One City, One Future – Built on a Solid Foundation
State of the City Address
Mayor Robert J. Duffy
University of Rochester, Strong Auditorium
Monday, April 27, 2009
Thank you President Seligman for your kind words and for hosting us here tonight. I can think of no better place to reflect on the past of our great city and to dream about its future. The University of Rochester began in 1850, with just 60 students. Today, it is our community’s largest employer and an engine of economic growth. We are proud to be the home of a nationally recognized leader in such diverse areas as music, business, education, medicine and scientific research.
It is hard to believe that this is my fourth State of the City address. It seems like yesterday that we met here after my first 100 days in office. As always, I must begin by thanking my family – especially my beautiful and patient wife, Barbara, and my daughters Erin and Shannon. Their unfailing support and good humor sustain me. They help me to keep my life in balance and my job in perspective. I also want to thank my father, my two brothers and Barb’s parents for their support.
I also appreciate the City’s partners in government. At the federal level, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
At the state level, I’d like to acknowledge an important first. The Senate leader has established a Rochester office to strengthen links between upstate and downstate. We appreciate Senator Malcolm Smith for his goal of one New York, and we welcome Mary Wilmot as his Rochester representative.
When it comes to advocating for Rochester in Albany, we must acknowledge two individuals. One is the dean of our delegation – the Honorable David Gantt – and the other is Assemblyman Joe Morelle. It is my honor to count them both as personal friends and steadfast allies in Albany – supported by Assembly Members Susan John and David Koon. They all deserve our thanks, as do our State Senators Joe Robach and Jim Alesi.
Working with county government, we have improved both the tone of cooperation and the tangible results. For that, I thank County Executive Maggie Brooks. Maggie, we appreciate your help in making Rochester a shining center of Monroe County.
I welcome Rochester School Board President Malik Evans and other school board members. I’d also like to acknowledge our superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard. He is a talented leader who is making positive changes in city schools.
Most importantly, I want to thank the members of City Council, our closest partners in government. On behalf of city residents, I offer my thanks to President Gladys Santiago; Carolee Conklin; John Lightfoot; Adam McFadden; Dana Miller; Carla Palumbo; Elaine Spaull; and Lovely Warren.
I especially thank our retiring Council Vice President Bill Pritchard, for his service to our city. We appreciate all you have done and wish you the best in the years ahead.
Tomorrow is our birthday! Tuesday marks the 175th anniversary of Rochester’s incorporation. My staff suggested that tonight I might warm up by leading this room in a chorus of “Happy Birthday to us.” But our great District Attorney Mike Green warns that my Raaahhh-chester singing voice could border on being illegal. So I won’t risk it.
The city’s birthday has given me cause to reflect on our history – especially how our city has re-invented itself as times change. Two leaders in particular stand out for me.
The first is Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, our city’s namesake. He and two business partners bought 100 acres around the headwaters of the Genesee River in 1803. They saw potential for flour mills in the High Falls area and after the Erie Canal opened in 1823, Rochester became a boomtown with more than 20 mills. For a time, we were the largest flour-producing city in the world.
Before Nathaniel Rochester died in 1831, he told people not to honor him with a statue or a monument. Instead, he wanted the city itself – vibrant, full of life and change – to be his memorial. You see this on his epitaph at Mt. Hope Cemetery, on a hill that overlooks the city. Translated from the Latin, it says: “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
Fifty years later, the flour business had largely moved west. In 1888, a young businessman named George Eastman introduced the first Kodak camera with that famous motto, “You press the button, we do the rest.” Consumers had the fun of taking their own pictures and the company worked behind the scenes to bring those pictures to life. Kodak helped make Rochester a manufacturing powerhouse through most of the twentieth century. We became and remain the image capital of the world – home to Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, a growing number of smaller high-tech companies and great image science programs at this University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Eastman had a passion for getting things done. Once, someone suggested that he create a foundation to carry on his good works. But Eastman said, and I quote, “If a man has wealth, he can leave it for others to administer after he is dead. I prefer getting it into action and adapting it to human needs and making the plan work.”
As I near the end of my term, the words of Nathaniel Rochester and George Eastman resonate. Like them, I see a future full of promise and possibility. I want to create immediate, visible and positive improvements to our city. But we can’t deliver those improvements from City Hall. Change is something you create – the people in this room and all the citizens of Rochester. City government’s job is to provide the infrastructure and behind-the-scenes support. It’s a spin on George Eastman’s first slogan. We’ll lay the foundation, you do the rest.
Tonight, I’d like to take Nathaniel Rochester’s advice. Let’s look around to see how our city has changed in four years. Let’s look ahead and talk about what we can achieve together in years to come.
I’ve never believed that this job is about me. It’s about we. That is why I’ve surrounded myself with perhaps the best leadership team in city history.
They are accomplished leaders in their own right – CEOs and professionals, all of whom could make more money and work fewer hours in the private sector. But like me, they believe in Rochester and want to make it better. I am lucky to have them and our city benefits from their hard work. They bring a diverse array of talents and experience, working hard to serve our city. I wish there were time to tell you about each one of them. Instead, I’d like to acknowledge only one, who is retiring at the end of this year – Julio Vasquez, our commissioner of community development. Julio has played a key role in consolidating services. It’s fair to say that he is sacrificing his job to improve city government. Please join me in thanking Julio and every member of the leadership team for their service to our city.
Recognizing that it’s not about me, let me add another thought. There are great changes taking place in Rochester, but they did not all start with this administration. I appreciate that much of today’s visible change is the fruit of seeds planted earlier. So let us also take a moment to thank two strong and visionary leaders who preceded me, Mayor Tom Ryan and Mayor Bill Johnson.
In the past four years, we have continually focused on three issues essential to our city’s success – public safety, education and economic development. Internally, we strive every day to deliver great customer service.
As a backdrop, let me update you on the city budget, which we have been working on non-stop since February. Optimizing our limited financial resources is one of City Hall’s toughest jobs.
I don’t have to tell you how bad the financial news is. Our country, state and city are facing the worst economy in 90 years. The city’s projected budget shortfall is $35 million. We must pull together to face this challenge and find ways to close the deficit without raising taxes.
The average household income in our city is $28,000. We simply cannot place any more burdens on citizens to fund government. Recognizing that there will be pain in the budget, I have taken tax increases off the table.
We have worked hard to produce fair and balanced budgets every year, without financial gimmicks. We have stabilized the tax rate and minimized fee hikes – no small achievement because demand for city services is on the rise.
Leveraging outside resources is a help. An example is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the federal stimulus bill. Four weeks ago, our deputy mayor attended a meeting at the White House with city officials from around the country. It was a technical session on the bill, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden. It became clear that no city was better organized than Rochester in identifying projects for stimulus funding. Our efforts have paid off, with almost $25 million dollars in federal stimulus aid committed so far. About half of that is for shovel-ready infrastructure projects, and half will support city services.
At the state level, we historically receive less aid than other upstate cities. Thanks to our state delegation, we have made significant progress in the fight for equity – but that fight is essentially on hold given the state’s financial crisis.
The simple fact is that we cannot rely on Albany, or on Washington, to fix our structural deficit. Instead, we must find ways to deliver the same or better services for less money.
Let me share a few examples of how we’re doing that.
• We are consolidating the Departments of Economic Development, Community Development and the former NET offices to create four outreach locations, one in each city quadrant – the new department is called Neighborhood and Business Development (NBD). These one-stop shops deliver many city services more efficiently with fewer staff and reduce our costs by more than $1 million each year. Let me pause here to illustrate our senior management team’s dedication to better government. Commissioners Carlos Carballada and Julio Vazquez, along with Director Molly Clifford volunteered to merge their departments into NBD. So in practice, Director Clifford and Commissioner Vazquez sacrificed their jobs. Commissioner Vazquez will be retiring in June and Director Clifford will be leaving at the end of this year. Julio told me he is retiring because his reason to come to government has been accomplished. He came to this Administration to make a major change in the delivery of City services. There can be no bigger change than eliminating your own job to make government more responsive. Join me in acknowledging Director Molly Clifford and Commissioner Julio Vazquez.
• Here’s a bright idea about street lights. Instead of leasing them from RG&E, we’re completing a conversion to City ownership. That saves another million dollars annually.
• We're also spending less to collect trash, in part by making the routes for City collection vehicles more efficient. Additionally, we committed to a long-term contract for disposal at the county landfill, which lowers our tipping fee for each load. Together, these two changes are saving nearly $600,000 a year.
• I have given up my City car and City cell phone, while also eliminating City cars for most top administrators. This is saving us more than $60,000 a year. There are still too many take-home cars, with most of them assigned to union employees. Reducing them further will take negotiation and possibly arbitration.
In the past three years, we’ve made scores of changes like these that work behind the scenes to save money. Altogether, they have reduced expenses by more than $13 million while maintaining or improving services.
Being fiscally responsible reduces the costs of servicing our debt. We paid off our loans on the fast ferry ahead of schedule, which will reduce our debt service by $4 million next year. Rochester earned the highest bond ratings of any major city in the state again this year, lowering debt service payments by an additional million dollars.
Next year, we will upgrade our IT system to make back-office operations more efficient. Through paperless payroll and streamlined processes, we expect to save several million dollars in the next few years.
All of the City’s parking lots, garages and parking enforcement will be consolidated in one department to reduce overhead. Previously, six different offices have had some parking responsibilities.
We will continue to focus on balancing the budget by reducing costs and making improvements that increase city property values without raising taxes.
Operating efficiently helps to fund improvements in public safety, education and economic development. These goals are linked like the legs of a stool. We must strengthen all three to lift up our city. None is more important than public safety. People must be safe and feel safe on the streets of our city. I am pleased to report that we are making significant progress.
Three years ago, Rochester had the terrible distinction of being the state’s murder capital. We no longer bear that burden, because our murder rate is on the decline. Analyzing first quarter data, so far this year we’ve recorded fewer homicides than we have in the past six years. There were fewer shootings than any first quarter in the past ten years. But we won’t celebrate, because no murder or shooting is ever acceptable. That must be part of the fabric of our community.
The total incidence of violent crimes is also headed in the right direction, downward. Comparing the first quarter of 2009 to the same period last year, the number of violent crimes decreased by 25 percent. Compared to the same period in 2006, violent crimes are down 35 percent. The numbers are still far too high. But the trend proves that our public safety strategies are having an impact. We will never apologize for taking every legal step we can to save lives.
One key to our success is the work of the police department. We have streamlined the process for recruiting and training new officers – from an average of two years to about seven months.
We also have increased the size of the force. In 2005, the RPD had 705 police officers. In 2009, we have 790 sworn officers, the largest number in department history. We have reduced administrative jobs to place more officers on street patrols. The force is supported by additional resources, like more City security guards and the “red shirts” you see downtown. Our trained security force frees up resources so our police can spend more time patrolling trouble spots.
Technology enhances our ability to fight crime. We now have 50 surveillance cameras improving safety in our neighborhoods and soon we’ll add 25 more. License plate readers help to detect illegal vehicles and catch unsafe drivers.
Shotspotter technology is proving to be an excellent tool. It helps the police respond quickly to violent crimes and to get more illegal guns off the streets. These tools will not replace our men and women in uniform, but they help the police to be more effective.
Our public safety strategy also has changed the way we police. I’ve never accepted the term zero tolerance, because that has always been our policy. Rochester will not tolerate violent crime, period. What’s new is a more flexible, preventive police presence – assigning officers where they are needed most, based on statistical crime patterns. Our officers are driving the streets, pedaling bicycles, walking beats, riding on horseback and working with the community to confront small crimes before they escalate to bigger ones. The men and women of the RPD do an outstanding job. They deserve our thanks, as do so many members of our community who support them.
Protecting citizens from fire is another key part of public safety. The men and women of Rochester’s Fire Department conduct public education and provide free smoke alarms to residents – more than 4,200 new smoke detectors in the past four years. When the alarm goes off, our crews get to the scene fast. EMS calls are up 43 percent since 2004, yet response times have gotten faster as the number of calls goes up.
If you have witnessed a significant fire, you know what a confusing and terrifying scene it is just to watch. Our fire crews head straight into the danger zone, risking their lives to save others. You may recall the fire at a high-rise apartment on St. Paul Street last December, or the house fire earlier this month on Delamaine Drive, where a mother and son were trapped. Both had the potential to be major tragedies – and in both cases, our firefighters literally saved the day. The brave men and women of the RFD deserve our thanks.
I also want to mention our 911 call center. Our highly trained operators have the most advanced call center technology available. They help our police and fire departments to respond effectively when trouble strikes. In fact, Rochester’s 911 Center has received national awards – recognized as the nation’s outstanding 911 center in 2007, with John Merklinger being named the director of the year.
The men and women in uniform are doing their jobs. We, as citizens, must continue to pitch in and help the people who wear the badge. If we do that, we can make Rochester one of the safest mid-sized cities in America. That must be our goal and I truly believe we can achieve it.
A very special man is part of the reason why. His name is Officer Anthony DiPonzio, and most of you know his story well. On January 31, Tony and three fellow officers -- Ryan Fantigrossi, Paul Dondorfer and Amy Pfeffer -- were returning to their cars when a shot rang out, striking Officer DiPonzio in the back of the head. The three officers surrounded him and got him into the vehicle and performed lifesaving first aid while driving immediately to the hospital.
I love comebacks and Tony DiPonzio is one of Rochester’s all-time comeback stories. Watching him throw out the first pitch on the Red Wings’ opening day was one of the most inspirational moments I have seen in my career. Tony, I could tell that pitch had some heat on it. All the officers involved have been recognized for their heroism. But there are some other heroes who should not be overlooked. Among them are the residents of Dayton Street who said, “enough is enough.” They cooperated with police and helped us to bring the shooter to justice. Another is the world-renowned surgeon who performed the operation on Officer DiPonzio. He is on the faculty of this University’s great medical center. Dr. Paul Maurer, our community thanks you for saving Tony’s life that night.
Finally, there is a group of people who, as Officer DiPonzio will tell you, never get enough credit. They are his family – most especially his father and mother, Tony DiPonzio senior and Joanne DiPonzio – along with his sister Gina and fiancée Amanda.
They have been largely out of the limelight but their support has been an essential part of Tony’s miraculous recovery. So tonight, I’ve asked my wife Barbara to present the DiPonzio family with a key to the City of Rochester. Mr. and Mrs. DiPonzio, this key honors the strength and love that you continue to give your son during his remarkable recovery.
Improving education is joined to our goals of public safety and economic development. When our young people succeed educationally, they become productive citizens who boost our economy. When they fail, public safety is threatened. More than half of all serious crimes are committed by high-school dropouts.
73% percent of the city’s entire property tax levy goes to our city schools. We’ve invested nearly half a billion dollars over the past four years. That’s $3,300 every year for each student. We invest $50 million more in education each year than Buffalo, which has a larger district with more students. Our young people are worth every penny of that investment. All I ask of the school district is two things – transparency and accountability.
By transparency, I mean that the taxpayers deserve a clear accounting of how their money is spent and the assurance that their investment directly benefits students. By accountability, I mean a visible return on investment. The number one responsibility of our elected school board and the district is to produce high school graduates -- young adults who are ready for college or a job.
Here we are falling short. In the last school year, 48% of the freshmen who entered four years earlier had graduated. That’s 8% higher than the year before but still more than half of our young people are failing to graduate.
We are lucky to have a national model for helping turn at-risk students into successful graduates. It is the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. The Hillside formula is simple: a mentor, a tutor and a job. When students who are struggling receive a mentor, a tutor and a job, their graduation rates more than double. Despite the tough budget year, I plan to work with City Council, community leaders and school officials on ways that we can increase support for this valuable initiative.
We all need to take action to help our young people achieve their potential. Participate in mentoring programs. Hire city kids in your businesses. If you are a city parent, recognize that helping your kids to succeed in school is a moral obligation.
As for what the City can do, I have an idea that I'll be discussing with school officials. I’d like to focus community resources – including some of our $119 million dollar investment in schools – to provide jobs for city students.
Ultimately, I would like to guarantee that every city student who stays in school can have a job after school and over the summer. If we do that, I believe we will make Superintendent Brizard’s goal of 75% graduation rates by 2012. And we shouldn’t stop there.
How do I know that educational investment pays off? I have a PRIME answer – Providing Real Incentives to Maintain Employment. The PRIME program helps young adults who didn’t graduate from school and haven’t found steady work. Some have served time in prison. In cooperation with the local Bricklayers union, the Rochester Tooling and Machining Association, Rochester Works and state government, we are able to offer training that leads to good jobs. 145 young people have graduated from this program in the past two years and 115 have been hired by local companies. They are working as equipment operators, machinists, bricklayers and in other skilled jobs that pay good wages. Some of the PRIME graduates are here tonight. I'll ask you all to stand, because I want to express how proud I am of you. Instead of giving up when the odds were against you, you have worked hard and set an example for other residents of Rochester who are struggling. We applaud you for that.
Economic development is the third focus of City government. Our objective is simple: good jobs and strong neighborhoods. We want Rochester to be the best city anywhere to live, work, play and raise a family. Focused investment is our strategy for achieving these goals. We focus in three ways.
One is impact focus – targeting enough resources to make a difference. Second is visibility focus. We invest in physical improvements that everybody can see and experience. Third is a collaborative focus, supporting projects where residents and private-sector businesses are engaged and invested. Within that framework, attracting and retaining jobs is a top priority. That is a challenge in these tough economic times, but our team has put together an impressive list of wins.
In our center city, the new ESL headquarters project has brought back the welcome sight of construction cranes to downtown. The ESL project is on schedule for completion in 2010, bringing 300 employees to our center city.
At Midtown, PAETEC remains committed to building a new headquarters that will anchor the property’s redevelopment. Asbestos remediation starts in June and demolition will begin later this year.
The High Falls area is also attracting interest as a business location. We are working with Stantec, an architecture and construction engineering company to move its 140 employees into the former Saddle Ridge and Jillians site.
I also want to recognize CGI Communications, which has nearly 200 employees in the Granite Building. In addition, CEO Bob Bartosciewicz has brokered several meetings with businesses considering a move to the city. Bob is a great booster for Rochester and I expect CGI to announce more good news very soon.
We appreciate all four of these companies for their investment in Rochester. In additions, there are two other business leaders here I’d like to recognize for supporting economic development. One is Sandy Parker, the CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance. She has become a statewide figure in the business community and is a behind the scenes partner to Rochester on multiple city projects.
The other is Mark Peterson, who was just named president of the Greater Rochester Enterprise. Sandy and Mark, please stand so that we can applaud your efforts.
Not all of the action in economic development is happening downtown. Let me share a few other examples.
The old Valeo plant on Lyell Avenue is now the Canalside Business Center. That development is almost complete, with 42 business tenants employing more than 600 people.
The former Kodak Park is also being reborn as Eastman Business Park. More than 20 new tenants have relocated there and my staff is working with the company to fill up the rest of the former Kodak space.
There are many other sizable employers that have decided to keep or expand their businesses in Rochester after considering offers to move. Our top 10 list includes Bausch & Lomb, Carestream Health, Delphi, Gleason Works, Hickey Freeman, Klein Steel, McAlpin Industries and Upstate Niagara Cooperative.
Altogether, our economic development team in four years has helped attract or retain more than 350 companies that represent 14,000 jobs.
Let me highlight one recent example. It’s the former High Falls Brewing Company, a fixture in Rochester since its founding as the Genesee Brewery in 1857. Last year, this proud history was in danger of ending. Our economic development team, working with their colleagues in County government, developed a package of incentives to attract private investment. The incentives helped KPS Capital Partners to purchase High Falls earlier this year. The deal created North American Breweries, saving 375 jobs in Rochester, with the possibility of adding more jobs in the future.
I am pleased to welcome the new CEO here tonight. He happens to be a graduate of the Simon School, and his name is Richard Lozyniak. Richard, we are pleased to be the headquarters for North American Breweries and to welcome you back to Rochester.
Small businesses are equally important to our economic development strategy. We have streamlined the process for helping business owners to get City permits and worked with local developers to attract new businesses. It’s been my pleasure to take part in the openings of dozens of small businesses during my first term in office.
If you are an employer of any size looking to set up shop or expand, we are open for business and ready to work with you on a great city location.
Successful businesses make Rochester a great place to work. Successful neighborhoods make it a great place to live. Our focused investment strategy targets City resources in neighborhoods where we have the greatest chance of success.
Our use of Community Development Block Grant money helps to explain the strategy. In the past, our resources were spread a mile wide and an inch deep. It was hard to make an impact. Today, we place a priority on core housing programs city-wide. We promote home ownership and lead abatement in every neighborhood. Demolishing abandoned houses is one of the most visible parts of the effort. Since 2006, we have demolished 642 vacant houses. Another 287 structures are in our demo pipeline.
We also give targeted support to four neighborhoods for their improvement plans. To date, we’ve dedicated $5.5 million in city funds to these efforts, plus $6 million in matching grants. We are working to add $17 million in private financing.
Does strategic investment in targeted areas work? Let’s look around. There are some key initiatives that began during the Ryan and Johnson administrations that -- along with our focused investment projects -- are coming to fruition. To see the changes I’m talking about, let’s imagine that you had moved away from Rochester five years ago and were coming back today for your first return visit. Your plane lands at the airport and before you get to the rental car counter, a tall guy who says he’s the Mayor offers to show you some great changes in the city.
We start down Brooks Avenue, west of the river. Five years ago, there was nothing here. The University was on one side, a struggling city neighborhood on the other. Today there’s a new hotel, coffee shop, and U of R offices at Brooks Landing. Students and university employees are shopping and eating in this neighborhood, which used to be a world away.
Now we turn left onto South Plymouth Avenue. Five years ago, it was a tired-looking street without much activity. Today, you see the Riverview apartments, which house 400 University students. There are new businesses on South Plymouth as well. It’s clearly a neighborhood on the rise.
At the end of South Plymouth, we see Carlson Commons, a new community with 77 units of family housing. Then we loop around a new traffic circle. Across the river, near the Ford Street Bridge you will notice some demolition taking place.
Soon it will be a construction site for Erie Harbor, a residential and commercial waterfront development. It will be next to the Hamilton Tower high-rise, continuing the resurgence of our South Wedge neighborhood.
Heading down Exchange Boulevard we can see that the Corn Hill neighborhood is booming. Corn Hill Landing adds a new residential and retail destination right along the waterfront. Driving into downtown, new signs and sidewalks welcome us to the Center City. We see many new downtown residences as we tour the streets. Four years ago, there was a parking lot across from Kodak Office. That’s now the Mills at High Falls, a beautiful townhome community for people at a variety of income levels.
Using grants from the Restore New York program, many historic structures that were vacant have been converted to condos or apartments along with retail and office space. There’s the Cox Building; the Kirstein Building; the Parazin Building; and the Warner building. More than 4,750 residents will be living downtown in 2009. That’s nearly a 50% increase over five years ago.
Continuing to the east side of downtown, we catch sight of work being done at the new ESL headquarters site on Chestnut Street. Across the street is the newly expanded Strong National Museum of Play, the second largest children’s museum in the nation. On Gibbs Street, there’s renovation work being done at the Eastman Theater.
Heading east out of downtown, there’s change almost everywhere we turn. Let’s travel down Main Street to the Public Market, where we are working with the Marketview Heights Association to lift up the surrounding neighborhood. An empty factory at 55 Railroad Street has become a new apartment building. We’ve attracted businesses like Boulder Coffee, the Lemon Grass restaurant and Rohrbach Brewery. The city is investing in infrastructure and parking to help this area bustle seven days a week.
Heading east on University Avenue, Art Walk II has enhanced Rochester’s answer to Greenwich Village. It’s always been a great place to live, work and experience Rochester culture. Soon it will be even better, with $3.8 million dollars in federal stimulus money to expand the footprint with partners like the Memorial Art Gallery.
Somebody once called me the cheerleader-in-chief for Rochester. I will wear that badge with honor; promoting this great city is part of my job. But these pictures show that the changes we are making together aren’t just cheerleading. They are real, tangible results. Like planting seeds in a garden, the transformation takes time. But the results will come -- and they will be beautiful.
So to all the naysayers who talk our city down, I repeat Nathaniel Rochester’s request. “Look around.” Take a look at what is really going on. We have great companies to work for, great neighborhoods to live in and great places to enjoy shopping or entertainment. If you want to criticize City government, that’s fine. But please, don’t just criticize. Offer up your own ideas for how we can do things better.
To the residents of neighborhoods that are struggling, I offer the same two words with a different meaning. Look around; and join with your neighbors to improve our community. City Hall can’t fix things alone. We can’t address every problem at once. But when neighbors come together with a viable plan to make things better, we will back you 100 percent.
Jefferson Avenue is a great example. Local residents have developed a master plan for improving the neighborhood. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has secured a federal grant, and the City is helping with almost $2 million in infrastructure improvements. Four years from now, Jefferson Avenue will be one of Rochester’s latest success stories.
What else is in our future? We intend to reach the tipping point of 10,000 residents in downtown Rochester, served by a neighborhood grocery store. Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood. It is also the city’s economic engine.
Our property values are on the rise in Rochester and we will continue that trend. We will keep working until every neighborhood is a great place for people to live, work and raise a family.
Entertainment also supports economic development. There’s no better example than the Rochester International Jazz Festival. It has grown to become one of the top five events of its kind in the world. We expect 125,000 visitors this year, giving our local economy a $15 million boost.
The City is also planning a special pavilion across from Eastman Theatre. This temporary facility will host the RPO and our 175th birthday gala and other City events. The MusicFest will be free this year to celebrate our 175th anniversary and the event will return to its first home at Brown’s Square. The popular Party in the Park music series will continue to bring thousands of people downtown for free summer concerts. As always, we have fantastic festivals that celebrate our neighborhoods, showcase our talents and draw visitors to our city.
Along with events, we are improving public spaces for everyone to enjoy. At the old ferry terminal, the new Pier 45 night club will soon be joining today’s shops and restaurants. It will be a great addition to our waterfront, opening this summer.
The whole Port of Rochester redevelopment is also taking shape. In three to five years, it will transform our Charlotte neighborhood into a seaside village with a beautiful new marina.
In Northeast Rochester, the Ryan Center combines a library, elementary school and shared recreation center in one great new facility. The Center will be opened this September.
Manhattan Square Park has undergone a major facelift. Thousands of people visited this winter to enjoy the new ice rink and thousands more will be back next summer to enjoy outdoor concerts.
And who can forget Durand Beach? When I announced a plan to reopen the beach at my first State of the City Address right here, a lot of people thought I was crazy. But Durand has become a summer hot spot. There were more than 90,000 beachgoers last summer.
Externally our focus is on public safety, education and economic development. Internally, we work to improve customer service.
Clean Sweep has evolved from an untested idea to a national best-practice that other cities are following. Every year, I am gratified to see thousands of people helping to clean up trash and make our city shine.
Make no mistake: the vast majority of City employees are honest and hardworking, but when needed, our Office of Public Integrity makes sure that wrongdoing is addressed. It helps give people confidence in their government.
311 One Call to City Hall logged more than 500,000 calls in our first 16 months. We are tracking results to continually improve.
The City’s new website, which went live last Monday, is another way to serve our customers better. Let me show a few of the features.
Want to see what local festivals are coming up? Check out the “What’s New” or “Upcoming Events” section. Want to check on the status of a parking ticket, or make your payment electronically? One click does the trick at cityofrochester.gov. You can also schedule the use of facilities at City parks, find a document or send a message to any City department. The design makes it easier to find the information you need and like our 311 service, it’s available 24/7/365. When it comes to customer service, Rochester is the city that never sleeps.
I will put my team’s record up against any other city in the country. Our city can be proud of the results we’re achieving, given the enormous challenges we face.
We have made tough choices and I know some people may have disagreed with them.
• The decision to shut down the ferry
• To focus investment on a few neighborhoods at a time
• To police more aggressively
• To implement a teen curfew
Not all of these decisions were politically popular. After four years in office, I still don’t think of myself as a politician. I’m a public servant. I think this distinction is important in many ways. A politician is concerned about image. A public servant is accountable for results. A politician will divide our community for personal gain. A public servant works for everyone and tries to bring people together. A politician says, “Vote for me, and I will make things better.” A public servant says, “Work with me, and we will make things better.”
I am a public servant. And as proud as I am of the last four years, I am my own worst critic. I am running for re-election because our job is not yet done. We need to focus, more than ever, on becoming one great city full of hope, unity and commitment.
It occurs to me that, in 2084, our city will celebrate its 250th birthday. Another Mayor will be standing before an audience like you to talk about the state of the city. I don’t think for a moment that this future mayor will remember my name. But I am very confident that an audience in 2084 will remember this time in our history.
They will recall how Rochester has changed from a booming mill town in the 19th century to a manufacturing hub in the 20th. And then, when the global economy took manufacturing jobs away, how Rochester remade itself again. They will celebrate the city’s ability to survive and thrive in the 21st century economy.
How will we achieve this destiny? Look around. Success won’t come from Albany or Washington. We’ll create it here, working together. Every family, every resident, must play a role:
• By reporting crimes to the police
• By keeping houses and yards in good shape
• By patronizing businesses in our neighborhoods
• By being a good neighbor and good citizen
Government’s role is to deliver services efficiently and do the behind the scenes work that supports our success. I promise that City government will do this job with urgency, energy and passion.
I am proud to say that City government is improving. We are more responsive, more creative and more focused on improving people’s confidence in our great city. I hope that you see and feel this difference, because it’s not my opinion that counts – it’s yours.
I invite you tomorrow to celebrate 175 years of our city with a giant birthday cake from Wegmans at City Hall. More importantly, I invite you to join in writing the next chapter in the history of Rochester. Let’s look around, see what needs to be done, and get to work.
The state of our city is on the rise and I firmly believe our best days truly are ahead.
God bless America and God bless our great city. Thank you.