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The impact of Citizens United

Responding to a reader's Feedback statement that there's no evidence that Citizens United has resulted in large campaign donors having an extensive influence on election results or public policy:

St. Louis University published a study looking at the relationship between federal contracts and campaign contributions between 1979 and 2006. It was found that companies contributing more money to federal candidates subsequently received more contracts, more than merely suggestive of quid pro quo.

In September 2015, professors from Princeton and Northwestern published a study that analyzed 1,778 national policy issues, looking at three distinct groups: the very wealthy, corporate interest groups, and ordinary citizens. They measured the correlation between a group's support for an issue and the probability that the issue would be enacted into law. What they found is disturbing:

"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

Also in 2015, professors from Stanford published a study providing "evidence that corporations and business PACs use donations to acquire immediate access and favor."

What we now know from rigorous study is that money is power in DC and our statehouses. Influence is wielded by those with big money while ordinary citizens, both registered Republicans and registered Democrats, are left essentially without representation. This reality describes oligarchy, not representative democracy.

Do defenders of unlimited spending on elections sincerely believe that the authors of our Constitution intended that political influence be allocated in direct proportion to wealth? I encourage those seeking a deeper dive into the impact of money on our Republic to view this 24-minute presentation: https://youtu.be/GcxYBfYO03I.


Open space best for Parcel 5

City officials have chosen the developers for a key part of the Midtown Plaza site: Parcel 5, across Main Street from the Sibley Building. The Warren administration's choice: a performing arts theater topped by an apartment tower. But City Council will have to approve Warren's choice, so the conversation here continues.

On a reader's criticism of the Visionary Square proposal for Parcel 5: To have vision, one needs to reach for things that have not been done in our city and recognize that innovative cities are reanimating their downtowns through projects just like Rochester Visionary Square. In the City of Rochester, we do not have any public realms that are designed for the 21st century.

There is also the incorrect perception that downtown has a surplus of green space, when in fact the center city suffers from a lack of it. The National Parks and Recreation Association recommends 8 acres of parkland for every 1,000 people. The Center City Planning Area provides 2.5 acres per 1,000 people – a paltry 29 percent of what is recommended.

I've continued to hear how Martin Luther King Park could be an alternative. It is a failure of a design for public space and ignores key recommendations that the Street Life Project and Project for Public Spaces has identified, like clear sight lines and park development at surface level to overcome perceptions and issues of crime and safety.

Finally, we are ignoring perhaps the biggest elephant in the room: We have an equity issue downtown. The median household income in Center City is $20,712, with nearly 40.7 percent of people falling below the federal poverty level.

We need a space that will give people a reason to stay downtown. Parcel 5 with no amenities has already proved to be an iconic and central place for people to gather. Creating a space that is free and offers both passive and active programming is key for the future of Rochester. Creating a place that boasts street-level activity will build pride and social cohesion and give businesses the confidence they need to move downtown.

For information on our proposal visit thisisnotapark.com


Woelk is co-director of Rochester Visionary Square.

On a CITY article assessing proposals for Parcel 5, including Visionary Square: "... the proposal would leave a prime development site stay mostly vacant." Yes! That's exactly the point!

I'm not sure CITY understands that the goal is to create, in downtown Rochester, a place where people want to be, not endlessly monetizing every square inch of the center city. Doing so creates a harsh, overbuilt environment that people can't wait to leave at 5 p.m.

For half a century, Rochester has created a downtown as gritty as Manhattan yet lacking the wonderful public spaces found in that city. We keep building concrete silos that announce: "Isn't this a powerful thing we've created? Enjoy the view, but you're not welcome here!"

Our center city is in need of places for people, not just cars and corporations. That's what makes a city come alive. Our downtown has been dead for too long. It's time to breathe some life into it. The Visionary Square proposal will do exactly that.


Stifling speech

On an RIT seminar discussing the controversies surrounding free speech on college campuses: By squelching expression of opposing views, the anti-free-speech movement of the left is simultaneously destroying the opportunity to refute those views.

When people on the left violently attack, shout down, or dox views they oppose, they are unwittingly strengthening and building support for those views in the eyes of a neutral public.