So, I couldn't sleep last night because I was awake thinking about the responsibilities of mayor. Also, I felt (and feel) the weight of the decision that the Steering Committee of the Green Party of Monroe County, of which I am part have to make in the next couple of weeks. I was thinking about what the mayor's job entails--in fact I was sitting at my kitchen table reading the city charter. Next week we will be interviewing candidates who are seeking the endorsement of the Green Party. Rochester is a great city. It has its share of challenges for sure. But it has some of the most enduring qualities--quite literally, this area, especially the city, is a vortex of creative energy. Look at the music, photography, dance, theater, writing, activism--that were born and have thrived here. One needs only to read Frederick Douglass' Independence Day speech from 1852 that was given here, or go to the Eastman House, or the Strong Museum, or Geva Theater...(and the list goes on and on and on) to be inspired. But there is a creative energy that has been stagnant here. The one that nurtures grassroots political involvement.
We have problems with crime, with public transportation, with schools, with sustainable development. To name a few. Our attempts at solutions have in some cases, caused more problems than we started with. I'll give you one example and then I'll get off this soap box since it isn't really the point of the note--the combination of zero tolerance policy and city curfew. Not only did it encourage racist profiling, it fostered a feeling of mistrust and alienation between police and residents. Instead of making people feel safer, it made black males especially suspect automatically and created a feeling among some city neighborhoods that the police were their enemies. Say what you want, defend it however you want, but the truth is that behind all the shuffled numbers to make it look good, it wasn't preventing crime and was fostering racism.
To say the least, we have some issues that former administrations haven't been effective at resolving. I realize that no one administration is going to single-handedly fix all of the city's problems. But we need an administration with courage to try innovative solutions that bring the community together for input and help in solving those problems for the long term. We need a government that reflects the constituency it serves, not the party which happens to be in control of it.
I thought for a long time that this meant being a Democrat. It's no secret that I changed my party affiliation because I was disgusted with the Democratic Party. But that was primarily based on national politics. I saw increasing proof in action backing up what I learned in all those years of study--that what we have is a government where money equals power. The effects are evident everywhere. Votes get traded. It is, despite what we want to believe, a system where those in power are going to retain their power. Period.
Over the summer, I changed my party registration to Green and got involved with the campaign of Howie Hawkins for Governor. I met him, I talked to him, I listened to his plans. My vote for Howie was not a protest vote--he was the best candidate for the job. Governor Cuomo was very successful in selling his appeal to voters with his vocal pro-same-sex marriage stance. But truth be told, it made my blood boil to hear him acknowledge that hydro fracturing was a dangerous and far-from perfect 'solution' but would solve economic problems. Funny he didn't acknowledge the drilling contracts that large oil corporations have. Hmmm. But all the while, I still praised our local Dems across the board, thinking their support of Cuomo was misguided, but that we would not experience such deception at the level of local government. Not from the Democrats.
Well, I got my reality check. Rochester's Mayor Duffy has gone on to bigger things as he is now the Lt. Governor of New York. His position needs to be filled and the City Council had a choice to make. They could appoint an interim mayor and candidates seeking the office would go through the primary and general election process. Or they could hold a Special Election to fill the position. The Rochester City Council's decision to hold a Special Election for Mayor was announced last month, just after their chosen 'candidate' had announced that he would run for mayor in a special election, but not run in a general election. So, he was essentially saying he wanted to be elected mayor, but not if he actually had to run. It sounds laughable, but the City Council's argument is that they want stability for the city. As if they are doing some huge favor for residents of Rochester by taking choice away from them and treating them as if they are a bunch of children; completely incapable of choosing their own leadership. Besides the insult to the integrity of voters, this is a slap in the face to democratic principles. You just don't bypass democracy for any reason--even if it's because you think you know better than voters do. This decision has been supported, if not orchestrated, by leadership of the Monroe County Democrats. I know for a fact that not all of them support this undemocratic power play. But the leadership does support it.
Now I have a question for Democrats who support this special election: Do you remember just a few short years ago when Monroe Community College needed a new president, and Republican leadership of the County attempted to bypass the proper procedures for selecting one? It was the Republican Party leadership's intention to install one of their selected people, ignoring the input of the faculty and the community. Well, if you don't remember clearly, I do. Democrats were united on this issue. Cronyism, you called it. It was undemocratic. It was shady. It was a back room deal. It was wrong. Well, I've got news for you, Dems. What you have done with trying to place your previously selected person in the position of mayor is cronyism. It's undemocratic. It's shady. It's a back room deal. And it is wrong.
If you go forth with the Special Election for Mayor, you will not run unopposed. The Green Party of Monroe County has embraced the spirit of grassroots Democracy and opened the process for any interested city resident, as you know. We are accepting questionnaires through Sunday (and for those interested the questionnaire is available on a link from gpomc.org). So far we have heard one person publically announce their candidacy and that they are seeking our endorsement, but we currently have several applications. And hoping to get more. In our view, the best problem we could possibly hope for is having too many qualified, capable, viable candidates who are committed to Green Party values (the key values of the Green Party are outlined clearly at gp.org). We are reviewing questionnaires and interviewing candidates next week. We are spending the week after that in conference. I assure you that we are taking this process very seriously. Because we are committed to democratic principles--those which you have turned your backs on.
I know a lot of local Dems who have integrity and who serve in office because they believe in those principles. It is not them I criticize, but those who seem to have adopted the worst traits of their political opposition. As well as being offended by this as a firm believer in a government 'of by and for the people;' I take it personally. Until recently I was a Monroe County Democrat, and recent events make me ashamed of that.
The people of Rochester deserve a choice, and a choice they shall have. They also deserve a government with integrity. As do we all.