Although the county-executive election is only four months away, this super-important race is getting off to a quiet start. We have, however, already seen the themes of the Republican campaign: crime, taxes, and fear of the residents and the problems of the city.
Outgoing County Exec Jack Doyle laid it all out for us last week, in his final State of the County address.
I've said this before: To me, Doyle is one of the great disappointments in the recent history of local elected officials. Bright, talented, possessing leadership qualities that few people have, he could have led Monroe County forward. He could have helped us face tough challenges.
And, most important, he could have brought this diverse, divided community together. Until we overcome the walls that separate us --- geographic, economic, racial --- we'll continue to slide backward. More and more, Monroe County is a collection of separate, competing communities.
Right to the end, though, Doyle is feeding that separateness. In last week's speech, after citing the accomplishments of his administration (some legit, some clearly not), Doyle began his drumbeat of fear. Crime. Crime. Crime. Failing schools. Decaying city.
There is crime in the city, to be sure. And failing schools. And there are strong, stable neighborhoods and successful schools. And a downtown that continues to nourish entertainment and the arts.
The city's problems are real. But Doyle's hint that there are simple, Rudy-Giuliani solutions does a disservice to all of us.
"We can rebuild Rochester," he said, "but we need to focus on concrete solutions rather than simply seeking to export the city's problems to other areas of our community." Export the problems? Somebody's going to export crime from the city to the county? It's hard not to look between the lines here, and substitute "people" --- specifically, "poor people" for "problems."
"Monroe County through the sales tax has provided over $1 billion over the past decade to the City of Rochester and its residents," said Doyle. You'd think that city residents were inhabitants of a Third World country, providing none of that sales tax themselves. And just as part of the sales tax goes to "the city and its residents," so also does it go to Pittsford and its residents, Greece and its residents, Webster and its residents. Fairport schools. Gates-Chili schools. Irondequoit schools.
Maybe Maggie Brooks won't mimic Doyle's suburbs-versus-city theme in her campaign for County Exec.
Maybe she'll tell us what she'll do to solve the county's serious budget problem, which mushroomed on Doyle's watch. Maybe she'll tell us how Monroe County can reverse its decline and prosper while its 19 towns, nine villages, one town-village, and major city continue to compete with one another for residents and economic development.
Maybe this will be a campaign of vision, not fear. Based on what I heard in Doyle's speech last week, I doubt it.
The Republican Party has a lot more money to spend to spend on this campaign than the Democrats do. My hunch is, the Republicans will throw that money into well-crafted television messages based on fear and division.
Maybe voters will reject a message of fear. Maybe voters recognize the depth of the county's problems, and the causes, and will vote for hope and progress.
I hope so. But I'm worried. Increasingly, the Community of Monroe is a "community" in name only.
Well, well, well. The latest news is that Jack Doyle might run for mayor in 2005. Some folks are pooh-poohing the idea: Doyle wouldn't have a chance in the heavily Democratic city, right? And the Republican Party isn't stupid.
Right on the second. Too early to tell on the first. One of my favorite sparring partners, transit authority chief Bill Nojay, told City's Chris Busby last week that he thinks Doyle could win. Said Nojay: "I have two words for you: Rudy Giuliani. You come up with a candidate that maybe not consciously, but subconsciously evokes the image of a management style of Rudy Giuliani, that person is gonna win in the City of Rochester."
Could Doyle convince city residents that he could solve our crime, tax-base, and school problems? Maybe. Maybe.
One thing's for sure: The Republicans would love a chance to run both the city and the county. All those contracts to award! Previous Republican candidates haven't stood a chance. Doyle? Maybe. Maybe.