When Thomas Richards took office as Rochester mayor a little more than a year ago, the list of difficult challenges awaiting him was long. Today the list might be even longer; it surely is no less daunting.
Yet in his State of the City speech on Monday, the mayor said Rochester is "stable, strong and moving forward despite the expected and unexpected challenges."
In our view, the mayor is right-and an important reason why is Mr. Richards himself. With his sound judgment and stable demeanor, the city has a steady hand at the helm-someone who is not afraid to confront facts or state them plainly.
Two clear examples are his handling of the Midtown redevelopment project and of the city’s budget gap. On Midtown, Mr. Richards took office with an agreement in place for Paetec Holding Corp. to build its headquarters. That went out the window with the company’s sale to Windstream Corp. Yet after months of work he had a new agreement with Windstream that will bring more than 330 workers to a renovated Seneca Building.
On the budget front, the mayor dealt with a multimillion-dollar gap last year and must do so again in the spending plan he will present this month. As he noted Monday, "we will not be able to meet the city’s other challenges if we do not have a secure financial future."
There’s no easy fix for this problem; it is structural in nature, with the city’s expenses outstripping its capacity to pay for them. Making the problem even more vexing are mandated costs-such as the $119 million contribution to the city school district-and rapidly climbing medical and pension obligations. The school and pension expenses alone will claim all of the city’s property tax revenue next year.
The mayor’s approach to this problem-closing the immediate gap while pursuing longer-term reforms-is a sensible one.
As Mr. Richards noted in a recent RBJ interview, the political attention span is much shorter than the time required to solve major problems or undertake big projects. He takes the long view, however, repeatedly stressing the need to "focus and finish."
This might not make for many splashy headlines, but steady pursuit of solutions in key areas such as economic development, education and city finances is a strategy that deserves support.
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