Hard driving, dedicated, sensitive, funloving: Rochester Deputy Mayor Jeff Carlson was, as Mayor Bill Johnson puts it, "a very interesting mixture." And Carlson, who died last week at the age of 57, left his mark on the city, his friends and co-workers, and the family he cared passionately about.
The renovation of the Blue Cross Arena, the development of the High Falls area, the Public Safety Building, the fast ferry: "There are so many things in this city that bear his stamp," Johnson said late last week, "even though there's not anything with a plaque with his name on it."
Carlson didn't mind not getting credit on a project, said Johnson. He simply enjoyed getting things done. Although the Blue Cross Arena was "a very tough job, he relished that kind of detail," said Johnson. "Stuff that would overwhelm the average person, he relished."
Johnson's long association with Carlson began when Johnson was head of the Rochester Urban League. Carlson, whose college work had been in English literature, was working as a community organizer in a poor neighborhood. Johnson's deputy persuaded Carlson to move to the Urban League. "What you soon found out about him," said Johnson, "was that he had a very keen sense of social justice. He poured his heart out to make things better."
When Johnson appointed Carlson deputy director of the Urban League, "I got severely criticized by so-called leaders in the black-community, who wanted to know why I would have a white man in this position. I said: Because it's the right thing to do. I know where his mind is."
As the Urban League became involved in developing affordable housing, "that was his baby," said Johnson. "He took the Urban League's Development Corporation and ran it autonomously."
And when Johnson ran for Rochester mayor and won, Johnson wanted Carlson to go with him to City Hall. "He made it clear that he wanted all the development responsibility," said Johnson. "His whole notion was to get things done."
"He really relished the fast ferry," said Johnson, a project that Carlson had been working on for the city since the beginning and one that carried "immense joy and heartache."
But the hard-driving deal-maker deputy mayor was just one side of Carlson. "He obviously was a fun-loving guy," said Johnson. "He had a raucous laugh. He worked hard during the day, but he knew how to let it go. Jeff loved to go out, loved to drink his beer, go out on a golf course, go to the Bills games --- and he was like a different person."
Despite Carlson's death at a relatively young age, "nobody could say that he got cheated out of life," said Johnson.
"One side of Jeff that has to be pointed out," added Johnson, "is his sensitivity. He was an extremely sensitive and caring person, and it is reflected in the time he spent with his own children and his grandson."
Carlson, said Johnson, "was just a great dad."
Funeral services for Carlson were held on Saturday at Aenon Baptist Church on Genesee Street. "It's very poignant that Pat [Carlson's wife Patricia Gallagher] chose Aenon Church for his service," said Johnson. "This was the community he worked in."