Each and every politician leaves their own mark on this city. The longer the career, the more up to debate as to what that legacy is. This has been a strange election year, this city as heard about every promise that can be made by each and every person running for an office. All we can do is look back and see what legacies previous Mayors have left, that our new one can grow on.
If you went on the street and asked a hundred people what they thought about Robert Duffy, you would get a hundred different answers. From a long career in the police force ending as Chief of Police to a four year term as Mayor, to now a position in Cuomo’s inner circle, there is no simple answer what Duffy means to this city.
The wide range of actions during his political career runs the gambit of altruistic to draconian. With rumors of his returning to Rochester to run the Rochester Business Association, we took a look back to his lengthy career in public service.
Born in Rochester’s Tenth ward, Duffy graduated from Aquinas institute, attended Monroe community college and later RIT. He joined the police force in 1976, while working nights to earn his Master degree from Syracuse University.
In 1990, Duffy entered the spotlight by leading an investigation into the use of excessive force in his department. This led to a series of indictments across the force, which were later acquitted. John Parrinello, the lawyer who defended the indicted police, would later run against Duffy in the 2005 mayor race.
The investigation helped Duffy rise to Deputy Chief of Police in 1992 and later Chief in 1998.
Duffy took on two tasks as acting Chief of Police. One was a structural reform of the Police force, breaking up the five precints, the other was a instilling strict discipline both in the police force and on the streets.
He quickly pasted a number of measures to combat crime, including Crimestat a performance management system to crack down on violent crimes by analyzing where the worst offenses took place, an anti gang initiative, and Rochester’s first drug summit to find answers to Rochester increasing drug use.
Working with Mayor Johnson, Duffy helped reorganize the police department from the five precincts to the east-west districts based on the Genesee river that we now know today. He used the redistricting to cut the police force, disciplining and laying off over 50 police officers during the redistricting. The most widely publicized firings were in 2002 when he fired police officers involved in racial discrimination and fondling women during traffic stops.
Desipte how good firing corrupt cops sounds good on paper the city suffered in those years. By the time Duffy retired in 2005 to run for mayor crime was the highest it had been in over a decade. All of the work Duffy had done previously during his term was thrown out the window because Rochester simply did not have enough police officers to handle the city.
Duffy entered the election with an overwhelming support. His campaign outspent opponents 10 to 1, raising over $760,000 during the campaign.
There were many that adamantly opposed his campaign. The Locust Club, Rochester’s police union, not only didn’t endorse their previous Chief, they donated heavily to his competitor Wade Norwood, and even ran anti-Duffy ad campaigns during the course of the election. Hundreds of members of the union openly opposed Duffy, and his decision to redistrict the police force. The ex-Chief even came under attack by The Center of Government Research, they very organization that advocated for redistricting a few years prior.
Duffy blamed a personality clash between him and the longtime head of the union, Ron Evangelista, as the real reason that the endorsement went to Norwood. Since his investigation into the use of excessive force in the department, Duffy has clashed with the union. Supporters also noted that competitor Norwood himself had voted for a budget measure that allowed for funding of Duffy’s controversial redistricting while serving on the city council.
Despite lacking endorsements that would seem critical to win the Mayor seat, Duffy won by a 10% margin and was sworn in on January 1st 2006.
Bob Duffy was sworn in as the Mayor of Rochester, NY, on Jan. 1, 2006, for a four year term, and was re-elected in November 2009.
In his inaugural speech he laid out a seemingly pie in the sky agenda that focused on improvements to public safety, education, and economic development. He stressed that all three of those were linked, and one would not grow without the other two.
In 2006 he brought 14,000 volunteers together to literally clean up the streets in ‘Rochester’s Clean Sweep’. .
That year he also brought 30 local organizations together to form the Rochester Fair Share Coalition, an organization committed to bringing government, businesses, and non profits together to develop the city. The group would later evolve into the Rochester Community Coalition which works with the Rochester Business Alliance closely.
In 2007 he created the ‘Summer of Opportunity’ foundation which helped youth find summer employment with local businesses.
The same year he instituted the Zero Tolerance imitative, which was meant to fight crime in the city. This helped lower crime in the city, but also is still being referenced as a precursor to controversial policies such as ‘Stop and Frisk’ or the ‘Cool Down’ campaign of this summer.
He is also credited with helping Rochester navigate one of the worst recessions in recent history. He lowered tax rates in the city limits, helped bring in private investments through the Fair Share Coalition, and reduced government spending.
In May, 2010 Robert Duffy was nominated to run as Lt. Governor on Andrew Cuomo’s ticket. After a successful November election Robert J. Duffy resigned as mayor on Jan. 1, 2011. Cuomo immediately put him to work on a slew of committees.
He was appointed as chair to the Regional Development Council, an organization that was built to more effectively use state money in each county. The development council did help bring more money into each region, but there is some controversy as to whether it has effectively boosted business or helped pander to previously established companies.
He was also made the head of the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission and Mandate Relief Council, which help allocate government resources in each district and help weed our old financial laws that burden local government.
In May of 2012, the Lieutenant Governor was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. This award is given annually by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO). The Medal honors notable American citizens who demonstrate a life committed to community service.
Despite being on a slew of economic councils, Duffy has come under heat by local politicians and reporters questioning how much he has actually done for Rochester during his time in Albany.
Bill Nojay, 133rd NY Assembly District, said to News10NBC, “I’m not sure I could point to anything that Bob Duffy has done to help Rochester’s economy, or frankly, any of upstate New York. Bob Duffy has not been able to change the pattern of this administration of taking care of New York City first, second and third, and the rest of the state is an afterthought.”
Mayor Richards quickly came to his defense stating “I don’t know that I would accept the fact that he hasn’t delivered already. One of the things I have noticed, I used to go down there with then Mayor Duffy, the level of reception we get now, and the people we get to meet with, and the attention we get is already significantly different than it was before. He’s not in a position to just shower money on the city of Rochester and forget about everybody else.”
Last year, the city got what essentially was a $15 million advance in its state aid and that Lt. Governor Duffy was responsible for. But later, the Senate and Assembly decided to give other cities an advance in their state aid as well.
Last year the Regional Development Council awarded 96.2 million dollars to Rochester’s business region, the largest amount given to any region in New York. And this year’s state budget included $26 million to revitalize the inner loop and fix local roads.
Law reforms though SAGE will also help the city save $21 million this year with an expected $80 million over the next five years.
Future with Our City
Bob Duffy is expected to take over the Rochester business Association when Sandra Parker retires next year. In this role he would be the direct voice in Albany for Rochester’s business community , working with many of the organizations he has created or help grow. The rumors that he may take this role have already seemed to quell investor uneasiness about the recent turbulent political election.
Whether he takes the position or not, Robert Duffy has already left his mark on our city in a multitude of ways.
All of his policies and actions in regards to the police force are still being discussed today. If the police force is the sword of justice in the city he started with a dull, corrupt, rusted blade and reworked it, throwing out the corrupt officials, strictly enforcing code of conduct and giving them the power to fight some of the worst crime the city has ever had with the Zero Tolerance policies.
In some ways he over sharpened the blade. Instead of worrying about mass corruption we now discuss the negative effects of policies similar to Zero Tolerance, with all of the horror stories that come out of Operation Cool Down and Stop and Frisk the discussion is not whether the police force cannot do their job, its are they doing their job too well.
The policies and organizations he invested in are still being touted by politicians today. Youth employment opportunities, rec centers, volunteer organizations, lowering taxes on local businesses, each and every one of these policies are still being discussed at great length by local candidates.
Whether you believe in his policies or not, or whether you feel like Duffy did not do enough for this city as lieutenant governor, you still have to admit that he has been an iatrical part of what this city is today.