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Set the date

The Hatch Act was put on the federal books more than 70 years ago "to prevent pernicious political activities" such as patronage, bribery and coercion. In particular, it was designed to keep federal employees from taking part in partisan political activity.

None of this, of course, is remotely related to Thomas Richards and his fitness as a candidate for Rochester mayor in a special election this spring.

Yet because the Hatch Act later was amended to include state and local employees who work with federal funds and because the city charter includes wording that could cause Mr. Richards to run up against provisions of the act, he made the right move this week in deciding to step down as mayor after less than three weeks in the office.

Now the focus can stay solely on the question of who should be elected mayor to finish the term of former mayor and now Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.

First, City Council needs to set a special election date. It tabled that action when the Hatch Act issue arose; when they meet next week, council members should make the March 29 date official.

Opponents of a special election, of course, hope to persuade one member of the closely divided Council to move to their side. But as noted here last month, the arguments against a special election ring hollow.

Holding a special election is not underhanded or undemocratic. Rather, it is one of two options in the city charter, the other being a general election in the fall.

The idea that it would deny city residents the right to vote is particularly off-base. Yes, it would shorten the time frame, compared with a fall general election. But all eligible voters could have their say, and the number of candidates would depend solely on who is willing to do what it takes to run.

Rochester is fortunate to have someone as capable as Carlos Carballada to assume the responsibilities of acting mayor. The city is equally fortunate to have someone with Mr. Richards’ broad executive experience who is willing to be a candidate for mayor.

City residents who think Mr. Richards is not the best person for the job right now are free to support someone else-or toss their own hats into the ring.

But let’s now move beyond talking about the process and debate the real challenges facing the city.

1/21/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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