P-B Editorial Board makes the case for a more progressive city council
Rochester's paper of record wrapped up its city council endorsements this morning with a selection that surprised just about everyone paying attention to local politics: Challenger Sean Allen for council president.
"As the community moves in new directions, it's time to consider new paths," wrote the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board. (Like any newspaper endorsement, the decision is made independently of the newsroom and its beat reporters.)
The paper stated, "it's not clear that business-as-usual is the right approach." Incumbent president Randy Staver "frequently seems reluctant to get on board with things a young workforce would expect, such as food trucks, affordable housing and municipal broadband," said the editorial.
"Allen offers a more aspirational approach, easily embracing policies that could attract tomorrow's workforce."
The endorsement is a considerable blow to Staver, who has served on the council since 2010 and as council president since 2013. He had really nothing to gain from the paper's decision, but much to lose.
Research suggests newspaper endorsements matter little to an election, with one exception: When a paper breaks tradition and makes an unexpected selection. Most would argue that this would be the case with the P-B's endorsement of an anti-establishment candidate such as Allen.
The paper's support for Allen follows endorsements of two other progressive candidates for the council, incumbent Michael Wojcik for Ward 2 and political-newcomer Annalissa Johnson for Ward 6. While the positions are technically non-partisan, both candidates distinguish themselves from their opponents by embracing new ideas and taking a more hands-on approach.
In its endorsement of Wojcik, the paper wrote: "While we feel Wojcik too often relishes the opportunity to ruffle feathers, we must acknowledge his activist mentality has been successful in pushing for changes in the city."
The paper was less excited about either candidate for Ward 6. It pointed out that "both candidates seemed to have only a rudimentary understanding of city workings." However, the board ultimately sided with Johnson, arguing her "forward-thinking responses and potential to expand her civic horizons" made her the best person to take on the city's future challenges.
There are seven seats on the council. Of those seats, two of the current members would be considered progressive (Wojcik and Nick Campion), three more conservative (Staver, Ed Hruska and Mark Hickey) and two toss-ups (Mark Bilderback and Sandra Means). The addition of Allen and Johnson, plus the re-election of Wojcik, could potentially tilt the council in a markedly new direction on everything from transportation to affordable housing.
(It's worth noting that Bilderback was — to no one's surprise — also endorsed by the P-B Editorial Board. "While we applaud [Nick] Moucha's efforts in being engaged in the city's business community and downtown neighborhood since moving to Rochester five years ago, we note it pales in comparison to the commitment Bilderback has shown in the past eight years," the board wrote.)
Of course, these editorials represent just one group's perspective and it's unclear how much influence they will have. But they do suggest one thing: That as Rochester looks forward, there is a strong case to be made for taking a more proactive and inclusive approach to local government.
While it's easy to get caught up in following the daily "Holy shit, what did Donald Trump just say?" moments that have defined this campaign season, we can't ignore what's happening right here in our community. These council elections are getting extra scrutiny this election cycle, and for good reason; because what happens in the next four years will likely set the tone for the next forty.
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The League of Women Voters Rochester will hold a forum for council candidates on Oct. 27.
(Cover graphic: File / Canva)