A contentious mayoral race is in the offing as former Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard, currently a Monroe County legislator, announced Saturday he will run for office after criticizing the present administration as “lots of announcements but very little actual progress.”
While Mayor Lovely Warren has yet to say whether she is running for re-election, the Friends of Lovely Warren Committee was quick to fire off a response following Sheppard’s rally and news conference.
“(As a Monroe County legislator), James Sheppard has not delivered one single legislative initiative for his constituents since he has held county office,” said Gary Rogers, spokesman for the Friends of Lovely Warren Committee.
By the same token, Sheppard’s campaign was far from gentle with Warren on Saturday. Sheppard reported feeling “embarrassed” when 74 people were arrested by city police during a Black Lives Matter protest in July.
“This administration was not there,” he said. “I will be.”
Sheppard’s announcement was made at the Workers United union hall, where members of several construction unions gathered to show their support for him.
Aaron Hilger, president of the Builders Exchange of Rochester, was on the losing side of a recent conflict involving Warren over the Rochester school modernization project, and was quick to say “Rochester is suffering under her leadership.”
“We have not seen meaningful job growth, and we still haven’t made progress fighting poverty,” he said.
While the Builders Exchange had at onetime endorsed Warren, he revoked that endorsement in no uncertain terms to hand it to Sheppard.
“I can’t wait to get him elected mayor,” Hilger said.
A Sheppard-Warren mayoral primary will again pit two familiar factions of the city’s Democrats against each another. Former mayor Tom Richards, who lost to Warren four years ago, is one of Sheppard’s supporters and received a round of applause when he was recognized at the news conference.
While state legislator David Gantt’s name did not come up, several Sheppard supporters in the audience noted Warren’s affiliation with Gantt and said that was a deal breaker for them.
Joe Rittler, a spokesman for a possible third mayoral candidate, Rachel Barnhart, spoke on behalf of her exploratory committee on Saturday.
“James Sheppard may be supported by one of the two Democratic political machines in our area, but there are serious unanswered questions about his past support of discriminatory policing poli-cies, among other things,” Rittler wrote via Twitter.
At the same time, many of those attending the news conference suggested Sheppard could bring the city together.
“He’s not a divided person. He’s there for everyone,” said Chuck Garvey, of Leicester Street.
“He’s somebody our city needs to bring people together,” said Pam Koon, of Harvard Street.
That was the core of Sheppard’s message on Saturday: He would be the candidate of transparency, inclusion and unity.
“Our city is being ripped apart at the seams in terms of race, demographics, economics, geography and the factions within our own party. We must come together to make Rochester work again,” he said.
Follow Anne Saunders on Twitter: @asaunders_rbj
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