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Replacing the mayor

A closely divided Rochester City Council decided this week to hold a special election to replace Mayor Robert Duffy, who leaves office in two weeks to become New York’s lieutenant governor.

This decision no doubt will face bitter criticism from some quarters, but in our view it was the right choice.

Opponents of a special election have tried to paint this option as somehow underhanded or undemocratic; it is neither. Under the city’s charter, the process for filling a vacancy in the office of mayor gave the council two options: appoint a mayor to serve through 2011, with a primary and general election in the fall, or call a special election to be held within 90 days of Mr. Duffy’s departure from office.

As elected representatives, the council members have a responsibility to weigh all factors and do what’s best for Rochester at this time.

A special election does not deny city residents the right to vote. Nor would it necessarily narrow the field of candidates. It simply shortens the time frame. As University of Rochester president Joel Seligman noted in an op-ed he wrote in favor of a special election, Great Britain this year chose a prime minister in four weeks; surely city voters can decide on the next mayor in a period of two or three months.

Would the Democratic Party’s candidate have an edge in a special election? Of course. But that would be true in any city election. At the same time, it’s no guarantee that the choice of party insiders would win. Rochester’s last two mayors proved that.

Finally, it has seemed there has been an unspoken argument against a special election-that in particular it would favor Deputy Mayor Thomas Richards, who has declared his intention to run in a special election and whom many business, civic and political leaders support. We’d suggest that the foundation of this support-Mr. Richards’ wealth of executive experience and the key role he has played in the Duffy administration-is nothing he needs to apologize for.

Mr. Duffy and his team clearly enjoy the strong support of city voters, who overwhelmingly re-elected him little more than a year ago. Much work undertaken since he took office remains to be completed. The surest way to keep the focus on these tasks is to choose the next mayor in a special election.

12/17/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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