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Our Rochester


"There are two cities of Rochester today. Both with very different looks, very different realities, and very different opportunities for the people that live there. One city is prospering and vibrant, the other poor and struggling.

"One city sparkles with quality housing, strong neighborhoods, jobs, and access to a rich cultural life. The other city battles poverty, violence, and drug dealing on the very blocks they call home.

"One city has safe streets, parks to enjoy, and homes that increase in value. The other city sees violence and crime almost daily and may be living next to or near a boarded-up house."

That's how Mayor Bob Duffy --- after the obligatory thanks to family, staff, and supporters --- began his first State of the City speech earlier this month.

That part of the speech was tough and frank, contrasting the liveliness, beauty, and increasing property values of neighborhoods like Park Avenue and Browncroft with the vacant houses and crime of the Crescent. "On these mean streets where many adults would fear to walk," he said, "children play every day."

"We cannot solve our problems," he said, "unless we first acknowledge them."

And he listed the facts about Rochester: Our murder rate is number one in the state. We're number one in school drop-out rate, in child poverty, in jobs lost and jobs created, in housing foreclosures.

"We are the only upstate city not to emerge from the recession with growth," said Duffy. "We lag behind Buffalo, Syracuse, and even Binghamton."

Those are not pretty facts. And there are those who think that laying them out is harmful, that we need to be focusing on what's right about Rochester, not what's wrong.

In his speech, Duffy spent plenty of time talking about what's right about the city. And even in the grimmest part of his speech, he noted that in the high-crime area known as the Crescent, there are strong families, people caring for their homes and committed to their neighborhoods. That is a fact, as clearly as the crime in the Crescent is a fact.

But the unpleasant facts about Rochester must be faced up to. As the mayor said, we can not solve our problems unless we acknowledge them.

It is early days for the Duffy administration. (A recent Rochester Business Journal article bore this headline: "At the 100-day mark, Duffy sees more work ahead." No kidding.) But it's hard to resist his earnestness, and no one should discount the value of that earnestness.

This city, which 40 years ago seemed to be on a perpetual growth track, is in very serious trouble. It is going to take the entire community --- business owners, suburban residents, Republicans in town and county offices --- to turn Rochester around.

Duffy's predecessor, Bill Johnson, exhausted himself trying to get the wider community involved in resuscitating the city, and thus the region. He wasn't able to do it, perhaps in large part because the Doyle administration in the County Office Building got such glee out of attacking him.

I'd like to think that the bitter partisanship of those days is behind us. (Hope springs eternal.) Still, politics is alive and well in the Community of Monroe. Duffy and all elected city officials are Democrats. County government and nearly all of the suburbs are firmly under the control of Republicans. And Duffy knows that Rochester can not turn itself around without the suburbs, without the Republicans.

In his often eloquent State of the City speech, he appealed to the public for help. And he ended his talk with optimism. He had said earlier that he was "honored to serve as the city's number one cheerleader," but as he closed out his State of the City, he sounded more like a coach, pounding out encouragement: "Remember who we are.... We are one city. We are Rochester.... This is our time.... One great city, on the rise again."

Unlike Duffy, I'm not a native. But like him, I love this city. And I have watched in anguish as it has continued its slow slide toward death.

Other cities have turned themselves around. I don't know of one that has done it by itself.

The new mayor has a hundred challenges ahead of him, none of them simple. But the biggest will be getting the folks at the CountyOfficeBuilding --- and in the town halls throughout the county --- to stand beside him, and to match his earnestness and his commitment.

Iran alert

By now, you may have read the latest Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker ("The Iran Plans," April 17; It simply adds to the fright we all ought to be experiencing right now. The Bush administration, says Hersh, is planning another regime change. The target is Iran. And to deal with that country's nuclear facilities, we might just throw around some nuclear weapons.

The more we learn about Iraq and the lead-up to our disastrous intervention there, the more it is clear that the Bush administration is terrifyingly incompetent, not to mention driven by a terrifying ideology (not to mention oil).

How close is Iran to having nuclear capability? We must rely on the same intelligence and judgment that we relied on with Iraq.

The voices of informed critics --- Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, retired military officers --- are becoming louder, on the subject of Iraq and Iran. Congress, as Clarke noted recently in the New York Times, didn't do its duty in the days before our invasion of Iraq. It must do its duty now.

And so must we all.

Public protests turned the tide during the Vietnam War. Public protests must start building now, before the administration strikes again.

To the streets, folks.