A few weeks ago, I blogged about why Green candidates should be included in ALL debates. While our Mayoral Candidate, Alex White, was excluded from televised debates, all five city candidates were invited to forums held by community groups. It's evidence that residents are tired of the status quo and they are hungry for a new direction that is not based on trickle-down economics.
I'm writing to share my observations about the two forums that took place that included the City Council candidates.
The first one was hosted by the Maplewood Neighborhood Association. The cafeteria at Aquinas High School was close to full. Because of the number of candidates (11, I believe) we had 2 minutes to introduce ourselves then we would answer questions written by the audience on index cards. The interesting party about it was that for each question, one incumbent and one challenger would be allowed to answer - at the moderator's discretion. An interesting solution for having a large number of candidates.
The next day, another forum was held for the Northeast Quadrant, this time it was at the Polish-American Club on Joseph Avenue. That forum was packed as well. And this forum included not only the City Council candidates, but the Mayoral ones as well. Again, that was a lot of candidates. This time, we had the two questions ahead of time and had two minutes each to answer each one.
My take on what was said was the same for each forum. I was proud of the Green Rochester candidates. Even though we didn't have time to go into detail with our answers, we showed a coherent, thoughtful antidote to the business-as-usual attitude of the incumbents.
In both of the forums I made sure to thank the incumbents. Being on City Council, serving the community, is not an easy job and I acknowledge that. No one on the Green Rochester team is accusing anyone in City Government of being bad people. But there is a clear disagreement as to how our municipality should be run. They had no defense for the millions and millions of dollars we've given away to developers and at these forums we made sure to point this out.
At the same time, we proposed solutions, in as much detail as we possibly could in the time allotted. Drew Langdon talked about cooperative businesses and participatory budgeting. Dorothy Paige focused on crime and quality of life in our impoverished neighborhoods. I tried to tied it all together, with my concept of using vacant land to use development money to create locally-owned, for-profit urban farms as well as other local businesses around them - in the neighborhoods, not downtown.
The 19th Ward is a diverse, historic part of our city. But there is a very serious issue that is not being acceptably addressed. For those who are on Facebook, there is a group called 19th Ward Crime Alert. If you are in that group, as I am, you would think that area of the city is a lawless wasteland as there are daily posts of suspicious people, break-ins and more. A friend of mine who lives on Westfield Street was over this weekend. I got to hear story after story of neighbors who have had break-ins and what they've been trying to do to combat this. He is thinking about buying a gun for the first time in his life, and few people actually call the police because they don't see what it will do.
Daniel DeMarle, a prominent resident of the district and the Facebook group creator and moderator made some good points in a post today. He said that while the number of members of the group has increased tremendously lately, that will bring more posts about crime therefore there may not be an increase in crime. While true, there are still a lot of posts on the FB group.
I've been to the Police Citizens Interactive Committee (PCIC) meetings for the area and I know RPD has enough statistics to make your eyes glaze over. The numbers do not mean a lot to me. I can tell by the voice of the people who live there that what is going on in the 19th Ward is not acceptable.
In general, people who live there are calling for more police. They want this taken care of right now - understandably. It's the same as someone who is homeless not caring about mixed-use development for economic growth. They need somewhere to live today and people in the 19th Ward need protection...today.
I'm OK with an immediate increase in police presence, but that is not a permanent solution. First of all, it's not fiscally responsible and second, like those expensive, ineffective blue light cameras, more police will just push crime to other parts of the city. That's great for those in the 19th Ward, but as stewards of the entire city, City Hall can't use more police and cameras as a long-term solution. In fact there is no one solution and that's what our current leadership does not seem to understand.
Read on to see how a Green Rochester government would deal with crime in the 19th Ward.
[Update: Seems that WXXI is doing a televised Mayoral debate on September 3rd and Alex White is NOT invited. Alex just finished participating in the 19th Ward Forum and he added a perspective that wasn't brought by the candidates from the other party. Channel 8 & WXXI are supposed to use the public airwaves to serve the public. This does not serve the public.]
Up until now, Green Rochester candidates have been primarily talking about issues. If you haven't had a chance to check out our platforms, I highly suggest you do so and give us feedback.
But it's important to take a moment and talk about politics. As we have been pointing out, there hasn't been a non-democrat elected to office in the City of Rochester in decades. Partisan or not, that's not good for our community.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but I'm going to focus on just one.
The conventional "wisdom" in Rochester is, win the democratic primary and you're in. It's understandable why that's said, because that is what has happened for years. Because of this, the media, community groups and, yes, voters pay a lot of attention to the primary election. Whatever conventional wisdom says, it's not acceptable for the media and community groups to do this. Why?
Those who run in the primary are invited to community forums and debates. The media provides extensive coverage. Heck, every year, City Newspaper makes sure to say at some point that the winner of the democratic primary wins the general election. It's the same as announcing the winner before the polls close - it stifles voter turnout and gives an unfair advantage to certain candidates.
As we have started hitting the streets, knocking on doors, I haven't had much time to blog lately. But I think what I'm going to show you is very important and is a perfect example of why we need change in our local government.
You're not going to see something like this in the media or at any upcoming forums. This may seem to some as a personal attack, but it's not. This is about issues - how our government is run and what is done with our tax dollars.
In case you missed it, a number of Green Rochester candidates attended the most recent City Council meeting and attempted to put in a bid on Midtown Tower. This offer was not only ignored, but mocked by the current mayor as "political theater". When the vote for the deal to give a $430,000 property away to a Tom Richards campaign donor, came up, the current City Council President objected to the parking provision of the deal, the least expensive part, but in the end, ended up voting for the big chunk of the corporate welfare, as did the other elected officials.
GR Mayoral Candidate, Alex White, posted a blog about the whole affair called, Midtown Tower of Lies.
Links to the blog post was shared on Facebook by a number of people. But City Council Member, Carolee Conklin was not content with getting everything they wanted. She had to defend her decision on a constituent's Facebook page.
What follows after the jump is the edited conversation between the constituent [LW], Ms. Conklin, fellow GR City Council Candidate, Dorothy Paige and myself. The only edits made were removing the constituent's name, removing unrelated comments by people not involved in the conversation and Facebook jargon ("reply", etc.)
The day after my last post on the new Growing Communities initiative, I received an email from Mitch Gruber, FoodLink's Community Food Access Coordinator, contacted me. He had a few issues with what I said and after reading his comments, I realized that while I was trying to be brief and readable, I could have explained my views on Growing Communities a bit better.
With Mitch's permission, here is his unedited email to me:
I read your blog about our Curbside Market, and I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify the purpose of that program and how it fits into our mission at Foodlink.
· Please take a look at our mission (foodlinkny.org), and notice that we actually agree with some of your criticism. We aim to “improve health and promote economic development,” and also want to see food dollars stay within the community in which they were spent. This is why we are debuting our Healthy Corner Store Initiative along with our Curbside Market. In order to foster businesses that include healthy foods, it is necessary to show that the demand for such products exist. The Curbside Market will help us document this demand.
· Your concerns about the money leaving the neighborhood is just, but it is a bit more complex than you state. We are not generating profits from this program and using them to please shareholders; rather, we are selling healthy foods at wholesale costs and reinvesting all of the sales back into the program so that it can be self-sustaining.
o We are building capacity to help strengthen neighborhood stores, and using any revenue to reinvest in programs.
· This program is sustainable. This was a one-time infusion of capital by Citizens Bank so that we could purchase and retrofit the vehicle. At this point, we are running the program on our own. This is precisely the reason why 64% of Foodlink’s revenue is earned—this is practically unheard of for a Non-Profit. We are not in constant need of outside funding to maintain programs, and this means that the individuals and institutions that we serve can rely on the stability of our services.
o We are not banking on the contributions of corporate sponsors and will operate the program as long as it is desired.
· Our schedule only includes sites that have requested the presence of the Curbside Market. We have had conversations with the Rochester Housing Authority Resident Councils, and other neighborhood representatives, to help us choose our sites.
o “Paternalistic” is the wrong word to call the Curbside Market.
· “Underserved” is a descriptive term, and it crosses racial and ethnic barriers. We are referring literally to neighborhoods and individuals that do not have access to healthy foods. These underserved neighborhoods exist in rural and urban areas, and adversely affect people of all races and ethnicities.
o We are not using “code” to describe the issues; we are being transparent.
In an ideal world—the very world that you begin to describe in your blog—we won’t need the services of the Curbside Market. We look forward to that day. In the meantime, we are taking creative approaches to address the stratification of food access and healthy diets. I think that goal deserves better than an article entitled “underserved neighborhoods get served.”
In addition, we host a number of other programs aimed at eliminating the root causes of hunger—not just the symptoms. These include community gardens, education programs, and workforce development initiatives. We would be happy to give you and your colleagues a tour of our facilities and tell you more about our operation.
Earlier today, it was announced that a new initiative is being started in Rochester called Growing Communities. It figures that FoodLink would be behind such an effort. I like it. It’s a good start. That’s right, it’s a good start, but it is not enough.
The problem I have with the idea is it’s a paternalistic kind of help for “underserved” neighborhoods. (That’s code for where the poor folk live…which is code for where the people of color live)
So the folks who are going to run up to this farm stand-on-wheels are going to buy their food using what? Money? EBT? And the money spent goes where? Out of the neighborhood? See where I’m going with this?
When elected, the members of Green Rochester will work to make the vacant land in the underserved neighborhoods into cooperatively-owned, for profit farms. At the same time, work will begin on spurring more cooperatively-owned small businesses that have a mutual reliance on such farms (i.e. grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores, etc). Now we have money that starts in the community staying in the community.
I have been meaning to blog on this for a while now, but things with both Green Rochester and Benny Warr have been so hectic that I haven’t had a chance to sit down to collect my thoughts.
For those who do not know the situation, on May 1st, Benny Warr was on Jefferson Avenue when members of the Rochester Police Department decided to clear the public sidewalks of everyone. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. There was no crisis; marshall law was not enacted. The police do this in neighborhoods that are mostly inhabited by people of color. But we will get to get to that a bit further down.
Benny was on Jefferson Avenue in his electric wheelchair when the police told him to leave. He decided to go to a friend’s house via the bus. Seems that waiting for the bus was not acceptable to these police officers, so to get Benny off Jefferson Avenue, they decided to arrest him. Again, we will get to the problem with this further down.
Some of you may know that in my work with ADAPT, I have been arrested participating in civil disobedience. Most of my brothers and sisters in ADAPT have disabilities and many use wheelchairs. I have seen a number of police agencies, both local and federal, arrest people in wheelchairs. I have never, ever seen a police officer use this technique. (Yes, this is a link to the higher resolution video of the arrest)
Benny ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and other injuries.
If you follow Green Rochester, you know that all of the candidates have been working on behalf of Benny and his family. We were involved in the planning of the rally of support that happened last Saturday and from this incident, we will continue to be involved. Not only that, we will be using this incident and others that occur on a daily basis to continue to mold our collective and individual platforms to deal with the problems we are having with our public employees who we pay to “protect and serve”. You can help by signing this petition.
So what problems are we having?
I was quite interested in the Twitter back-and-forth about the shooting of the corporate ad…I mean movie in downtown Rochester. While there were others participating, the two main participants were reporter Rachel Barnhart (@rachbarnhart) and local attorney Peter Gregory (@PeterJGregory). While many have been swooning over the cartoon character and his crew, Rachel has been tweeting and blogging about some of the unintended effects of closing down our downtown for over a week. Peter and his twitter-horts have been arguing that all of this is good for “Rochester”. As I processed the conversation, I realized something that is very important.
Before I get to my realization, I’ll start with a disclaimer. This movie being shot in downtown Rochester does not affect me. Oh sure, I’ve had to change my driving habits a bit, but I usually have to do the same for bad drivers, potholes, that guy who walks into the street asking for change at the Inter Loop ramp at Main Street, accidents, construction and whatever other weird thing that is happening on any given day.
My realization started taking shape when some contacted me at work. (I do systems advocacy work at the Center for Disability Rights) This person commented that the re-routing of buses has made it so that people with and without disabilities were being dropped off to catch other buses on the Broad Street Bridge and that it was a dangerous situation. Bus and City officials as well as media people were basically telling this guy to buzz off.
Then today, Rachel tweeted about people being stuck out in the rain, waiting for buses on that same bridge and the only reaction others had was more about how good this movie was for Rochester. So I started thinking about whose “Rochester” this movie is good for. It seems as if this movie is good for all the people who can take off of work or school to come stand around downtown to watch the proceedings. It seems as if this movie is good for all the people who have middle class jobs in office buildings downtown whose biggest concern is if the parking garage they use will be blocked for them to get home. It’s good for public officials who “forget” their speeches.
But do you know whom it’s not good for? It’s not good for the working people who have to have two or three jobs to survive and need to get to them whether it is by car or bus. It’s not good for the people who don’t have a choice if they want to use public transportation to get to work or school. It sure isn’t good for the guy who lost his job because the bus changes made him late for work twice this week (true story).
Earlier today, City Newspaper held its Best Busker Contest. And it can honestly make that claim, because the other 364 days 19 hours of the year, busking is illegal in the City of Rochester (unless you get a permit and jump through a million other hoops).
For those who don't know what busking is, it's generally street performing for money. If you've been to any city with any kind of culture you will experience buskers. It's allowed on Saturdays at the Public Market, but of course it's controlled both in quantity and quality.
We have the Eastman School of Music, Hochstein School of Music, School of the Arts and a lot of good, independent musicians. The fact that we don't allow them to hone their craft on our corners is a shame. The musicians we have in this City would blow away any other City's and it would definitely lend to the City's character and culture.
Our musicians should be allowed to just pick a corner and play.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the Genesee-Finger Lakes Active Transportation Summit. The insufferable references to Spiderman aside, it was a very informative and thought provoking day. It was a bit of a lovefest, but I caught a lot of information about where Rochester is in terms of bikability and walkability. And as I was there as part of my job, I was able to put a lot of the info into the context of disability rights as well.
I even was impressed enough by one of the speakers, Jeff Olson, to buy his e-book online: The Third Mode: Towards a Green Society. I'm looking forward to reading his work.
The main gist of the event was: making sure our city is more bike-friendly and walking-friendly means people will be healthier, our economy will be supported and everyone will be better off. Children were a big part of this theme. Our kids are not allowed and/or it's not safe for them to bike and walk to school. This was brought up by almost every speaker.
I would love to see our kids bike and walk to school, but more bike lanes and curb cuts are not going to get it done.
First of all, our push to eliminate neighborhood schools means kids using Active Transportation to get to school is out. Even our elementary kids are bussed across town. While I'm not running for School Board, I am an advocate of neighborhood schools for a number of reasons. There are some folks who will disagree with me and I would encourage those people to engage me and the rest of the community on this site and in person. For now, I'm pointing out that the lack of neighborhood schools prevents our kids from walking and biking to school - both of which actually benefit learning.
But there is another adult-made barrier to our kids using Active Transportation. Our police department has a publicly stated policy, in the name of "safety" to harass any young, black males on bicycles. I am against this policy for a number of reasons and I will explain these reasons in a future post, but the point is, we're not going to get kids riding bikes to and from school if they know the police will be stopping and searching them.