News & Opinion » Columns

Rochester needs real leadership


It may be a cliché to say that good government is good politics. But I believe it to be true. Our goal should always be to govern responsibly and to work together to strengthen Rochester. Responsible leaders are never guided by revenge or old vendettas.

Responsible leaders understand that you cannot lead effectively by fiat; it takes a willingness and desire to find common ground. It takes someone who understands that it isn't about who has all the answers or who gets the credit. You've got to surround yourself with smart and committed people, listen to what they have to say, and forge collaborative solutions.

Since stepping down as Rochester police chief and becoming involved in politics — first as a Monroe County legislator and now as a candidate for mayor — I have learned that Rochester politics requires you to have a thick skin and a strong sense of self.

Unfortunately, name-calling and character assassination too often seep into our culture and dialogue, and they diminish efforts to create a positive and unified Rochester.

We can disagree with one another on policy; we can have spirited debate about how best to educate our children and rebuild our city; we can criticize each other's records and what skills and experience are most important to do the job — that's all fair game.

But we must not demonize one another over old disagreements. We must focus on the important conversation about how best to achieve our shared goals of a safe, vibrant, growing community.

Last week's CITY characterized our current local political climate in great detail, hypothesizing on how we got to where we are today. In a solidly Democratic city, it is not surprising that there are divisions within the Democratic Party. A Republican has not been elected to a citywide office in over a quarter century. Disagreements and debate, when civil, should be encouraged.

Our party is deeper and more diverse than many may realize. When I work with my fellow Democrats, I am proud to be surrounded by people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, life experiences, ideas, and passions.

They champion important issues and principles, from improving public education to combating climate change to strengthening urban neighborhoods. We have agreed and disagreed, but we have ultimately come together in support of our shared values.

While I respect the perspectives and contributions of those who have helped build our party, I was not involved in politics throughout the course of my law enforcement career, and do not have much knowledge of or interest in rehashing old disputes of which I was not a part.

I announced my candidacy for mayor because I genuinely believe my experience, skills, temperament, and vision make me the best qualified candidate to lead our city forward. I do not feel the current city government is working for our citizens — for neighborhood organizations, parents and students, developers, employers, or those mired in poverty.

In my mind, the answer to that is experienced and effective leadership. I am critical of Mayor Lovely Warren's leadership. I believe strongly that good leaders listen — and I don't think that Mayor Warren has been listening. Good leaders bring people together — and I don't think Mayor Warren has tried to bring people together.

Whether we're talking about the local Democratic Party or all of Rochester's voters, we need a mayor who is willing and able to lead, and whose guiding principles are to respect others, be inclusive, and value all opinions — even those he or she doesn't share.

I pledge to be that kind of candidate and that kind of mayor. Together we can get Rochester working again and restore its promise as a place of opportunity, growth, and hope for all of our citizens.

James Sheppard is a Monroe County legislator and is running for mayor of Rochester