- FILE PHOTO
- Rachel Barnhart
Barnhart’s candidacy is sure to be a mystery to some people. A former reporter and anchor for WROC-TV, Barnhart has no political experience save an unsuccessful run for State Assembly against Democratic incumbent Harry Bronson last fall.
(In fairness, though, James Sheppard, the other declared Democrat in this race, has been in the County Legislature for only a little over a year. Sheppard does have administrative experience, though, as Rochester’s former police chief and former head of the city’s Office of Public Integrity.)
Joe Rittler, a spokesperson for Barnhart’s campaign, says that Barnhart can win, despite the “politically motivated naysayers.”
“There are many undecided voters who are not happy with the status quo, and we have a campaign plan that will carry us to victory,” Rittler says.
People are sure to ask, too, why Barnhart didn’t get her feet wet first by running for one of the five at-large seats up for election on City Council this year. Barnhart’s high profile would have been a significant advantage, especially considering that two Council incumbents — Carolee Conklin and Matt Haag — aren’t seeking re-election.
“For the past 18 years, she's read every city and school budget, every piece of Council legislation, every major contract bid, and every environmental impact statement on big projects,” he says. “She's delved into the finances of the fast ferry, Renaissance Square, Midtown Plaza, and the Inner Loop.”
Rittler also cites the time Barnhart’s spent covering allegations of police brutality, as well as the time she’s spent with victims of violence.
Barnhart may see an opening, too, given the obvious acrimony between Sheppard and current mayor Lovely Warren. (Warren hasn’t yet said whether she’s running again, but the signs point that way.)
Sheppard retired as Rochester’s police chief shortly after Warren took office in 2013, amid buzz that she was going to replace him. While Sheppard didn’t mention Warren by name at the press event where he announced his candidacy for mayor, it was clear whom he was blaming when he said that city government is “pilot-less” and “just not working.”
Warren’s camp fired back with a blistering statement that accused Sheppard of being an ineffectual legislator. The statement from the Friends of Lovely Warren also said that Sheppard “engaged in behavior typical of a slum lord through his ownership of a vacant and derelict city property.”
Sheppard has acknowledged owning a Malvern Street property that had multiple code violations. Bad tenants and an ineffective management company were to blame, he said. Sheppard sold the house in 2010.
Barnhart may see a path to the mayor’s office by putting herself above the fray: presenting herself as the candidate who is truly focused on the issues.