Mayor of Rochester, NY, Lovely Warren, came into office self charged with a mission of change. Nearly two years ago, she was sworn in on the first of January, 2014. From the beginning of her campaign, through to the midst of her management, she’s carried a banner for improvement of what have often been sorry statistics in our city.
Our highest numbers are in categories like murder rates, and some of our worse grades, have been grades themselves. Imposing obstacles to tackle, Warren, having grown up here herself and dealing with some of these circumstances made it her mission to create a vision of these changes, and a unified populace, a ‘WE’, to manifest it. The home page of the City of Rochester website mainstays Warren quoted, “Our mission is to create more jobs, safer neighborhoods, and better educational opportunities for our citizens”, opting to reinforce the mentality of it being ‘our’ mission, that ‘we’ are pursuing.
It’s been no secret to any resident that Rochester has been in a state of economic disparity for longer than most would like to acknowledge. The city has seen a rash of failing business, lack of jobs, and overall absence of money build for nearly two decades. Being one of her focal goals, Warren has worked to bring some new opportunity for life, and growth. Some a direct result of action she has taken, and some, perhaps more a result of a communative change in outlook? In a block that was long occupied by dirty, empty lots (one a gas station, and another, once upon a time, a Wegmans), and old offices, now resides the hip, upscale looking College Town. It’s a new close-knit retail/dining/living district located in the heart of the Mt. Hope/Elmwood and University of Rochester neighborhoods. In addition to the 150 new apartment units, and the Hilton Garden Inn, it also contains over 20 new stores and dining options, bringing their new jobs and employment options with them.
Not far from College Town, at one of the more southern areas, and what was formerly the Iola campus, through a partisanship with Costello and Son, construction has been underway of the new CityGate district. With goals similar to those of College Town, such as shopping, living, dining, and recreation, CityGate hopes to do it on a grander, 45 acre scale. With Costco, a business new to the area, as an anchor establishment, Warren claims that the 200 million dollar project brings more than 1,000 permanent jobs, 1,500 construction jobs, and over 55 million dollars in combined tax revenue, over the course of 20 years. A project that was at one point in time in jeopardy, Warren worked together with the County Executive, and other County Minority leadership to advance the Costco project, and save the jobs CityGate stood to create.
Job creating endeavors like these all tie into the overall transformation effort. Some of them bring just as much aesthetic change. The Tower at Midtown is a whole block reborn. The RTS Transit Center has reshaped Main St.. Some say it’s hurt the small business there, while the mayor believes it opens the area for revitalization. At the very least, it takes the crowds out of the unforgiving cold of western New York winters, and puts them in the shelter of a “state of the art” airport-esque station.
As well as the beginning of construction for the proposed Regional Transportation Center, a large, modern, new facility to take the place of the existing Greyhound/Trailways station. The new center will not only be for the existing bus services, but connect to the adjacent railway, and be utilized by Amtrak, in addition to local taxis, RTS, pedestrians and bicyclists. The site exists as part of the “Empire Corridor”, a 463 mile rail system connecting Penn Station in NYC, to Niagara Falls. The city, and future location, were selected by the Federal Railroad Administration to be part of the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. The hope is that it will promote economic development, livability, and sustainability, by connecting downtown Rochester with other locations along the Empire Corridor.
Some of the specific personal efforts Lovely has made stand to bring new economic possibilities to the city. After learning of the President’s ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’, she was determined to get Rochester recognized. As a result, our region was selected as one of 12 in the nation to be designated, giving us access to $1.3 billion in federal assistance. She met with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington D.C. to make a case for essential work at the Port of Rochester. Some believe the Port to be a dead joke after the Fast (Failure) Ferry departed for good after only a short stay. But nonetheless, she returned from that trip with another $2.2 million in funding. Warren also rallied with Governor Cuomo’s Global New York campaign, in an attempt to get the city of Rochester designated as the global center for the rapidly upcoming photonics industry. And, like her or not, most of us know how that turned out.
Mayor Warren isn’t solely looking to create and maintain jobs here, she’s also adamant about filling those jobs with a bright, capable, LOCAL, educated workforce, by being sure students here are being given every deserved opportunity to succeed, seizing those opportunities, and helping to create a better overall community.
Growing up and attending school in the city, specifically Joseph C. Wilson Magnet High School, she admittedly struggled early on, and is familiar with the strong perseverance in can require to succeed. A couple months after beginning her 2014 term, she called together the city’s Early Learning Council to create more sure paths of success for the children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable, attending school in Rochester. After many public discussions and hearings that included parents, practitioners, and early childhood experts, Warren and the ELC initiated the Mayor’s 3-to-3 Initiative. The 3-to-3 Initiative stands for 3 years old, to 3rd grade. They believed and concluded that these can be the most formative years for a child. There have been direct correlations between a child’s social and academic ability at the end of the 3rd grade, and their likelihood of graduating high school. For example, a child who isn’t reading by 3rd grade is statistically far less likely to graduate.
The Initiative includes developing programs to stem summer learning loss, and enrichment programs during the school year to increase literacy. It also aims to create children’s scholarships and child care subsidies to assist low-income families. Funding to libraries and recreation centers has been increased, including plans to expand the libraries’ in-home literacy support service. And while addressing the crucial younger years of a child’s educations and development, she acknowledged older students and teens as well, instituting the City Hall internship program, which allows students to work in and with different departments of City Hall. This, along with programs such as Operation Transform Rochester, are geared towards honing and sharpening young adults’ individual skills and traits.
All these efforts can subsequently change the nature and atmosphere of our city wide community. And they will certainly be many steps in the right direction. Though the safety, and environment of many neighborhoods, sadly remains one of danger, fear, and crime. Warren will point out that the city’s violent crimes are at a 10 year low, and major crime is at 25 year low. There is nothing but good to come from that, and it’s most definitely something to be pleased about. But, those numbers lose a bit of their luster when considering we’ve long lead the nation in some of these departments. Our city has become saturated with some of the most dangerous drugs available, heroin specifically, and the death, disease, and disparity that comes along with it. And we still place on the podium in homicides.
And not all of the Mayor’s public relations have been sunshine and rainbows. For many, the handling of the homeless sanctuary often referred to as Tent City, mars her tenure. The unclear communication between city officials and the “city’s” occupants, followed by its bulldozing/demolition, angered many and drew into question Warren’s compassion and humanitarianism. A Facebook/Twitter debacle that followed, wherein questionably worded and testy responses to a critic of the Tent City incident were made from Warren’s social media accounts. The Mayor’s office maintains that the accounts were compromised, and that no such messages were written or sent by Warren or any member of her staff.
A lot has come of Lovely’s short time in office. Much good has been accomplished, while there is still change to be desired. Perhaps it should be remembered that she is the youngest to be elected to the role in our city. Maybe she still has learning to do, as we have to do of her. No one’s terms are flawless. But if nothing else, I believe she is pointing the PEOPLE and some of their mentalities in a proper direction. Urging the people of our city to adopt a vision of WE, and see our tribulations as OUR collective issues, that not one person, nor one mayor, can solve in a day.