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Issuing a call

Concerned about the low achievement and high drop-out rate of Rochester's African-American students, a Rochester church is planning a series of community forums on the topic "Crisis in Our Schools." The goal: to urge the public, particularly African-American men and pastors, to act.

            The programs, which will begin in mid-September, will be sponsored by St. Luke Tabernacle Community Church. Panelists will include the Rev. Dr. James H. Evans Jr., minister at St. Luke Tabernacle, as well as teachers, administrators, and community representatives. Part of the focus: student behavior.

            "The majority of long-term suspensions is African-American males," says the Rev. Avery Blackman, associate minister of St. Luke Tabernacle. "The school is not the problem," says Blackman, who works with city students on long-term suspension. "The students are taking the street problems into the schools, and the schools aren't equipped to deal with them."

            And often, says Blackman, neither are the adults in students' homes --- grandmothers, for instance, who are raising the children.

            "We know what the problems are, what the issues are," says Blackman. "We're looking for solutions. We have to look at the missing community component."

Any takers?

The deadline's coming up. By September 9, New York State hopes to unload two parts of the Rochester Psychiatric Center campus to winning bidders.

            The campus, on Elmwood Avenue near South Avenue, has for years been rumored as the future home of a Wegmans. But store officials say they won't pursue the site unless there's support for rezoning the area. And according to Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson, that support isn't there.

            "Wegmans would run into triple opposition," says Johnson: "from the city, from the people in that neighborhood, and from the town of Brighton, because it abuts town land and they'd have to approve it as well. It has nothing to do with opposing Wegmans [which recently closed its store on nearby Mt. Hope Avenue]. We would love to see a store in that neighborhood, but we don't think that's the best site. That avenue is not a commercial strip, and by putting a supermarket there, they'd really change the face of that site. I think that's really been the objection we've had all along."

            As far as other developments for that area are concerned, Johnson says a solution won't come easy.

            "That's going to be a challenge," he says. "Obviously, we have Rochester Science Park that abuts that. And we've talked about whether or not we can extend the park down in there. We don't get as many nibbles on that park as we have in the past. But who knows? With that particular site, with a new kind of entry way, it could be a nice layout for that kind of activity."

            "You're talking about a medical facility," says Johnson, "and if you go in and change it, because of the asbestos content you drive the cost up exponentially. You talk about a white elephant: that one is a white elephant. And the state may eventually have to bite the bullet --- they don't want to do it --- and take it down and try to redefine it."

Now what?

Sure, talk has quieted since New York Governor George Pataki, through a spokesperson, told the Democrat and Chronicle that no negotiations are occurring for a Rochester casino.

            But the Sibley Building, and the nearly $14-million back taxes and other debt its owners have accrued on the property, remain.

            The building is owned by a subsidiary of mall developer Wilmorite, which has been working with the Seneca-Cayuga Indian tribe to develop a downtown casino. The city is still in litigation with Wilmorite over the debt. And Mayor Bill Johnson knows something's gotta give. Soon.

            "People ask me, 'Why are you doing this when some poor person who lives in a one-family house, if they didn't pay their bills, they'd be foreclosed?'" says Johnson.

            Foreclosure on the Sibley Building would have "ominous implications" for Rochester taxpayers, says Johnson. The city would take ownership of the property, lose the back taxes and other debt, and be responsible for maintaining the property and finding a new owner.

            Wilmorite Chairman Tom Wilmot "understands that we're not anxious to jump in and foreclose on it," says Johnson. "But we have to make a decision at some point. We can't continue to go on, because it does send an extremely negative message. And how do you crack down on little old grandmothers and working families and let a guy like this, who has millions to blow on speculative ventures --- how do you let him walk free?"

Cheap, cheap

Local Newspaper Guild members challenge anyone to show them an employer cheaper than Gannett.

            On Wednesday, July 21, the union will picket outside the Democrat and Chronicle offices to protest the paper's shockingly low gas reimbursement rate: 21 cents a mile.

            "It's been an issue for awhile," says Gary Craig, secretary of the Newspaper Guild of Rochester, "but this summer it's really come to a head."

            Gas prices are hitting above $2 a gallon. The D&C has announced that it will raise the reimbursement on August 9 --- to 23 cents. (The standard federal rate is 37 cents.)

            "The people it really hurts are people like the photographers and the sports writers," Craig says. "Some of the photographers put on hundreds and hundreds of miles weekly."

            As part of the picket, the union will host the "Is Your Boss Cheaper Than Ours?" contest, for people who can prove that their employer pays less than 21 cents a mile. Winners, if there are any, will get a $50 gift certificate for gas.

            Bargaining talks will reconvene next week to try to secure the first contract in over 10 years between the Rochester Newspaper Guild and Gannett.

From the privacy of home

The proposal for a Rochester casino may face more competition than the protests of concerned community leaders. Casino Fortune --- an on-line gambling operation --- is trying to convince us that it's better to just gamble from home.

            A recent press release says the Internet casino offers 62 online games, "better odds and payouts" than land-based casinos, and quick payments via credit card, bank transfer, or Western Union. All of this, says the press release, is without "fighting crowds, drinking watered-down drinks, and inhaling secondhand smoke." As part of the casino's Stay Home promotion, gamblers can submit receipts from expenditures at land-based casinos for credit that can be used at Casino Fortune (