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Democracy in the house

There's good news in the battle for local access to the public-media news program Democracy Now! (see "Democracy... later?" City Newspaper, June 9-15, 2004).

You can still listen to the show over the Internet --- or you can watch it. Since the first of the year, the television version of the daily program has been aired on local cable access TV. So you can hear journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and their off-the-beaten-path interviews --- and see them, too.

Both Rochester Community TV (cable channel 15 in the city of Rochester) and Cable 15 West (cable channel 15 in the city's western suburbs) air Democracy Now! weekdays at 12 p.m. The show is aired as part of programming provided by Free Speech TV, a progressive national television channel.

Through the garden gate

Many locals are complaining about the soggy summer --- and the folks at Canandaigua's Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens have good reason to chime in.

Sonnenberg's attendance this year is down 17 percent, which staff chalk up to the season's rainout. It is also the second year that Sonnenberg will end its season under the cloud of foreclosure. Sonnenberg is in talks with the New York State Parks and Recreation Department to try to get state park status (and state funding).

"We're basically in a state of foreclosure," says Tracy Kather, public relations intern at Sonnenberg, "and the talks with the state are keeping us open. We're open for the season, we're hanging in there at this point."

Sonnenberg's financial slog started two years ago, when the museum's then-CEO was found guilty of embezzling $600,000. The money couldn't be recovered.

Kather says the museum has not accumulated more debt, but that "all of the money we get basically goes to operation costs."

A further obstacle: Sonnenberg has a paid staff of only 18 (three horticultural staffers are in charge of the 50-acre estate), meaning that the museum rests heavily on volunteer work hours. The 1887 mansion and the elaborate planned gardens need constant attention. Sonnenberg's gardens will close for the season October 11.

Fair-weather advertising

Remember Rochester Made For Living? When men in sunglasses played trumpets, couples snuggled, and kids ate ice cream? A marketing blitz aimed at overcoming Rochester's negative self-image, particularly over the climate, Made for Living's radio, TV, and billboard advertising is now in a resting period.

The campaign "ebbs and flows," says Craig Curran, president of De Prez Group of Travel Companies and chairman of the Greater Rochester Visitors Association Board. "It's making substantial progress. It's a brand that we intend should be fairly long-lived."

The $2 million-a-year campaign, a project of the Greater Rochester Visitors Association, Greater Rochester Enterprise, and the county, is now in its second stage. After a sweep of radio, television, and billboard advertising aimed at local residents, now local businesses are being encouraged to adopt the logo and tagline into their own marketing materials.

"We'd like them to adopt this brand as their own, we'd like to see these folks tie in with Made For Living --- which we feel we can quantify, we can prove is a valid statement --- and integrate it into their products or services," Curran says.

One example is WHAM's program called "Ready, Set, Grow," which is built around the Made For Living theme, Curran says. Advertisers on the program use half their spot to talk about their company and the other half to talk about why Rochester is Made For Living. "So goes the community, so goes their business," Curran says. "They understand that."

Next up: the arts and cultural community. "We are working with larger cultural institutions in the community," Curran says, "and we are asking them to contribute a portion of their marketing budgets to Made For Living, to pool our arts and cultural resources, compound our monies, and validate Rochester as a destination."

"Our strongest sales force is ourselves," Curran says. "And our biggest challenge is our own sales force, which has such a negative self-image."

Once Rochester's self-image has been scoured and the community has adopted the brand as its own, the focus will turn outward to attract visitors, re-locators, even businesses. The campaign will have an approximately 300-mile radius, what Curran calls the "windshield-wiper crowd."

Success can be hard to gauge. A telephone survey done in June last year found that more 50 percent of city residents had noticed the ads. But whether or not they are passing on the message --- or what the impact of that might be --- was not determined.

Politics, schmolitics!

Will moving the budget submission date from October to November take politics out of the county budget process?

County Democrats don't think so. "It takes the accountability out," said Minority Leader Stephanie Aldersley at a recent press conference. A group of Democratic candidates for the lej called the conference to emphasize their opposition to the proposal, which is slated to go before county lawmakers September 14.

In an apparent role-reversal of typical politics, the Democrats are going after their Republican counterparts over the possibility of higher taxes. The proposal was included in a series of recommendations from County Executive Maggie Brooks' Budget Advisory Team, which Democrats term "a collection of tax increases and service cuts." They say the idea of moving the budget submission date was added to keep Republicans from paying the political price for adopting the report's recommendations. Furthermore, by holding both the hearing and vote on September 14, the candidates charged, the Republican majority aims to stifle opposition and public input.

On Tuesday, August 24, the Democrats unveiled a website attacking the proposal, and gathering signatures on a petition against it. The site --- --- is the work of an anonymous donor, says Aldersley, adding the donor has no connection to the county or to local labor organizations. "He's just a good government guy who can't donate money so this is how he stays involved," Aldersley says. Democrats hope to garner at least several hundred signatures countywide through the site. "If I had even 20 signatures on a petition in my legislative district, I'd sit up and notice," Aldersley says.

And the Dems don't plan to stay quiet about the issue. David Thiel, a legislature candidate in the 11th district (East Rochester and Perinton) tipped the party's hand at last week's press conference: "If you really want accountability, have a publicly elected [county] comptroller," he said. That challenge was already issued in the "Democratic Agenda for Fiscal Responsibility," but party officials confirm plans to renew the call for such a position soon.

Korner comeback

Sometimes the good guys do win. Monty's Korner (the only bar in the East-Alexander area that doesn't seem like every other bar in the East-Alexander area) is back, baby.

Amidst allegations of corporate fraud, The Korner closed in late spring and a legal battle ensued between partners. Through diligent legal work, faithful employees, and fundraising done by area bands, Monty's Korner will celebrate its grand re-opening Wednesday, September 1. Cheers.

DMV dreaming

Monroe County is taking a "what-will-be-will-be" attitude toward attracting a state-run downtown Department of Motor Vehicles branch.

County Executive Maggie Brooks supports such a branch, but has done all she plans to for now, says a county spokesman. "If the state wants to reopen [a DMV office] in downtown, she's supportive of it," says County Communications Director Larry Staub. Money for the office was included in the state budget, but Staub says "it doesn't seem to be a high priority for the state DMV, because they had the money last year and didn't use it."

Is the county doing anything to encourage the release of those funds? Not really, Staub says. "You have to pick your battles and what you're going to spend your time lobbying on," he says. This battle is between the state legislature and the agency, he says, not the county. "The state's going to do what they want to with that money," Staub says. "In the end, the DMV has the right to spend it or not spend it."

Besides, he adds, the county's mobile DMV units serve people around the county --- including city residents when it stops at City Place. "That's meeting current residents' needs in the city and suburbs," he says.

Rochester is the only major city in New York without a state-run DMV office. In a February 2003 press release, Brooks, then acting as county clerk, reacted to the state's decision to close its downtown DMV office: "While any change can be challenging, the closure of the State DMV District Office is actually good news for taxpayers and the County Auto License Bureau," Brooks said in the statement.