Curt Smith, senior lecturer of English at UR and former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, moderated a series of one-on-one discussions between four Rochester and New York State political figures Wednesday evening in Hubbell Auditorium.

Members of the panel explored issues important to voters in the upcoming 2003 elections for District Attorney and County Executive.

UR alumnus Peter Heinrich ’60 introduced Smith.

Members of the panel were State Senator Joseph Robach, First Assistant District Attorney Mike Green, Attorney and Chairman of Rochester-Genesee Regional Transport Authority Bill Nojay and Rochester Mayor William Johnson, Jr.

The panel addressed the loss of thousands of jobs at Eastman Kodak, as well as the loss of 40,000 Rochester residents in their twenties, in the past decade.

All four panelists cited the need for “packaging Rochester,” and “selling the things we have,” as Robach described it, as essential to boosting local economy. Robach named arts, historic buildings, museums and golf courses as several of Rochester’s tourist-attracting resources.

Johnson echoed Robach’s assessment, stating that the city “[needs] to establish a niche wherever [it] can.” He and Robach both rely on 10 already completed and upcoming projects, at the city level and above.

The projects include the “Fast Ferry,” the soccer stadium, and a performing arts center, and will draw upon Monroe County’s assets to “set [the county] aside,” Johnson said.

Capitalizing on the city’s identity and spirit is an important tenet in Johnson’s campaign for County Executive.

“What are our assets?” Johnson asked. “How do we protect them? What’s good for Monroe County as a whole?”

“We need every job we can [get] for this community,” Johnson said.

In response to a disheartened city teacher who expressed her dismay at the lack of opportunity and thus motivation for young adults to stay in Rochester after high school, Johnson stressed the importance of the opportunity to work your way up in an industry.

“We have to get young people to see what the possibilities are,” Johnson encouraged, “not the limitations of their circumstances.”

Although panelists agreed that a great deal of state spending goes to education, Governor George Pataki spends more money per capita on public city schools than on suburban schools. Senator Robach pointed out that money is not being spent effectively and hopes to appropriate more money to city schools.

Both Robach and Nojay also attributed the deterioration of city education to a decline in parental involvement. Nojay drew upon his own experience attending Rochester’s city schools in the 1960s to illustrate his belief in the increasingly overlooked role of parents necessary to successful city education.

Johnson further expressed his disappointment in the 12 percent voter turnout at last year’s school board elections, and the need for an increase not only in parental participation but in community interest as well.

Upstate New York and specifically Rochester have traditionally relied on manufacturing and industry as the foundation of their economic stability and success.

All of upstate New York, Nojay claims, is considered not economically viable because of the high cost of maintaining a business.

With the outbound trend of Eastman Kodak’s industry, not just out of Rochester but out of the county, the elimination of 23,000 jobs in the past decade has been disastrous for area free trade, creating what Bill Nojay hyperbolically called a “jobless economy.”

With the withdrawal of Eastman Kodak as the area’s economic cornerstone, UR may have become the largest employer in Monroe County, leaving the fate of the County’s economy linked to the university.

Chepovetsky can be reached at mchepove@campustimes.org.



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