Quality of Life
Rochester is a great city to live in. We can make it even better by increasing the amount of parks and green space. Some examples of what we can do include community gardens, hands-on educational and scientific exhibits, and spaces for artistic expression. Creating open spaces, where people can hang out and interact with their friends and neighbors, will help make Rochester a world-class city where young professionals choose to live.
Another way to benefit our community is to expand the operating hours and programs provided by libraries and recreation centers. Libraries and recreation centers provide a place for people to entertain and educate themselves without spending money. They provide a venue for older residents to socialize, as well as a place for young people whose after-school options may be limited if both parents work. Every person should feel that Rochester has something to offer which improves the quality of their life.
Helping the Least Fortunate
We can tell a lot about a community by how it treats its least fortunate citizens. Back in 2014, after privatizing a parking garage, the City of Rochester evicted a small group of homeless people who had been staying there overnight, in the dead of winter. Concerned citizens helped them set up a temporary encampment under a bridge, out of everyone’s way. In response the City used bulldozers to destroy the camp. What few possessions the homeless had, including IDs they would need to get a job, were destroyed in the process.
This is unacceptable. Rochester has a small homeless population of around 200 people. We can afford to take care of them. Many homeless people end up committing minor crimes in order to go to jail, where they have a roof over their head and food to eat. Putting homeless people in jail costs more money, than it would take to give them their own apartment. Our city’s policy toward the homeless does not make sense.
I propose a two-part plan for helping our city’s homeless population. The first step is to ensure we can provide shelter for anyone who needs it. We will do this in part by renovating vacant properties. The second step is to transition homeless people into the job market by allowing them to live in vacant properties for a short period of time. Having a bed to sleep in, a shower, and some nice clothes makes a job interview go a lot better. Those who qualify for the second stage will be free of mental health or substance abuse issues. For those who do not qualify the appropriate social services will be provided.
Civil Liberties and Equal Rights
Each and every person, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, religion or lack thereof, is entitled to the protection and enjoyment of their civil liberties, and equal rights under the law. While our nation has made great strides forward, today we face new challenges. The City of Rochester must safeguard the civil liberties of its residents against threats from any source.
Our tax dollars should not be given to corporations. Granting tax breaks has the same effect as direct subsidies — if some pay less taxes, others must pay more. There are many ways to make Rochester a desirable place to own a business. The first step is to welcome all businesses by not favoring some at the expense of others.
I will ensure the city’s business assistance programs do not include direct subsidies or tax breaks. There will be no exceptions.
Our plan for economic development will encourage the development of small businesses in Rochester. Small businesses provide the majority of jobs, and those jobs are all local. When a person starts their own business in Rochester, it helps everyone in our community. Here are a few things we can do to make this easier:
In the past, the City of Rochester taxed home businesses (where the business owner lives above their store) at the residential property tax rate, rather than the commercial rate. Now all business are taxed at the commercial rate. What this means is that if you decide to start a business from your home, you are punished by the City with a tax increase. This is the wrong approach. We will return to the policy of taxing home businesses at the residential rate. We will also address zoning issues which pose obstacles to the operation of home businesses.
Repeal the “point system” which punishes businesses for crimes committed nearby, over which they often have no control. If there are too many points assessed a business is forced to close, and the jobs are lost. If the city is unable to control criminal activity, forcing businesses to close is not the answer. Instead, we should be addressing the root causes of crime and poverty. Encouraging business ownership and job creation is one way to address these problems.
Another candidate for repeal is the “7/11 law”. Businesses in the city are only allowed to operate from 7am to 11pm, unless they obtain a variance. In practice, this means that businesses who give campaign contributions to elected officials receive variances, and their competitors do not. This is unfair and is effectively a hidden tax on operating a business at night. There are other regulations which deserve a critical look.
We will create a “business owner hotline” for anyone who needs help starting or operating a business. There are any number of problems which stand in the way of running a business in the city. Our goal should be to eliminate them one by one.
A Sustainable Local Economy
Local businesses spend money in our community and hire people in our community. When making purchases or awarding contracts, the city will select local businesses whenever practical. That means businesses located in the city, as well as those outside the city which are owned by city residents.
Cooperative businesses which are owned by their employees keep wealth in the community. A common investment in startup capital can make it easier to open a cooperative business than a traditional proprietorship. Workers in cooperative businesses earn more, which allows them to spend more money in the city. The city will provide legal and business advice to encourage cooperative businesses, and make it a priority to remove obstacles to their operation.
We will promote farmers’ markets and encourage the sale of local agricultural produce. This includes relaxing restrictions on where agricultural produce may be sold. To the extent practical, everything Rochester needs should be produced in or near the city. We are only now recovering from a decade-long recession, caused by the failure of our national and global economic institutions. A sustainable local economy will protect us from future problems of this kind.
Debt and Taxes
This year, some people are talking about a tax cut. We currently pay $35 million every year in interest on our City’s debt. If we paid off our debt, we would be able to cut taxes by $35 million, without giving up anything our city provides its residents. First we will pay off our debt, and then we can have a $35 million tax cut, all other things being equal.
Public Safety and Government Accountability
Our citizens must be able to trust our city government and police force. Past policies including “zero tolerance” and the elimination of local precincts have eroded this trust. We must rebuild the relationship between our police and those they serve. This will encourage cooperation which helps solve crimes.
First we must strengthen the Civilian Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct. At the present time it does not have the ability to compel testimony, all proceedings are kept secret from the public, and its recommendations can be ignored by the Chief of Police. We might as well not have civilian review at all. As a first step, we will grant subpoena power to the CRB, and mandate that all proceedings be a matter of public record.
When police officers live in the community where they work, everyone benefits. Relationships with the community improve, leading to higher rates of cooperation and better success in fighting crime. Police officers report higher levels of job satisfaction when they work alongside their neighbors. To encourage city residency, police officers who live in the city will be paid a bonus of $10,000 on top of the salary for which they qualify.
Finally, we will explore options for making the Chief of Police an elected position, like the county Sheriff. By and large the Sheriff’s department does a good job of serving the community, and one reason is that the Sheriff is directly accountable to the people.
Service in government should be open to as many people as possible. When politicians make public office a lifetime career, they become disconnected from the lives of the people. Just like we presently have for the County Legislature, we will put in place term limits for the Mayor and City Council.