capital of a new 51st state. He wants to annex the suburbs. And he's running for mayor.
To run for mayor in Rochester, all you have to do is get 1000 city voters to sign your petition. (That would be 1000 city Democrats, if you want to run in the Democratic primary.) Maj (his name is pronounced "May") got 1500 signatures, so he'll be on the Democratic primary ballot in September, along with Wade Norwood, Tim Mains, and Bob Duffy.
To say that Maj is not your ordinary candidate is to put it mildly. He's 26 years old. He came to City's offices wearing a hat with marijuana-leaf medallions (emphasizing his support for legalizing marijuana) and a red, white, and blue tie that lights up. He was thrown out of RIT for demonstrating against the school's association with the military. (Thrown out for exercising his right to free speech? "Yeah, I may have been a little bit loud, I guess. I was considered a little bit aggressive, you know. There may have been an F-bomb that was dropped; maybe two.")
He now runs his own computer-programming business out of his home. And he insists that he is serious about running for mayor. "Quite simply," he said in his City interview, "I have better ideas for moving the city forward."
He has little money for his campaign, and he doesn't have the name recognition of the other candidates. "I don't think you should have to be rich and famous to run for office," he said.
He's getting help in the name-recognition area; some local media are treating him as a serious candidate. The Democrat and Chronicle, for instance, dutifully includes him when its reporters question the candidates.
And as you talk to Maj, there are times when he does seem serious. He argues that relying on the property tax is a poor way to finance schools. Suburban sprawl, he says, "is destroying the city." He wants public-works projects for the unemployed. He's passionate about the advantages of city living.
But there are other moments when he just seems to be having a good time, maybe even having a good time pulling everyone's leg. A little suppressed smile here, a seemingly deadpan look there.
If he'sserious, he's naïve. And stunningly uninformed about government. He frequently criticizes City Hall for things that county government is in charge of. He seems convinced that the City of Rochester itself pays taxes to state and federal governments.
And then there's his platform.
He wants to confiscate all city property owned by suburban residents and give it to city residents. He wants to charge suburban residents to drive into the city. He wants city and suburban schools integrated, "if necessary" by having the city drive half of its students out to suburban schools and letting them knock on the door and ask to be let in.
To solve the city's fiscal problems, he would legalize and tax marijuana sales --- and he would order city police to "actively oppose federal or state interference."
He believes that city residents are superior to suburban ones, whom he characterizes as "sitting in their suburban castles behind moats."
Here's a snapshot of May, in (heavily) edited excerpts from our candidate interview.
City: Why are you running for mayor?
Maj: Quite simply I have better ideas for moving the city forward.
Are you serious about it? We've known candidates who ran for office knowing they couldn't get elected, that they couldn't raise the money the other candidates had. But they ran because they were committed to raising certain issues.
I don't think you should have to be rich and famous to run for office. I think we should have more citizens running for office. It's our government. We've allowed ourselves to be run by professionals --- into the ground, in my opinion.
Do you think you're qualified to be mayor?
I'm keeping my clients happy while running a campaign. I didn't have to quit my job to run for office, so I think I can multi-task and juggle a lot of things.
Given the fact that you haven't had a lot of management experience, do you think you could handle the job?
Well, I did serve on the RIT student government as a programmer. I developed the first on-line voting system there. So I think I've proved --- you know, it was 15,000 students we were supposedly representing. And not being a professional who's taken a ton of campaign contributions, I don't owe a lot of people favors.
Let me ask you some questions about your platform. You say you want to take city property away from people who live in the suburbs and give it to people who live in the city and to people under 21. Isn't that illegal?
Conservative application of eminent domain would be the idea there.
You want to charge non-residents to drive into the city. Don't you think they would just stop coming in? We have a hard enough time getting them to come.
The city's great. It has so much to offer. I mean they work here, they like to play here. I think that would help make it a more profitable city.
You want to annex the suburbs. But that's not possible under state law.
Well, building a casino in the HighFalls or wherever you want is impossible under state law. There's tons of things that are impossible under state law. It doesn't make them wrong, I suppose. I think the suburbs would benefit.
How would you do it?
One idea is to create a 51st state with Rochester as the capital. You know, some have advocated the lower Hudson and Long Island staying as New York, but I would increase that up to Albany, because that's just a waste of space, too. We need to form our own state and take these matters under our control. I think Rochester would be a great capital.
You want to take50 percent of the city's students and drive them out to the suburbs...
I think we need to integrate the schools. We've had segregation for 40 years. We've had court cases that said we should no longer have segregated schools, but they're segregated. I think that would be a tactic.
You want to terminate all collection of county, state, and federal taxes not approved by the city.
I think we just need to stop sending them the money.
Are you gonna tell me not to pay my federal taxes?
I just think the value we're getting for the services is horrific. I think what we could do is offer some sort of network to provide defense for companies who refuse to do that. I think we could provide an opportunity with legal resources or some consortium, perhaps organizing collective lawsuits, class-action suits. I think that's a good approach, because I think we can say realistically that many of the plans of the federal government have way exceeded the authority stipulated by the constitution.
You've talked about organizing a militia, so when Rochester residents refused to pay taxes and the IRS or the federal government came, you'd have a citizen's militia....
That's right. I mean without local law enforcement, a lot of these federal and state laws would fall flat on their faces. I completely support the right to bear arms. "Militia" is listed twice in the Bill of Rights. It's how we got our freedom in the first place. I stress non-violence as a solution. I think that's the way to go, but, you know, we need to say....
If push came to shove, you'd support an armed militia?
I support a non-professional army to, yes, actively oppose state and federal influence. I would, push come to shove, if somebody invaded my home, I'm an armed citizen, you'd better believe they're not going to get two steps in that front door, if their coming to rob me. I mean, I have no qualms whatsoever about that. I'm a sportsman.
Let's get to some of the issues that we're asking all of the candidates. Would you favor more city funding for the RochesterSchool District?
I would always advocate for increasing money for education. I'd much rather see another dollar spent on education than building a new prison, that's for sure. Or arresting someone. That's just a waste.
Should the superintendent report to the mayor?
I advocate a student-run school board, elected by the students. Giving the students the responsibility of managing their affairs will engender respect and hopefully create an attitude of respect in the school system, and we'll have better schools overall. Yeah, I think there should be more control over the schools in the mayor's office, and there should be more control over the schools by the parents as well.
Let's talk about economic development. Should the city provide tax incentives to encourage development?
I think we need to stop handing out money to corporations to create jobs. We don't have a safe environment here for businesses, so we need to address that. If people don't feel safe living in a number of areas, then you're certainly not going to feel safe running a business there.
I am in favor of having more people work for a check versus just getting one, so I would like to encourage, perhaps, public works projects paying double what you would get if you just sat and collected a check. Offer a financial incentive, I guess.
Who would pay for that?
I think we could get more self-sufficient and create a more business-friendly environment. What I advocate is vertical farms, turning some of these abandoned buildings into farms. Make a hydroponic garden, grow some chickens or hogs, teach people how to farm and grow their own food. And sell the produce and use the money for a number of programs.
We have a School of the Arts; I'd like to see a School of the Agriculture --- perhaps turn that prison into a farm. Grow food in there. Teach kids a lifelong skill by planting these abandoned lots we have in the city or even in their own backyards.
What would you do to get more development in downtown Rochester?
I think we should turn that old power plant [in HighFalls] into a hydrogen fuel-cell production facility. I've also advocated vertical farms in abandoned buildings. I've supported green roofs to make downtown more attractive. I think it would be nice to look at the skyline and see trees on tops of the buildings. I think filling in the Inner Loop with dirt is a good idea, planting trees in it, maybe a bike path around it, or a water park.
What would you do to reduce the level of violence in Rochester, in addition to your plan to legalize drugs?
This policy we have on drugs is really the problem. And I think we need better police training in certain areas.
What's your opinion on the reorganization of the police department?
I think the question should be why we are arresting so many people to begin with. Where you build the next police station has little to do with it. I think if anything, building more police stations escalates the violence, because we have armed warriors patrolling the streets with submachine guns. Is that the right message to children? Is this is the kind of police state we live in?Do we need more police officers?
No, we need more teachers, not more police officers.
Thirty seconds to talk about anything you want:
I completely think we should end the war on drugs. We tried it for 67 years, and I think this is what's been dragging the city down, you know, by arresting all these people. We've created this culture of lack of respect for law enforcement, and that's not right. So overall, a more self-sufficient city, we stop arresting all these people, start making them pay taxes: I think we'd be golden. I don't see what's stopping us. This city has a history of somewhat revolutionary ideas, I suppose you could call them. It needs leadership, and these professionals who are in there doing nothing can't provide that.