Transcript - Mayor Robert J. Duffy's Second Inaugural Address, delivered January 1, 2010.
One City, One Future – Building Upon a Solid Foundation
Good Afternoon. I would like to thank our incoming City Council President Lovely Warren for that wonderful introduction. You are a superb Council Member and it has been a pleasure working with you. Together, with you and the other members of Council, I am looking forward to working as a team for Rochester’s renaissance.
I am honored and privileged to be here today to begin my second term. I am grateful to the citizens of Rochester for their vote of confidence in me and my administration. Your support is an affirmation of our City team and the work they have done – an acknowledgement that Rochester is headed in the right direction.
I am enormously grateful being given the opportunity to be the mayor of the city of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, George Eastman and so many others who have shaped Rochester as one of the greatest cities in our State and the nation.
I would also like to thank my wonderful family for their love and steadfast support. My wife Barbara, our two daughters Erin and Shannon and my father Neil are my foundation and my support systems. I also thank my two brothers, Gerry and Neil, and my in-laws, Bill and Virginia Donoughue. I am forever grateful to all of you.
I would also like to acknowledge my predecessors, Mayor Thomas P. Ryan and Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. I am honored to carry on their many great works. My promise to all of you today is to do everything humanly possible to keep improving our great city.
To the many people who worked on my election campaign; to our national and state elected delegations; to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter; to Governor David Paterson; to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo; to Assemblymen David Gantt and Joe Morelle; to Senator Joe Robach; to our City Council; to County Executive Maggie Brooks; to District Attorney Mike Green; to the County Legislature; to Superintendant Jean-Claude Brizard, President Malik Evans and the entire City School Board; and most especially to the almost 3,000 City employees who bring their tremendous gifts and talents for the betterment of our community, including Deputy Mayor Patty Malgieri; Darryl Porter; Tom Richards and all of the Senior Management Team. On behalf of the citizens of Rochester, I thank you.
As great as Rochester is, it is a city that has experienced years of decline since the 1980’s that will not be turned around overnight. Our rebirth will take years and perhaps several administrations. Just look at Brooks Landing, a project that took more than 20 years to complete. Four years ago, our team set a tone of hope, unity and commitment for Rochester’s rebirth. While much has been accomplished during that time, we still have much to do and formidable challenges to overcome.
Our goal was to lay a solid foundation based upon the building blocks of public safety, education and economic development with a strong focus on customer service. We have laid that foundation.
Public safety indicators are trending in the right direction. Fires were down and crime in Rochester is on the decline with major crimes now at their lowest level in 25 years. Violent crime last year fell 13 percent from the year before and all major crimes were 20 percent lower than 2005, the year before I took office. The 28 murders last year were the lowest in a decade – 36% lower than 2008. Chief Moore, Chief Caufield and the men and women of the RPD and RFD, along with our community partners, deserve a round of applause. They are saving lives and making our streets safer.
I am proud to say that Rochester is no longer considered the “Murder Capital of New York State.” The trends are going in the right direction, but we are far from done. We have increased the size of our police force to the highest level in history. We are increasing the use of technology to fight crime and put more officers on the street. Our Office of Public Integrity is working diligently to eliminate fraud, corruption, waste and abuse, giving people renewed confidence in City government.
We have been good stewards of our fiscal resources despite the worst national economic conditions since the Great Depression. When I entered office in 2006, I stopped the operation of the fast ferry which was costing taxpayers $1 million a month to operate. Two weeks ago, we finished the final chapter by dissolving the ferry company and resolving the lease with the Toronto Port Authority. Last year, we closed a $35 million budget gap – reduced our spending by $29 million and lowered taxes. This year we have a plan in place to deal with the mid-year budget cuts from the state. A plan that will not impact service levels to our customers, a plan that will not add to their tax burden.
Our city’s economy is relatively strong despite the economic downturn. The Brookings Institution just issued a report that gave Rochester the honor of being one of 14 metropolitan cities in the country – and the only one in the Northeast – whose economy has ranked among the top 20 in the U.S. every quarter this year. Our unemployment rate is low when compared to other cities and we placed third in housing valuation among the other major metropolitan areas.
A drive through our city will reveal growth all around us:
- Construction is near completion on the new ESL Headquarters downtown;
- More than 200 workers are preparing the Midtown site for demolition to redefine our Center City;
- PAETEC is fully committed to building its headquarters at the Midtown site;
- The revitalization of Jefferson Avenue is well on track with more than $2.1 million in physical improvements to start this spring;
- The Eastman Theater Expansion project is almost done;
- The construction of the new Crime Lab at South Plymouth Ave. at Broad Street is underway; and
- The beautiful new Thomas P. Ryan Center on Webster Ave. was a great collaboration between the City, our federal and state partners, our City school district, our libraries and the Beechwood neighborhood.
I could go on, but the picture is clear. We will not stop driving growth for Rochester. Our future depends on it.
Speaking of our future, a solid education for our children is a major priority that is woven into our plan for Rochester’s renaissance. I applaud Superintendent Brizard for the aggressive steps that he has taken to address the needs of our children. Graduation rates have improved from 39 percent to 50 percent, but we have received information from the school district that those rates may fall back below 50 percent this year. We cannot accept graduation rates of less than 90 percent.
Unfortunately, our hands are tied under the current structure. The City is burdened with a state mandate referred to as the “Maintenance of Effort” – or MOE – that requires us to contribute $119 million a year to the school district regardless of enrollment numbers and without any authority or oversight as to how the monies are spent. 73 percent of our entire property tax levy goes directly to the school district.
That leaves us with just 27 percent to operate police, fire, snow removal, road repair and all other City services. It is the ‘mother of all mandates’ – the result of state legislation that did nothing more than avoid tough decisions and maintain the status quo. The MOE is about the self interest of adults – not about our children.
There were no forums or debates hosted when the city’s taxpayers were hit with this mandate. It reinforces my point – when you compare funding to graduation rates – one thing is clear – job retention is given the priority over child retention.
However, despite this we have made a difference toward providing educational opportunities for our children. We have:
- Established a citywide literacy program;
- Established an anti-truancy program to help keep our children in the classroom;
- Created the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council for young people to advise my administration about their needs;
- We created the “Summer of Opportunity” program to provide jobs for city youth; and
- We developed the PRIME program to provide dropouts and ex-offenders with a skilled trade and jobs.
In the face of these trying times we have successfully improved customer service for our residents, businesses and visitors. We have:
- Consolidated three departments into one and brought the services directly into the neighborhoods at a cost savings of more than $1 million to our taxpayers;
- We instituted “311 – One Call to City Hall,” to unscramble the bureaucracy for our citizens; and
- We developed “Operation Clean Sweep” – where nearly 19,000 volunteers have helped beautify Rochester and shown their pride in our city.
We have laid a solid foundation on which to build on for the future.
I believe that we all have brought this great city to a tipping point and that momentum is building that will return Rochester to its former greatness.
But, we have many challenges ahead of us.
I have come here today not to just focus on our successes during my first term – although there have been many of which I am proud – but today is about the future and how we build upon what we have accomplished and how we truly achieve the potential of our great city.
We must continue to fight for increased employment because one third of our city’s population lives at or below the federal poverty level. The median family income is all of $29,000 a year. Government at all levels refusing to cut spending and then raising taxes and fees on families earning only $29,000 per year is just plain wrong. We all must fight for our future.
We must continue to fight for safer streets.
We must continue to fight for quality schools.
We must continue to fight to get our graduation rates above 90 percent.
We must continue to fight for Rochester to once again become the economic boomtown it was in the 19th century.
We will not settle for anything less. We must tear down walls and get things done. And, we must do it together as a community. Here is what we will build on over the next four years:
We must lock arms with the County. There may be differing opinions from time to time, but we must continue to work closely together and become even better collaborators – our futures are linked.
We will focus on the right-sizing of Rochester. Our city was built for a population of 350,000, but is now occupied by only 200,000 – that’s a 43% loss of population over the last forty years.
Since 2006, we have removed 819 vacant structures. We must keep removing the blight of vacant houses and build our neighborhoods around schools and hubs of commerce.
We will continue to rebuild our Center City. The Midtown Rising project will be followed through to its completion. We hope to have M.C.C. and a new transit center downtown. We will push for private development where there is blight. You can see change today, but there are many more good things happening that are not visible yet:
- ESL will open;
- Erie Harbor will be home to hundreds of residents in our Center City;
- The Midtown Rising project will be completed – redefining our Center City;
- Midtown Tower will be redeveloped;
- We will make significant progress toward the development of our Port;
- We will complete 14 projects for downtown housing that will create 500 units;
- We will develop the large parcel at the corner of West Main and Plymouth; and
- We will continue to restructure government to achieve cost savings without affecting services.
We will keep improving public safety. We will continue to enhance our high-tech crime fighting tools. We will continue to invest in our Police Department, but police officers alone are not the key to the changes we truly desire.
We are in a fight for our survival and our future. I need your help to fight the scourge caused by crime. Cameras, cops and high-tech policing can only do so much. Parents must play a role in public safety. Government is not meant to be a parent. Moms and dads are.
We will further enhance public safety and customer service by restructuring city government to deliver services directly to our four quadrants and our Center City. City employees from every major operational department will be assigned to each respective quadrant. This will provide greater accountability and more personalized services to our citizens. We will constantly improve our services ensuring they connect with our neighborhoods.
An irrefutable fact is that public safety and violence are inextricably linked to poverty and education. We need a comprehensive plan for our children. Over the last few weeks I have met with community leaders to discuss strategies and during the first quarter of this year, I will meet with other community partners to clearly define our plan of action.
The plan must include investing in our children from birth to the workplace. I am convinced that the problems that we face today are in lock step with our children’s development. If we fail our children now, then most assuredly our city will fail.
We must align and take stock in our families, our schools, our after-school programs and ultimately in jobs for our youth. We will reach out to neighborhood leaders, businesses, non-profits, our inter-faith community and most importantly, parents and families.
Parents must play an ever-increasing role in the development of their children. They need to get their kids to and from school safely. They need to be involved in their homework and extracurricular activities and especially teach them to respect others. The rebirth of Rochester must start first in the home – with mothers, fathers and families who love and care for their children.
My children are no one’s responsibility but my wife’s and my own. Government agencies and not-for-profit organizations are all great resources but they are no substitution for a loving and caring parent and grandparent.
To accomplish educational success, we must forget about pleasing special interest groups and focus on those who we are sworn to serve. I don’t care who we offend. We must set aside political aspirations and alliances when discussing issues such as school governance and tough policy decisions.
Politicians will often take the path of least resistance. It seems that the way to political success is to go along to get along, to make sure that your friends and supporters are happy, to avoid making waves and to seek as many endorsements as possible – but all this can be at the expense of our taxpayers and our children.
I say today that if we falter and allow one-issue special interests or political infighting to prevail then we will fail. I refuse to further burden our taxpayers to maintain the status quo for the select few. The reality is that our educational system is failing. Far too often the decisions made regarding education focus on adults and not children.
Given the state’s financial crisis, the Maintenance of Effort mandate, the recent mid-year budget cuts to our City, along with further projected state aid cuts in the upcoming budget, there is no way that the City government and the school district can maintain the status quo and succeed as separate organizations.
I am advocating a change in school governance as I enter my second term. Now is the time to halt decades of failure and low graduation rates. Our priorities need to shift away from special interests and focus on what should be our number one priority – our children. The educational system needs to be held accountable. Currently ‘the buck stops nowhere.’ We must consolidate and redirect our priorities for the betterment of our kids.
We must keep Jean-Claude Brizard as our superintendent. We must focus on, and achieve educational excellence – but we must align management and resources in both organizations to better serve our children and citizens in a cost-effective manner.
Governance of our schools is not a decision that any of us should take lightly. But, after seeing the link between the failure of our educational system and crime and the declining population, I can truly say that the time has come to do something different with our schools. We cannot afford to lose another generation of children to educational failure. We cannot afford to see young kids dropout and turn to a life of selling drugs, joining gangs and eventually turning to violent crime. This is not the time to wait for incremental change. We are mired in a crisis and we need to take bold and drastic steps.
In 2009, we witnessed three brave RPD officers shot in the line of duty by two school dropouts. If these young men would have stayed in school, I doubt these officers would have been so viciously attacked. In fact, almost three of every four crimes in our city are committed by high school dropouts.
We must also enter into a partnership with our not-for-profit community. My vision for schools in the future is that they become true centers of the community – true neighborhood schools – places for learning, areas for after school activities and a safe haven, all of which are accessible on nights and weekends to everyone within the neighborhoods in which they are located. Schools have gyms, libraries, pools, computers and resources that should be open and used for more than just a few hours during the school day.
We must create true “Children’s Zones” around each of our schools, which could become a national model. Combining all City and school resources with those of County government and our great non-profit and business communities will give us more than a fighting chance to transform our most challenged streets and neighborhoods. We will spend less money on bloated bureaucracy and more on children.
City government control of schools has worked in New York City and elsewhere. It can work in Rochester. I plan to actively pursue this alternative so we can put our children first. I will need the support of the community to take this bold step and I am respectfully asking for your help. I am asking only to try something different for the next four years. I recognize that there has been improvement – from 39 percent to 50 percent in graduations, but losing half of our kids is not acceptable. We have no time to wait and a sad reality is that our prisons and jails are filled with high school dropouts.
If we are to turn this situation around, we must have the courage to take on an educational system that has seen decades of high financial investments and low graduation rates. It is not about money – we spend more than $22,000 on each child per year.
There is a saying, “pick the hill you want to die on.” Well I have and education is that hill.
There is no more important issue in the remaking of our city than the success of our schools. I may lose political support, endorsements and friends, but I will not lose the courage of my convictions on this issue. It is not a criticism of any individual, but instead of a failing system. It is about our children. It is about changing a system and not about pointing the finger of blame at people. It is also about direct accountability and I welcome being accountable. I want the buck to stop at my desk.
I have just been elected for a second term to serve every citizen in our city. My responsibilities do not and should not end at the doors of our schools.
We are in a fight for our city, our children and our future. This is no time for weakness. I refuse to turn Rochester over to the apologists, to the special interests and to those who care only about their own personal gain or careers.
The Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament tells the story of how Nehemiah set out to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. There is a character in the Book named Sanballat. Sanballat did not want Nehemiah to rebuild the walls around the city or to rebuild the temple. Why? Because Sanballat and his followers felt that their interests and the status quo were being threatened.
Sanballat tried to stop Nehemiah and he used all means available: rumors, trickery, lies, politics and distortions to stop the work. But Nehemiah withstood all of this resistance and persevered. Within two months, the walls and temple were rebuilt. Sound familiar? We all have Sanballats in our lives and in our community. They try to stop progress because they are threatened by it. In this case, I suspect they will use all the tools Sanballat used, along with political arm-twisting, misinformation and paid media ads to try and stop any change that would upset the status quo. The parallels are obvious. We need to restore the luster of our city and our schools.
We must not allow the self-interests of a few to stand in the way of the future of our children.
We need leadership during these difficult times. We need people at all levels who are creative and passionate whether it is in our schools, City government, neighborhoods, business or not-for-profits. We cannot do this alone.
In closing, I am asking that we all come together and use our talents and resources to make the tough decisions that must be made. We have laid a solid foundation on which we will continue to build for our future. But that future won’t happen without a fight. And this is a fight worth taking on. We are moving in the right direction and we cannot stop now. I ask for your support and to join me in this most important fight.
I understand that some of what I have presented today is controversial. I know that there will be as many opinions as people on the issue of school governance. But as long as we keep our children, our taxpayers and our city first we will persevere through these troubled times and together come out better, stronger and more successful as a city and community.
Thank you and I would like to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year. Let’s make 2010 a true benchmark year for Rochester.