Sheppard Responds to Arts Community on Parcel 5: I'm Listening

Sheppard Responds to Arts Community on Parcel 5: I'm Listening

August 4, 2017- The Parcel 5 site is an undeveloped jewel in the heart of our city - on that we all agree. But since Mayor Warren announced in April that she was completely disregarding the results of the City’s request for proposal process and selecting the Performing Arts Center project - without any public input - there have been many questions about this important project that have gone unanswered.

Warren Sets Dangerous Precedent for Future Candidates - NYS Campaigns Will Never Again Be Bound By Contribution Limits

Rochester mayoral candidate James Sheppard today called on Mayor Warren to completely address her campaign’s illegal fundraising activities before the New York State Board of Elections and the New York State Attorney General’s office are forced to step in.

“Last week, Lovely Warren returned the $21,000 in funds to several donors her campaign accepted that were above the legal limit,” said Sheppard. “While it is good that media stories and negative public opinion of these illegal overages finally forced her to do the right thing, the issue is hardly “off the table” as the mayor asserts.”

Still outstanding is the basis of the formal complaint that Sheppard filed back in April with the New York State Board of Elections and which he forwarded to the State Attorney General’s office last week. Warren clearly co-mingled funds from her campaign committee, The Friends of Lovely Warren (Campaign fund) with funds from the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC (Warren PAC) she set up for non-election purposes. That is illegal and a flagrant abuse of state law, which has been condemned publicly by the nonpartisan Directors of both Common Cause NY and NYPIRG.

In 2016, all the proceeds of the Mayor’s Ball that support her re-election bid, as she clearly stated in writing on her website, went directly into the Warren PAC. By law, any contribution from the Warren PAC to her campaign fund could not exceed $8557. Yet, the Warren PAC funded the entire cost of the Ball, far exceeding the legal limit. Indeed, the PAC wrote a check to the Convention Center alone for $53,278.

“As we have seen from this mayor in the past, she believes she is above the law, blames others, and only takes action when forced to by public pressure,” said Sheppard. “Even when caught in the act, she plays the victim and cries politics. It’s not politics, it is New York State law, and as a lawyer who spent much of her career working in Albany, she cannot claim ignorance of it.”

Lovely Warren’s record in this area is not one of a few innocent mistakes. Indeed, it represents a pattern that has continued for years. 

Mayor Warren's 2016 Mayor's Ball Invitation with Warren For A Strong Rocheser PAC listed.

  • 2013 - Her first mayoral run received $40,000 from a mystery PAC headed up by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy and the now deceased Assemblyman Bill Nojay. The shadow company set up by Nojay that funneled the money to the PAC is still under investigation.
     
  • 2014 & 2015 & 2017 – The Mayor’s Ball served as the main fundraiser for the Mayor’s campaign fund. The Friends of Lovely Warren funded and received the revenue from it.
  • February, 2016 – The Mayor’s Ball, again as promoted by the Mayor’s own words on the Ball Website, served as a fundraiser for the Mayor’s reelection. But this time, Warren chose to fund the Ball through her PAC and the PAC received and kept the revenue—a clear violation of state law.
     
  • July 2016 - The Mayor’s campaign finance filings showed her PAC funded invoices from the convention center, printer, mailings and various vendor costs for the 2016 Mayor’s Ball well in excess to the legal limit. $53,278 was paid to the Convention Center alone.
     
  • January 2017 – The Mayor’s filing shows donors contributed $19,329 over the legal limit.
     
  • April 2017 – James Sheppard files a complaint asking for a formal investigation with the NYS Board of Elections citing the illegal co-mingling of funds, with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day-to-day activities for both the campaign and Warren PAC. Both organizations function as Committees authorized by the same candidate operating in the same election cycle.
     
  • May 2017 - The NYS BOE acknowledges the Sheppard complaint.
     
  • July 2017 - Friends of Lovely Warren refunds a total of $10,879 of contributions accepted over the legal limit, the day before the Gotham Gazette’s article criticizing the campaign’s fundraising practices was published.
     
  • July 2017 – Warren filings show a $30,000 fund transfer from the Warren PAC to the campaign fund. Cited as a “PayPal mistake.”  Warren blames her volunteers. Later it’s found that the $30,000 was actually $25,000 and Warren returned the $5,000 to the PAC. Still unexplained as how the transfer, more than three-times the limit, is legal. Also unanswered is how PayPal could have been responsible for these errors.
     
  • July 2017 – The Sheppard campaign finds yet another set of over-the-limit donor payments to Friends of Lovely Warren in the amount of $21,000. Incredibly, some of the overpayments came from the very donors who just had donations returned to them because they were over the limit.
     
  • July 2017 – By the July filing, the number of donors whose contributions exceeded the $8557
    limit to Friends of Lovely Warren AND Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC or to her PAC alone had risen from 15 in January to 23.  Those donors gave a combined total of $131,159 if jointly applied to the legal limit in funding Warren’s re-election bid.  (Except for one $8557 contribution from her PAC to her Friends of Lovely Warren account, not one more cent can be lawfully spent on any Warren Campaign related expenses, contrary to what has been occurring.)
     
  • July 24, 2017 – The Sheppard campaign cites the overpayments and reissues call to NYS BOE and the NYS Attorney General’s Office to investigate Warren’s illegal campaign fundraising.
     
  • July 28, 2017 – Following the calls from the Sheppard campaign to return illegal contributions, which she dismisses as just “politics”, and the subsequent media stories about it, Warren refunds $21,000 in payments and says “I’m taking this issue off the table.”

“Lovely Warren cannot return a few over limit payments and declare the issue is over, because it is not,” said Sheppard. ”She cannot declare that she is not under investigation – as only the NYS BOE and Attorney General’s Office would know that. And she should not cavalierly dismiss the very serious concern that she has permitted two separate committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to support her re-election bid, in direct violation of state law. This concern has been expressed not just by me but by the heads of two of the most highly regarded good government organizations in NYS, Common Cause and NYPIRG. It is clear from even a cursory review of her campaign disclosure reports that the value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC far exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law.”

This mayor is playing a shell game with her campaign funds and believes she can defy the law by dismissing any scrutiny as ‘politics.’  I will continue to speak out about this ongoing abuse because I feel strongly that it undermines trust and confidence in our electoral system.”

The Sheppard campaign is once again urging the NYS Board of Elections and the NYS Attorney General’s Office to act with all speed and seriousness in investigating the financial activities of these two interconnected entities supporting Mayor Lovely Warren’s re-election campaign. Sheppard reiterated his belief: “I fear that inaction in this egregious case would set a dangerous precedent for future candidates, since it means that campaigns would never again be bound by contribution limits.”

Sheppard Responds to Lovely's Press Conference

I am gratified that after my letters to the NYS Board of Elections requesting an investigation and the countless media inquiries that followed, Mayor Lovely Warren has finally chosen to do the right thing and return the excess money that she raised illegally.

It's unfortunate that it took a public outcry for the mayor to do what she should have done from the beginning. She has painted this as a political attack - even accusing a reporter of "having an agenda," when in reality, all we've all asked for is that she be accountable, transparent – and return the money.

It seems like anytime an opponent or critic raises an issue that she doesn’t want to discuss, the mayor cries politics. I find that very disingenuous. How the mayor handles herself and how she confronts challenges is an important part of her record. She may dismiss these issues as irrelevant, but I promise you that voters care a great deal about whether their elected leadership is following the law and acting responsibly.

And frankly, this incident is just the tip of the iceberg. From her behind-the-scenes negotiations around Parcel 5, to her efforts to take over the Facilities Modernization board, to installing her cronies in jobs and on boards that impact people's lives everyday - what we've seen time and again, is a mayor who does what she wants, when she wants, without a desire for public input or regard for public opinion. She rules by fiat, and if you criticize her or her positions, you're attacking her personally. That is not fair to voters. 

As a mayor, she leads by press release. As a candidate, she appears to want to do the same thing. But Rochester’s challenges won’t be solved with sound bites – and they certainly won’t get addressed through character assassination, political grandstanding, or attempting to distract voters with theatrics. 

You need only review recent coverage of her ethical lapses, and the way she chose to respond to them. By deflecting, denying and attempting to minimize. Just because you don’t like what’s being said, doesn’t mean you try to change the conversation.

I will continue to call Mayor Warren out for her lack of transparency, the punitive way in which she governs, and her inclination to operate outside of ethical boundaries. People need to know how our mayor governs - and what I'll do differently. 

Sheppard Calls on Warren: Return ALL of the Illegally-Raised Campaign Money - Warren Cries Foul, Chastises Host Evan Dawson for “Having An Agenda”

In response to Mayor Lovely Warren’s comments on Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI yesterday, County Legislator and Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on her to refund the over $21K her campaign continues to hold onto, in violation of NYS law. During a tense exchange with Dawson, Warren again revealed how little she cares about the issue of campaign finance improprieties, calling the issue “irrelevant,” and saying pointedly, “I’m not going to respond to people I don’t have to.”

Sheppard reacted with incredulity. “It seems like anytime an opponent or critic raises a real issue that she doesn’t want to discuss, the mayor cries politics,” said Sheppard. “I find that very disingenuous. How the mayor handles herself and how she confronts challenges is an important part of her record. She may dismiss these issues as irrelevant, but I promise you that voters care a great deal about whether their elected leadership is following the law.”

While all but $3,572 in over-the-limit contributions from before the July 2017 filing were refunded, Friends of Lovely Warren has since accepted new over-the-limit contributions, even reaccepting over-the-limit contributions from entities it previously refunded.

In addition to the issue of over-the-limit to her Friends of Lovely Warren Committee, if contribution levels essentially don't exist - because she continues to raise and spend whatever she wants from these same people in her PAC - then special interests will have undue influence in City Hall. Lovely Warren says this whole discussion is irrelevant and not important. She is wrong. It goes to the heart of what the public wants in their government and their elected officials:  transparency and fairness. They want a government and elected officials they can trust. They want to know that everyone plays by the same rules. If special interests can get unlimited access by writing a blank check, the public's faith in governmental decision-making suffers.

The appended document outlining the chronology of Warren’s campaign finance abuses going back to 2013 demonstrates a pattern of irregularities. Though she claims to no longer have a relationship with Albany lobbyist Scott Gaddy, it was just a few short years ago that his Super PAC, Rochester Rising, funneled more than $40K into the mayor’s account, paving the way for her upset victory in 2013. Clearly she did not learn her lesson, since a troubling pattern of mishandling funds continues again this campaign cycle. 

“It isn’t an isolated mistake that I’m worried about,” said Sheppard. “We can all make mistakes. In fact, as part of our own reporting activities, we found a $1K overpayment by a donor, who was notified and reimbursed within 24 hours and the change reported to the NYS Board of Elections. The real issue is, how do you deal with any issues as they arise? Warren’s record is marked by a clear and ongoing pattern of mishandled and ill-gotten campaign funds. When confronted with evidence by multiple media sources, her response was to be largely dismissive, saying it was “irrelevant,” – a non-issue. Well if it’s inadvertent and no big deal, refund all of the extra money and make sure the problem doesn’t happen again. Instead, here we are weeks later – still talking about it because the Mayor is defensive and not forthcoming.  Frankly, her failure to fully explain what happened and why is an insult to voters.”

 “Let’s not get into something we don’t need to get into,” Warren lamented to Evan Dawson.  But Rochester voters would very much like to “get into” the details of Warren’s continued misuse of campaign funds. “Lovely Warren seems to think it is unfair to be held accountable for her actions,” said Sheppard. “I think it’s unfair to voters that she is so cavalier about her duty to them as a public servant. Transparency means answering questions – even the ones you don’t like. Leadership means accepting responsibility – not shifting blame onto volunteers.”

Just because you don’t like the topic, doesn’t mean you get to change the subject. Lovely Warren has still raised too much money. She still refuses to give it back – or even fully account for what happened. It’s time to step up, be accountable, be transparent and return the contributions that violate the law and stop using her PAC as a personal piggy bank.  The public deserves no less.

Sheppard Continues to Stand with the LGBTQ Community

I am so disheartened by the President's announcement today, that he will not accept or allow transgender citizens to serve in the military. Such backwards thinking - whether it be regarding the LQBTQ community, minorities, the disabled, or ANY group disadvantaged in our country - is hurtful not only to the individual being discriminated against, but indeed to the continued progress and safety of our entire nation. I never understood the wisdom of preventing people from helping their community - as soldiers in our military, volunteers for good causes, or however one chooses to contribute. It is ignorant, counterproductive, and just plain wrong. I will continue to stand on the side of equality for all, in all its forms.

Sheppard Reissues Call for Investigation Into Warren Finances - New Donations Again Exceed the Limit - Despite Refunds

Sheppard Reissues Call for Investigation Into Warren Finances - New Donations Again Exceed the Limit - Despite Refunds

July 25, 2017, Rochester, NY – Citing continued and flagrant violations of State election law brought to light by last week’s campaign finance filings, Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on the New York State Board of Elections to step up its investigation into the questionable campaign filings of Mayor Lovely Warren. Such violations could result in criminal charges.

“An Open and Accessible Community for All:” James Sheppard’s Platform on Disability Issues

In celebration of the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rochester community is recognizing the contributions and involvement of people with disabilities this week. While there have been improvements in access to programs and services for people with disabilities, we still have a long way to go in making sure our residents with disabilities have equal opportunities for good jobs, safe neighborhoods and healthy housing. As Mayor, James Sheppard will focus on the following issues:

Enacting a Visitability Ordinance. 

All new housing built in the City of Rochester should be visitable. James Sheppard will work with City Council to pass an ordinance that will require a no-step entrance, wider doorways, and grab bars in all new housing projects. This will increase housing options for people with disabilities and enable older adults to stay in their homes longer.

Increasing Options for Accessible Transportation.

Ridesharing, vanpool services and expanded transportation for City residents must not exclude people with disabilities. Any new or expanded transportation services must be required to have a robust component for riders with disabilities. The City has several representatives on the RTS Board of Directors, and we will make clear to them that accessible transportation is at the top of our priority list.

A Seat at the Table for Project Review.

People with disabilities have a right to expect that in this day and age, new construction and rehabilitation projects will be as accessible as possible. The Sheppard administration will work with the Center for Disability Rights and other disabilities organizations to identify a liaison who will be notified of major projects, participate in project review, and work with project partners to improve accessibility for residents, visitors and employees. It’s not enough just to meet ADA requirements, let’s use innovative and best practices to make sure everyone in our community is welcome.

Access Hotline.

Trouble finding an accessible entrance to a City restaurant or business? Attending a public event with no interpreter? Denied seating at an event? We want to help. We will have a dedicated number to call so City staff can investigate accessibility issues and develop solutions.

Strengthening the City-County Council for People with Disabilities.

It is important to me to hear from all sectors of our community as we get Rochester working again. I welcome meaningful input from all of the people City government serves, and the City-County Council will help me focus on what’s important to residents with disabilities. Good, bad or otherwise, we want to know how we’re doing and how we can serve you better.

Rochester has a long and proud history as a leader in civil rights; let’s make sure this includes disability rights as well!

Sheppard and Clifford: Leadership Needed To Fight Opioid Crisis

Citing the dramatic increase in overdoses and other drug-related activity on City streets, Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard and Northwest City Councilmember Molly Clifford today called on Mayor Lovely Warren to step up, acknowledge the crisis, and bring every resource to the table to fight it.

“This situation is out of control,” Sheppard said. “The police and fire departments are overwhelmed.  Needles are everywhere.  Families can’t leave their houses.  Addicts can’t get help. And Mayor Warren cuts more ribbons.  Where is the outrage?”

At a press conference in Loewke Park, 485 Lyell Avenue, a place known for drug infestation, not recreation, Sheppard and Clifford called on Warren to take action, including:

  • Increase health services and needle exchange through Trillium Health, Health Care for the Homeless and other partners to provide care and access to treatment for users;
     
  • Install syringe disposal kiosks in high-risk areas, provided at no cost by the New York State Department of Health, to keep needles off the streets;
     
  • Require opioid overdose and harm reduction training and Narcan kits for RPD’s Patrol Division;
     
  • Put the Department of Environmental Services on “needle reduction routes,” to provide regular and safe clean-ups in the top 20 most hazardous blocks;
     
  • Add hours for the DES board-up crews to ensure that vacant houses used for drugs are secured immediately;
     
  • Pursue long-term neighborhood strategies that include elimination of problematic alleys in drug-infested neighborhoods;
     
  • Take a leadership role on the Monroe County Opioid Task Force to ensure the City’s voice is heard and countywide resources are directed where they’re needed most.

“Everywhere I go in Northwest Rochester and beyond, neighbors are begging for help,” Clifford said.  “They can’t understand how this level of drug abuse, violence, and deterioration can go on without any response. It’s as if no one cares.”

Sheppard and Clifford have been working with the Opioid Task Force over the past year, and have sponsored opioid overdose trainings and other outreach events.  They acknowledge that this battle needs to be waged on multiple fronts.  But this battle is missing one critical element: a general.

“Make no mistake,” Sheppard said. “In a Sheppard Administration, when we have a problem, I will be on the front lines to help solve it.  We owe it to our citizens, our staff and our community. That’s what real leadership is.”

Contributions Are In. Why You Should Care.

Campaign finance is complicated. The periodic campaign finance reports filed with the NYS board of elections can tell you a lot about transparency and integrity of candidates and the campaigns they run. That is why unlike my opponents, I want to be transparent about where my support comes from.

Where your money came from is important.

  • I am tremendously proud of the strong financial support I have received from Rochester's labor community. My longtime support of labor and the important causes they fight for is why I received the endorsement of the Working Families Party.   
     
  • Rochester’s families need a champion who will stand and fight with them. Most of all, they need a leader who won't play politics or seek retribution, like Lovely Warren did when she seized control of the Facilities Modernization Board - a power grab that saw hundreds of jobs lost and time wasted.

How much you've been able to raise is important. 

  • Campaigns cost money - lots of it. How much money you are able to raise not only demonstrates the support you have in the community, but also strongly signals whether you are a credible candidate.
     
  • I am gratified by the diversity of my support, with nearly 400 donations made so far to support my campaign.
     
  • Raising over $223,000 against an incumbent shows two things: she is vulnerable and I am the only candidate in the race who can beat her!           

Whether you are able to follow the rules is important. 

  • This one ought to go without saying, but as a recent article pointed out, unfortunately it does not. The sad reality is that Lovely Warren is not following the law.  We will have more to say once we’ve had a chance to review it in detail, but clearly her July report contains more serious concerns.
     
  • In contrast, Friends of James Sheppard has not received a single contribution over the legal limit, and does not have any outstanding loans. I have fully complied with all guidance from the NYS Board of Elections.

As media coverage about these filings grabs headlines over these next few days, I hope that you will give some serious thought to what they say about the candidates and their respective campaigns. Above all, I value my integrity - and my campaign committee and the donations we've been able to raise reflects that.

See for yourself. HERE is my recently filed report, which includes all of the contributions and expenses incurred by my campaign to date. 

Thank you for being an engaged citizen and paying attention to this important race. Your participation is needed and appreciated.

Sincerely,
James Sheppard

Sheppard Releases LGBTQ Platform; Receives Endorsement Of City Councilmember Matt Haag

Amid growing uncertainty about the security of LGBTQ rights at the national level, Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on the City of Rochester to take additional measures to protect those rights.  Sheppard released his LGBTQ platform today, which includes specific emphasis on the safety of transgender persons, housing and other services for LGBTQ youth and seniors, and equal access for LGBTQ people of color.

“We have already seen backsliding in LGBTQ protections at the federal level,” Sheppard said.  “Rochester must stand firm as a national leader in providing services to and defending the rights of our LGBTQ citizens.”

Sheppard has been a vocal ally and advocate for the LGBTQ community for decades: as Rochester Police Chief, he lobbied at the State level for marriage equality and against conversion therapy.  He also instituted an RPD policy to focus specifically on protecting the safety of transgender persons, which given the rising violence toward them across the country, should continue to be a priority, he said.

Sheppard’s full platform on LGBTQ issues, which is attached and available on www.sheppardformayor.com, proposes measures to reduce homelessness among LGBTQ youth, provide greater housing options for LGBTQ seniors, banning conversion therapy, and ensuring LGBTQ people of color are represented in policy-making decisions.

Sheppard’s past work with the LGBTQ community and his ongoing commitment to equality have earned him the endorsement of City Councilmember Matt Haag, the only openly gay member of the Rochester City Council. "Shep was an early and vocal supporter of LGBTQ people and our families. He was an ally and advocate long before it was politically safe or popular,” said Haag. “His leadership, integrity and dedication to this City will make him a great Mayor for all Rochesterians.”

“I am grateful for Matt’s support and will make sure Rochester continues to be at the forefront of LGBTQ rights and social justice issues,” Sheppard said.  “Every resident of this city should feel welcomed, empowered, and respected.”