A Tale of Two Realities: James Sheppard Responds to Warren's State of the City Speech

It’s a tale of two realities.

Tonight’s State of the City Address could have been delivered at any time in the last three years. It had all the hallmarks of this administration – a lack of measurable results, taking credit for other’s initiatives, obfuscation of facts, no recognition of the realities of life for many in our city, and delivered with a lack of transparency that has defined this administration from day one.

I have no doubt that life is just fine for Lovely Warren. But the state of the city for those still mired in poverty, for the 53% of our children who won’t graduate, for the neighborhood organizations that have been shut out of decision making, and for developers that have given up trying to create jobs and projects – there’s an entirely different reality.

In Lovely Warren’s world, citing absurd job growth statistics and gains in employment, hundreds of millions in investment into downtown, and lowered crime rates that don't tell the whole story - all purportedly due to her efforts - should be accepted as fact and celebrated. In the real world, none of these claims are credible. In reality, these claims are insulting to our citizens. 

Tell the parents of kids who can't read at grade level or graduate from high school how great our schools are. Ask the people who are afraid to walk to the corner store how safe they feel. Ask responsible homeowners and renters who feel trapped in poverty-wracked neighborhoods whether the message they heard from the mayor tonight is credible. The Warren administration has attempted to misguide and confuse the public from its very first days in office - it is truly disrespectful and cannot be tolerated.

Lack of transparency has defined the Warren administration. When confronted about speeding on the thruway, she declined to give the whole story. There are many more examples, including her inexplicable hiring of relatives, behind-the-scenes meddling in the Rochester Housing Authority's board composition and hiring decisions, wresting control and delaying of the Facilities Modernization Program, seeking stealth legislation to take over the school district - and even trying to replace democratic committee members with her hand-picked supporters, while complaining about the process she herself manipulated.

The focus has always been on her and not on the people.

When it comes to public safety, Mayor Warren boasts about historic low rates of non-violent crime, which reflect national trends over the past 30 years. But where is her voice on the tragic increase in shootings and homicides taking too many of our young people? Have you ever heard from the mayor when there is a homicide, double homicide, triple homicide or even quadruple homicide? No. She makes herself unavailable. There is no bad news in Lovely’s world. But for the people living in the few zip codes in our city that are plagued by relentless violence, the reality is stark. Gun shots ring out almost daily, open drug markets thrive, and our citizens and our police are more at odds than ever.

Under the Warren administration:

  • Aggravated assaults are up 15% 
  • Rape is up 28%
  • Victims of shootings - up 20%
  • Homicides are at a near-record pace
  • The clearance rate for violent crimes, traditionally used as an indicator of police-community trust, stands at an abysmal 50%
  • The Police Reorganization plan that began in 2015 not complete
  • 92 % of residents feel crime is the same or has worsened
  • 74% of residents feel their safety hasn’t improved or feel less safe

That is the reality for our city, but not for City Hall. And this alternate reality applies to every area of daily life, for those least able to weather the consequences.

Lovely Warren promised to “fix our schools," making them "the best in the world." Instead, our graduation rate remains the worst of the state’s large cities. 47% is abysmal. That’s a number you didn’t hear tonight. That’s a reality she doesn’t want to discuss.

But for the thousands of families that live this reality, it means another generation of our children who won’t participate in the economy. Their chances of landing a good job, buying a home, and realizing the American dream are diminished.

Instead of focusing on our children’s future, Lovely put her time and effort into seizing control of the Facilities Modernization Board - a power grab that saw hundreds of jobs lost and time wasted. Our children are waiting for adequate facilities in which to learn, while the mayor settles old scores.

Job creation is another important area that the mayor likes to boast about. We have seen no end to initiatives and programs to end poverty, create jobs, train the unemployed and bring development to impoverished neighborhoods. All of which were announced with great fanfare – and none of which have produced any significant, measurable results.

In Lovely’s world, talking about issues is the same as making progress in those areas. But for the rest of the city, poverty is unabated, joblessness endures, and hope fades for too many.

Consider this – under Mayor Warren: 

  • Rochester is third in the nation for child poverty
  • 50% of our city kids are living in poverty
  • The city's poverty rate increased from 31% (2013) to 33% (2015)
  • Rochester is #1 in female-headed household poverty
  • Rochester is #1 in the poverty rate for those with less than a high-school diploma

Again and again, the most troubling aspect of this administration is the utter lack of transparency.

We have yet to hear the whole story about what happened to development at the Port of Rochester and what is planned for the Inner Loop project. And just last month, we witnessed a major announcement about a $130 million Performing Arts Center project. As usual, there was plenty of pomp and circumstance - but what was missing is an actual plan and about $100 million dollars to make it a reality. There is zero transparency on where those dollars will come from and who will be on the hook for the operating deficit. This is just the latest example of the Warren administration rushing to take credit for something that isn’t a reality.

That Rochester is challenged is not a surprise. That the mayor of Rochester thinks that announcing programs and task forces but not delivering results is the best way to lead our city forward - that is just disheartening. Tonight, the citizens of Rochester, once again, were treated to a lack of transparency, alternate facts, and the lack of measurable results that define this administration.

It’s a tale of two realities. The one you're living, and the one that Mayor Warren is attempting to sell you.