When William Johnson Jr. took office as Rochester mayor in 1993, the city faced a rising tide of crime and violence, chronic poor performance by students in city schools, heightened racial animosity, a budget crunch and looming cuts at Eastman Kodak Co., which at the time employed nearly 37,000 people here.
Twelve years later, voters sent Robert Duffy to City Hall to deal with more fiscal woes, a new surge in street violence, ongoing problems in the city schools, the fast ferry’s mounting losses and yet more cuts at Kodak.
Today, six years farther on, Thomas Richards is taking the reins as mayor. The list of challenges he must confront is easily as daunting as those that awaited his predecessors when they first took office.
The special election campaign threw a spotlight on the administrations of both Mr. Duffy and Mr. Johnson, and each at times was cast in a negative light. In truth, both men accomplished much-a fact reflected in their popularity with city voters.
Yet the city’s core problems remain; now it’s Mr. Richards’ turn to wrestle with them. Clearly, the voters believed he was the right person for the job-and given his impressive executive experience and the vital role he played in the Duffy administration, it’s not difficult to see why.
First, he must take on the city’s projected $50 million deficit. He has said no options are off the table; it goes without saying that most of them would be painful.
Next, Mr. Richards must work to ensure that key initiatives now under way-the Midtown redevelopment project above all-are completed. His approach of "focus and finish" is the right one.
At the same time, he cannot ignore what may be the most profound challenge for this city: the deeply rooted poverty afflicting many of its residents. Yes, the mayor ought to make every effort to draw more people and businesses to Rochester. But as we have argued before, hope for an economic home run should not be the primary focus; rather, the key is developing and tapping the city’s human capital.
A final thought: The special election that some at the outset called "undemocratic" proved to be the closest and most vigorously waged contest for mayor that Rochester has seen. Let’s hope the honest debate and citizen involvement will prove lasting.
4/1/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail email@example.com.