More than two decades ago, the political writer E.J. Dionne wrote about the effect of globalization on government at all levels. This economic shift from local to global, he noted, was making it harder and harder for elected officials to control or even influence trends affecting their constituents.
At that time, Eastman Kodak Co. employed roughly 40,000 people in Rochester, down from a peak of more than 60,000 a decade earlier. Today, Kodak has a fraction of those local jobs and is working to secure its future after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In her inaugural address last weekend, new Mayor Lovely Warren spoke of the Rochester she knew as a child, one where companies like Kodak, Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb offered jobs that "promised a brighter future for many people."
That has changed dramatically, the mayor acknowledged, but she is not daunted by the fact. "Change is hard," she said. "But I believe that we can’t turn a blind eye to change. I believe we can make things better. And my eyes are wide open to the possibilities."
This belief in a better future has been expressed before. In his first inaugural address eight years ago, Mayor Robert Duffy said "our best days are ahead of us-and not behind us." Five years later, Thomas Richards echoed his predecessor, saying "this community has good bones. We have the elements to prosper in a more diverse, knowledge-driven economy."
But today, Rochester’s household poverty rate is more than 33 percent, up from 26 percent in 2000, and the child poverty rate over that period has jumped to 51 percent from 37.5 percent.
Moreover, a number of the city’s other long-term problems-such as low student graduation rates and deep budget deficits-are as bad as they have been, or worse.
Given all this, is the mayor’s hope for the city she now leads misplaced? No. For no matter how daunting the challenges and even with diminished power to confront external forces, this community’s resilience and capacity to adapt are intact.
Noting her own experiences and those of her family, Ms. Warren said, "No matter where you start, you can finish strong." Her starting point as mayor is one surrounded by adversity–but at the same time, great opportunity.
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