Given the Democratic Party's big lead in voter registration in the City of Rochester, the Democratic Primary for city elected offices is sometimes considered the real election. But many city voters are not registered Democrats. For them, the general election is their only chance to choose city leaders.
This year, that chance comes on November 7. Three city offices are on the ballot: mayor, City Council's five at-large seats, and three school board seats. (The winners of the Democratic Primary for school board – incumbents Van White and Cynthia Elliott, and newcomer Natalie Sheppard – are running unopposed. Beatriz LeBron's name is on the ballot on the Working Families and Independence Party lines but she is not seeking election.)
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren handily won the Democratic Primary in September, but she faces three more opponents in the general election. In the primary, all three candidates were liberal Democrats. This time, voters have a dramatic choice: the liberal incumbent, a conservative Republican, a Green Party candidate, and an independent. (County Legislator Jim Sheppard, who challenged Warren in the primary, is still on the ballot on the Working Families and Independence Party lines but is not seeking election.)
The four candidates:
Tony Micciche, Republican, Conservative, and Reform Parties: A former GM employee who has invested in numerous residential rental properties in the city, he lives in northwest Rochester. He is serving his second term as a County Legislator representing northwest Rochester, Greece, and Gates and chairs the legislature's public safety committee.
Micciche did not respond to several requests for information, but his positions on key issues are included on his campaign website. A strong conservative, he says he wants to boost business in the city by reducing fees and regulations and speed up the permit process.
He wants to eliminate the city's Sanctuary City policy, reduce the mayor's salary, impose term limits (two terms for mayor, three for City Council members), and cut city property taxes by 10 percent.
He says that he would push for drug testing for people receiving public benefits and for eliminating state mandates, and that he would work with state and county officials to establish childcare centers staffed by people receiving public benefits. He would push for a "surge" in law enforcement and would establish neighborhood police precincts in schools.
On education: The mayor has no authority over the school district, and state law requires city government to raise taxes for the school district rather than having the district raise its own. The mayor can, of course, advocate for changes in the district and in state law, and Micciche's website includes extensive education recommendations.
He says that he would give the Rochester school district one year to restructure, reduce administrative staff, ensure that all teachers are qualified, and raise the graduation rate to at least 65 percent and that he would withhold school district funds if the district failed to do that. He would push for legislation requiring the school district to raise its own taxes, and he wants to eliminate school taxes for city residents over age 70. He wants the district to eliminate busing and return to neighborhood schools. And he wants the district to establish a "tough" reform school for disruptive students.
His website: tonyformayor.us.
Lori Thomas, People's Party: A retired teacher, secretary, and city refuse collector, she has been active in Metro Justice, CAFEE, and police-reform citizens groups, writes a blog on education accountability, and is a former school board candidate. She lives in the Beechwood neighborhood.
In her campaign, she emphasizes her independence and says that frees her from political-party influence. She opposes giving tax incentives to large downtown developers and instead wants to support the renovation of buildings and would provide tax incentives that help their owners rent to small, locally owned businesses. She supports community co-ops and other efforts to boost entrepreneurship, help provide jobs for youth, reduce poverty, and create "a self-sustaining workforce."
She supports the reforms recommended by citizens groups pushing for independent civilian review of police. She wants to cap the salaries of the mayor and the mayor's staff at $75,000.
She wants the city to create opportunities for more residents to own their own homes, which she says will increase the city's tax base. She wants a return to neighborhood schools. She wants to create a "tiny homes" project, building housing for veterans on vacant lots in city neighborhoods.
Her website: thomas4mayor.wordpress.com.
Alex White, Green Party: A long-time community activist and frequent candidate for city office, he has been involved in numerous community and small-business groups, including United Christian Leadership Ministries, the Monroe Avenue Task Force, and the South Wedge Planning Committee. He is owner of Boldo's Armory and Regrow Rochester and lives in the South Wedge.
He has been a harsh critic of providing tax incentives for developers, which he says has benefitted the wealthy, is gentrifying the downtown area, and saps funding needed for vital city services. He says the Warren administration is too beholden to special interests and lacks transparency, and he says the city's ethics rules need to be reformed.
Development money should be invested in small businesses and neighborhood amenities, he says, rather than developing large downtown buildings. He wants the city to encourage more features downtown such as a food park, skate park, outdoor concert space, and graffiti museum, and to focus more on the river.
He wants the city to empower residents by forming neighborhood councils that would participate in drafting budgets, zoning regulations, and development plans. He wants the city to use eminent domain to acquire vacant houses and sell them to owners who will repair them.
He wants more police foot patrols and a police reorganization that has officers serving smaller areas to encourage more interaction with residents. He would boost the involvement of Pathways to Peace in youth outreach efforts and have zoning staff handle nuisance complaints. He wants an independent civilian review board for police oversight, more emphasis on conflict resolution in police training, and an end to stop and frisk action.
To reduce poverty, he wants the city to expand its summer youth jobs program, expand vocational training, expand living-wage requirements, expand child-care offerings, and improve public transportation.
His website: greenrochester.org/alexwhite.
Lovely Warren, Democratic and Women's Equality Party: Warren, completing her first term as mayor, is the first woman and only the second African-American to hold that office. Previously, she was on City Council for six years, four of them as Council president, and served as legislative aide to her mentor, State Assemblyman David Gantt. She lives in the city's northwest area.
As mayor, she has been heavily involved in boosting downtown development and has pushed for development in underserved city neighborhoods such as Bullshead and Hudson Avenue.
She has continued development initiated under her predecessors and begun new ones. Not all of her development moves have gone smoothly. Her seemingly abrupt change in selecting developers for Parcel 5, for example, brought criticism from some residents and arts organizations. But several new downtown housing complexes have been completed, and much of the Inner Loop Phase I infill is complete and developers have been selected for large parcels of it.
She led the city to reaffirm its City of Sanctuary resolution, and has spoken out on the Trump administration's positions on immigration and other issues.
To increase jobs for unemployed and low-income residents, her administration launched a community co-op program and a program that provides loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses. She has pushed for better public transportation to job centers for city residents, and she helped get a van pool created for city residents working at the Del Lago casino. And she has been heavily involved in the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.
During her administration, Rochester adopted a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, continued its program to make streets more bike friendly, and brought Zagster's bike-rental program to the city.
Her campaign website: mayorlovelywarren.com.
City Council plays a key role in city government, not only listening to and reflecting the concerns of city residents but also providing oversight of the mayor – reviewing and approving the city budget and voting on legislation.
In January, Rochester will lose three valuable current Council members: Matt Haag and Carolee Conklin, who are retiring, and Dana Miller, who failed to win in the September Democratic primary. Miller and Conklin will leave a particularly big hole because of their long experience in public service. Conklin is completing her third term on Council and before that was City Clerk. Miller is also completing his third term on Council and has been an important leader in the 19th Ward community.
Eleven people are running for the five at-large seats on the nine-member Council: two incumbents, two people who currently hold a different elected office and want to join Council, and seven who have never held elected office. (Also on the ballot, on the Women's Equality Party line, is Matt Juda, who lost in the September Democratic Primary, and is no longer seeking election.)
Pam Davis, Working Families Party: An artist and activist who lives in the Lyell-Otis neighborhood, Davis has been active in numerous neighborhood and community organizations.
Her concerns about the current administration: There is a "severe lack of communication" between Rochester citizens and many of the departments in City Hall, she says, and the administration fails to include residents in decision making.
On police oversight: She says police need to show more respect for citizens, and she wants more training on policy, procedure, and cultural competency.
On downtown development: She warns that downtown could become "a playground for the rich," that most new residential development isn't affordable for many city residents. She would vote against a proposal for an RBTL theater and an apartment complex on Parcel 5, citing her concerns about the extent of public financing and the affordability of the apartments.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: She wants the city, county, and state to create public-works jobs for the poor.
Her other interests: Curb the stray pet population, increase funding for libraries, and establish a translator service for neighborhoods and community groups for the hearing impaired and non-English speakers.
Her campaign Facebook page: facebook.com/PamforCityCouncil.
Shawn Dunwoody, Working Families: An artist and activist who lives in Marketview Heights, Dunwoody has been active in numerous arts and youth organizations. He was a founding member of Fashion Week (which benefits the Center for Youth) and MuCCC.
On police oversight: He says the current process doesn't work, and he supports a review board composed of people "from various walks of life."
On downtown development: He stresses the need for focusing on the riverfront and for serving the needs of people who already live downtown, not just specific audiences who might come downtown. A strong downtown needs people on the street, he says, and a good mix of development and green space. He wants Parcel 5 used as half green space, half commercial and residential.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: The anti-poverty initiative's success will depend on public-private partnerships, he says, and he wants City Council to be actively involved. A blanket approach likely won't work, he says; instead, efforts should be tailored to the needs of individual neighborhoods.
His other interests: Encouraging an embrace of the culture of the city; using City Council to build strong connections with the public; fostering an understanding of the unique attributes of individual neighborhoods; helping the city prepare for future opportunities and challenges, including climate change.
His campaign website: shawndunwoody.com.
Chris Edes, Libertarian and Reform Parties: An information technology specialist at Datto, Edes founded the local Libertarian Party and has been a board member of the regional Civil Liberties Union and the Rochester Civil Liberties Coalition. He lives in the Mt. Hope area.
His concern about the current administration: He accuses it of corporate welfare in exchange for campaign contributions, and he criticizes the bulldozing of the "Sanctuary City" for the homeless in 2014.
On police oversight: He supports a civilian review board with subpoena power, open meetings, and the power to discipline officers and says the police chief shouldn't be able to overrule its decisions.
On downtown development: He says current initiatives are "misguided and ineffective," benefitting wealthy developers and large corporations. Downtown should be treated like a neighborhood, he says, and should be encouraged to develop its own character. He opposes development of a theater for RBTL on Parcel 5. The city already has enough buildings and not enough green space, he says.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: He says the city's economic development policy, in effect, takes money from the poor and gives it to the rich. He opposes using the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative to pass funding to anti-poverty efforts and says money should go directly to the poor and to the people directly helping them.
Among his other interests: Paying down the city's debt.
His campaign website: vote-for-chris.net.
Anthony Giordano, Green Party: A resident of the Highland Park neighborhood, Giordano does contracting-construction work, sells his own brand of birch beer, and has been involved with the ROC/Acts community organization. He has run for elected office several times.
His concern about the current administration: He says it has entered deals with large developers that don't directly benefit city residents and neighborhoods.
On police oversight: He supports an independent review of police.
On downtown development: He believes current plans don't benefit city residents and new housing isn't affordable. He wants Parcel 5 preserved as open green space with food carts, art displays, and other amenities. He isn't opposed to a new RBTL theater downtown but wants it located somewhere other than Parcel 5.
He says the city should do more to fight poverty, should have provided more help for the House of Mercy as it sought more space, and criticizes the city's destruction of the "Sanctuary City" for the homeless in 2014.
His Facebook page: facebook.com/anthony.giordano.
Mitch Gruber, Democratic Party: The program director of Foodink, he has helped bring about many of that organization's public-health programs, and he serves on the governor's Council on Hunger and Food Policy. He lives in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood and has been active in its community organization.
On downtown development: The city's most serious problem is outside of the Inner Loop, he says, in neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades. Rochester is a very segregated city, he says, and Parcel 5 offers a chance "to build something that encourages an integration of people." He wants new development to be used day and night. He also wants development that adds taxable revenue, and he wants existing downtown parks better utilized.
On police oversight: He supports the recommendations of activists working for independent civilian review. And he wants police officers walking neighborhood beats and getting to know neighborhood residents.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: The region has a huge middle-skills worker gap, he says, and unemployed residents need training so they can get those jobs.
His other interests: Promoting urban agriculture and other productive uses for vacant lots; helping erase factions on Council and in the Democratic Party; encouraging the city to help build up neighborhood associations, including providing money for some of them.
His campaign website: mitchgruber.com.
Andrew Hollister, Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, and Reform Parties: The owner of a small IT company that builds apps and designs network infrastructure, Hollister is a native of the 19th Ward, has lived in the Lyell-Otis neighborhood, and recently moved to Charlotte. His community service has included volunteer work at the Boys and Girls Club, EMT, and emergency-communications work with the Red Cross.
His concern about the current administration: He says the mayor misrepresented the local jobs numbers and has failed to create more jobs.
On police oversight: He wants a more transparent process, and he says that police officers with whom he's talked also want reform.
On downtown development: He says the city has indulged in excessive corporate welfare and tax subsidies and that the policy has created too few jobs. Future development should be aimed at creating a strong local jobs market, he says, and should include planning for all forms of transportation including bicycles, walking, and public transit, and should incorporate green space.
On Parcel 5: He thinks the mayor and RBTL are over-promising on the theater proposal. He prefers the Visionary Square proposal to preserve open space for public events and spur adjacent small-business development.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: He says the city should be willing to take bold steps to generate jobs. In particular, he wants Council to focus on the permit process, fees, and zoning, to encourage rather than discourage business development. He says the city needs to have more neighborhood areas zoned for mixed use to provide accessible retail, services, and jobs for city residents.
He is also concerned about the amount the city pays on interest, which he says could be spent on essential programs. And to increase accountability of public officials, he proposes having term limits for elected city officials and replacing the five at-large Council members with additional district council members.
His campaign website: hollister4council.com.
Mary Lupien, Working Families Party: An activist who has had extensive community involvement, she's a community organizer for the climate-action group Mothers Out Front, is former program director at St. Peter's Kitchen, and worked on the local Bernie Sanders campaign. She is a substitute teacher with the Rochester school district and lives in the Beechwood neighborhood.
Her concerns about the current administration: She says money seems to influence important decisions and the city needs to better engage with residents and neighborhoods.
On police oversight: She says the current system doesn't work and that it lacks accountability. She supports independent civilian oversight.
On downtown development: She likes some of the city's development plans, particularly plans for Charles Carroll Park along the river. But she is concerned about the large amount of expensive new housing under way. She wants the city to stop providing tax breaks for high-end residential development. And the city should require developers to provide bike racks and trees to encourage biking and make downtown more attractive, Lupien says. She wants the city to start over with finding a developer for Parcel 5 and she doesn't think an RBTL theater will provide the jobs or the business boost that its supporters anticipate.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: Every decision city government makes impacts people who live in poverty, she says, including development and transportation planning. The anti-poverty initiative needs better transparency and better communication with the public, she says.
Among her other interests: promoting a comprehensive transportation plan with more support for bikes; promoting efforts to support the environment.
Lupien's campaign website: marylupien.com.
Ronald R. Ring, Green Party: Attempts to reach Ring for information about his candidacy were unsuccessful, and he does not have a campaign website.
seeking a seat
on City Council
Malik Evans, Democratic and Working Families Parties: Evans, an executive with ESL, hopes to move to Council from the Rochester school board, where he's served since 2004 and was president from 2008 to 2013. He has been active in numerous community organizations, including the United Way, Prevention Partners, Catholic Family Center, and the Rochester Area Community Foundation. He lives in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood.
On police oversight: He says the city's oversight process must instill confidence, and currently it doesn't. An independent accountability board could be good for both citizens and police, he says, and the city should study successful models in other parts of the country.
On downtown development: He wants the city to focus on both large and small developments and says that if developers promise job creation, government should hold them to that promise or claw back the benefits. And city officials should ask not only how many jobs each project will create but also how each one will improve the lives of the citizens of Rochester. New housing should include not only high-end condos but also housing for low-, moderate-, and middle-income residents, he says.
He's undecided about proposals for Parcel 5 but says that while he would like some of it devoted to green space, it must have development that produces jobs and revenue.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: He praises the anti-poverty effort for "moving the conversation" and pushing training. He emphasizes job training and creation of good-paying jobs.
His campaign website: malikevans.org.
Willie Joe Lightfoot, Democratic Party: A Rochester firefighter and small business owner, Lightfoot served on the County Legislature for 10 years and is the son of the late County Legislator and prominent Democrat Willie Lightfoot. He's a resident of the 19th Ward and has been extensively involved in community work in the city's southwest area.
On police oversight: The current system doesn't work, he says. He supports an independent review board with subpoena power. It's essential, he says, to restoring faith in the police.
On the city's role in fighting poverty: He likes the concept of the anti-poverty initiative but says City Council should be more involved, seeking input from the public and finding successful solutions to problems raised by the public. People want to be involved, he says, and they want results. The city should seek simple, obtainable solutions.
On development: He praises city officials for spurring development in areas where it hasn't happened before. He wants the city to identify and offer incentives for small businesses and to make sure that new development doesn't lead to gentrification. He likes the RBTL proposal for Parcel 5 but also wants development to provide some green space for outdoor activities. And he wants Parcel 5 development to include "a community piece so that the inner city is not left out of the picture."
Other issues: He suggests that the city should provide more support for entrepreneurs and other small-business people, should create a faith-based initiatives, and should host mental-health fairs.
His campaign website: willielightfoot.com
Jackie Ortiz, Democratic, Working Families, Independence, and Women's Equality Parties: The only Latinx on City Council, she has been an at-large Council member since 2010. She's been active in numerous Latinx community organizations and events and is a mentor with the Red Cross Youth Leadership Development Program. She's a State Farm insurance agent and lives in Charlotte.
She chairs City Council's Neighborhood and Community Development Committees and chairs an ad hoc education committee of representatives of Council, the Rochester school board, and the county.
On Council, she has pushed for stronger action on vacant and abandoned properties, pushed for the creation of a land bank to help low-and moderate-income people buy foreclosed property, pushed for a landlord registry to ensure that city officials know who owns rental property, and has pushed for an overhaul of the city's nuisance-points system.
Her campaign website: ortizforcitycouncil.com.
Loretta Scott, Democratic and Women's Equality Parties: A City Council member with deep experience in both elected office and city government administration, Scott has been on Council since 2010 and has been president since 2014.
She served as the city's commissioner of parks, recreation, and human services from 1992 to 2005. Her extensive community involvement includes serving as board chair of the Jordan Health Center, vice chair of Alternatives for Battered Women (now called Willow Center), founding member of the Greater Rochester After School Alliance and the African American Leadership Development Program, and board member of the Landmark Society, Action for a Better Community, and the United Way.
She and her husband operate Scott Professional Cleaning Services, and they live in the Browncroft neighborhood.
On Council, she supported police body cameras, and she has been shepherding legislation related to reviewing the city's current police oversight system. She has been a strong supporter of Mayor Lovely Warren.
Her campaign Facebook page: facebook.com/CouncilmemberLorettaScott.