The teasing is over, and the campaign for Rochester mayor is under way.
No Republican candidates have declared themselves, although attorney John Parinello and County Legislator Chris Wilmot have said they're considering a run. But barring a surprise entry, the Democratic field will consist of three well-known public officials: City Councilmembers Tim Mains and Wade Norwood and Police Chief Bob Duffy.
The Democratic Committee will pick one of the three as its designated candidate at a convention in May. Because Norwood has the support of many Democratic committee members, it's generally assumed that he'll be the convention choice. He'll then face Mains and Duffy in a primary in September.
Duffy's announcement came on Saturday at a tightly organized and scripted pep rally at the Rochester Public Market, with music blaring and several hundred sign-bearing supporters cheering. Mains' announcement came at a small press conference, and Norwood made an emotional address before a large audience in the Hochstein music school auditorium.
Norwood has strong support among elected city officials. (Mayor Bill Johnson has said he won't endorse a candidate until summer.) And State Assemblymembers David Gantt and Joe Morelle are heading Norwood's campaign. But Duffy has his own Democratic heavy hitters. Among them: former party chair Molly Clifford, who resigned at the end of January, blaming infighting in the party; retired District Attorney Howard Relin and his wife, retired Elections Commissioner Betsy Relin; and longtime Democratic activists Mark Siwiec and Pat Malgieri.
And significantly, three School Board members were on stage with Duffy at his rally on Saturday: Jim Bowers, board vice president Domingo Garcia, and board president Darryl Porter. Porter had considered running for mayor, but on Friday he announced that he would seek re-election to the School Board instead.
Their support draws a line of sorts in the campaign: Many City Councilmembers and City Hall staffmembers, who have often criticized the school district, are supporting Norwood. (School Board member Shirley Thompson is supporting Tim Mains.)
In a forceful address at the rally, Duffy laid out what he said will be the focus of his campaign: "educating kids, economic development, and safer streets." And the three are so closely related, he said, that the city can't address one without addressing them all. Many of the inmates at the county jail, for instance, have not graduated from high school.
"The principal cause of crime in our city is the drug trade," said Duffy, and "there are absolutely no easy answers to that problem.
"We need to move away from finger pointing and political posturing," he said. "Blaming teachers for education failure and blaming police officers for crime is like blaming doctors for cancer. The problems are much, much deeper than that."
--- Mary Anna Towler
Our pit bull
"My job is to get people elected. That's what my role is. Whatever it is that has to be done to get us there, that's what I'm going to do." --- Monroe County's Steve Minarik, now head of the state Republican Party, quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle.
Pittsford's new party
For the first time in recent memory, the Democratic Party in Pittsford is fielding a full slate of candidates for a village board election. Okay, technically, it's two Democrats and an Independent who's being endorsed by the Dems. Still, that's precedent-setting.
"I know about thirty years ago we had a candidate," says the party's Town Leader Eugene Saltzberg. "So the Republicans have not had much competition."
But the village's reputation as a Republican stronghold is obsolete, he contends: "If you look at the stats for the village, [incumbent US Senator Charles] Schumer won overwhelmingly and [Congressional Candidate] Sam Barend won and Kerry won," he says. "It makes it an ideal place to run a set of candidates."
According to county Board of Election statistics, Republicans still hold the edge in registration, with 422 to the Dems 314, but blanks and third-party voters make up another 270 voters.
One reason Saltzberg cites for the sudden surge in activity within his party is the results of last November's elections.
"A lot of Democrats were disappointed and therefore have wanted to become active," he says.
But one problem for the local Democrats is the nature of the issues facing the village. They're things like pedestrian safety, traffic problems and land use planning, where (in the absence of a particular galvanizing dispute) differences from party to party tend to be microscopic.
To candidate Jennifer Funkhouser, though, the existence of any difference is significant in itself.
"It's true that none of these issues are earth-shattering, but there are some differences," she says. "We have the opportunity to challenge some incumbents."
According to Funkhouser, just 18 of the town's 1000-plus registered voters cast a ballot in the village's last election. That kind of turnout has allowed the village's Republican officeholders to make decisions without worrying about accountability to voters, she says. And she predicts that is about to change.
"I just have a feeling that there'll be more than 18 this time," she says.
--- Krestia DeGeorge
The Republican factor
While the Democrats have come out celebrating, there are quieter stirrings in the Republican camp about who'll run for city hall's top job.
So far, the names batted around are term-limited County Legislator (and reformed Democrat) Chris Wilmot and prominent defense attorney John Parrinello.
The latter criticized the mayoral candidates fielded by the Dems thus far, saying "My position is: different faces, same party, no change."
But while Parrinello says he's "intensely interested" in a bid for mayor, don't expect a decision before late April.
"I have to ensure my clients and business are properly taken care of," he says, as well as consider his family's input on the decision.
Despite the city's 3-to-1 registration advantage for Democrats, Parrinello says he'll be able to run a competitive campaign.
"I will run as an individual," he says. "Numbers never bother me."
He's so confident, in fact, that he adds "It's not going to be a Democrat just walking into that office if I run."
But that "if" is significant. As Wilmot hinted to City Newspaper when he switched parties ("Switch Hitter," December 8), the local Republican leadership isn't known for tolerating primaries:"I can guarantee this: I will not primary any Republican for mayor. I won't enter as a dark horse or as a renegade," Wilmot said. "And if I'm the selected candidate, I won't anticipate any primary if I'm the Republican nominee. That's something I think the Republican Party usually does a little differently."
Wilmot had not returned phone calls seeking comment by press time.
--- Krestia DeGeorge
He's not endorsing any candidates to replace him yet, but Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson did offer his wannabe successors some advice. In brief: ease off the sloganeering. Give voters a real sense of how you'll run a city that's faced with ever-dwindling resources and "intractable" problems.
Johnson's counsel came as part of his 2005 State of the City, held last Tuesday, March 1. He also touted the city's recent purchase of the fast ferry, calling it a "huge boost to our community's psyche and spirit" --- something with which all the "pessimists and skeptics" he referred to likely disagree.
Johnson also tried to conjure Rochester's entrepreneurial spirit, referencing the ferry when saying "informed risk-taking is better than playing it safe." How the next mayor will carry that torch, and not pin it solely to big silver-bullet projects like The Breeze, remains to be seen. Especially in a city faced with, as Johnson says, "declining tax bases" (Kodak, anyone?), "greatly reduced state and federal aid, and dwindling business and philanthropic support."
--- Chad Oliveiri