As November creeps in, the candidates for mayor of Rochester push their campaigns into overdrive, carefully laying out plans for their candidacy while simultaneously pointing out the pitfalls of their competition. Perhaps no candidate found in the race has been as outspoken about her stances as Democratic candidate Rachel Barnhart.
A resident of the east side Beechwood neighborhood and native Rochesterian, Barnhart left an 18-year career as an investigative and public interest journalist last year to pursue public office. She cites her mission as a need to repair a broken system, one riddled with corruption and lack of transparency. Barnhart has no qualms about pushing those accusations onto Mayor Lovely Warren, calling her career at best corrupt and at worst felonious. She refers to fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and former police chief James Sheppard as just more of the same, garnering support “not because people like him, but because they hate Lovely.”
“I’m just totally fed up with the state of the leadership,” Barnhart said. “I’m fed up with Rochester not getting its fair share from Albany.”
Citing a history of actions from Warren she sees as dubious, Barnhart pushes for comprehensive reform in the government, highlighting changes that will force accountability and promote transparency.
“I have a package of ethics reform I plan to put in place,” Barnhart said. “Code that spells out conflict of interest, campaign finance reform and forbids people from leaving government employment and lobbying.”
While noting the organic growth Rochester has seen in recent years, Barnhart argues the type of growth the city promotes is in defiance with how Rochester is actually growing.
“The kind of growth the city has been promoting gives tax breaks to people on the high end of the business spectrum,” Barnhart said. “We need to reduce property taxes and start banking on growth.”
In hopes of bringing a startup boom to the city, Barnhart advocates for a city-wide fiber optic internet network available to every residence and business in the city, offering speeds of up to one gigabyte per second. She cites a similar fiber network introduced in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a model for Rochester’s internet future. As much of the fiber optic network already exists, a plan from the Rochester City School District puts the wiring cost to consumers at $70 million. Barnhart calls this number a light lift, considering the drastic impact a fully integrated optics network would have on the city.
“It’s a social equity issue,” Barnhart said. “This kind of infrastructure could build jobs, help education and bring businesses here.”
Barnhart noted it is not the only equity issue in Rochester. Rather, she sees the city as a community divided, segregated along lines of income.
“When we build affordable housing, we have to put them in mixed neighborhoods, not just low-income areas,” Barnhart said. “90 percent of students in our schools are low-income; people with means have abandoned our district.”
Alongside efforts to integrate neighborhoods across economic lines, Barnhart campaigns on promises of creating an encompassing jobs office at City Hall, along with working to keep employers in the city.
“We have to advocate for the city and stop letting jobs go to Henrietta,” Barnhart said. “We need to make Rochester a place where people want to live and do business.”
While promoting lower property and commercial tax rates in the city, Barnhart sees making Rochester a better place as promoting transparency and accountability in public office, as well as in the police department.
“We need an independent investigator when it comes to police, not the chief as the final arbitrator,” Barnhart said. “We need a police accountability board to hold police accountable as it should be.”
She refers to Sheppard’s handling of these issues during his time as chief as “horrible.”
Ultimately, it is Barnhart’s stance that Rochester is a city of promise, but one that needs to break through antiquated thinking, and needs leadership that speaks for the people.
“We can’t keep doing the same things over and over,” Barnhart said. “We need policy, not programs and we need a fighter for the city’s interest.”