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Rochester Democratic Primary candidates for Mayor spar on a number of issues

Sep 7, 2017

Candidates in next Tuesday’s Rochester Democratic Mayoral Primary sparred Thursday night over a number of city issues, including crime, campaign finance reform and the local economy.

Credit Martin Kaufman

This debate, the only televised formal debate prior to Tuesday’s primary, was broadcast from the studios of News 8 with the help of the League of Women Voters. It was simulcast on WXXI.

There was little common ground among the three Democrats, Mayor Lovely Warren, and challengers James Sheppard and Rachel Barnhart, and among the areas they differed on were the much discussed plans for Parcel 5 downtown.

City Hall is favoring a plan that includes a performing arts center and other amenities. Barnhart would like to see a temporary park set up and the whole process reopened.

“This entire debacle shows the need for structural reforms. We need to make sure that when we submit an RFP for public lands, that everyone knows these submissions will be public, and the public will get to weigh in,” Barnhart said.

Sheppard says he’s not sure the current proposal will benefit the entire community.

“A downtown performing arts center will be great for the people that come in from out of town from the surrounding area. But we have parts of this city, that will never step inside those doors because it will not be built for them,” Sheppard said.

Warren says the proposal she is recommending would help create several hundred construction jobs and benefit downtown in other ways as well.

“Talking about housing as well as some retail on the bottom, not just a performing arts center. And when you think about a performing arts center, and what it does to the surrounding areas, restaurants, hotels, shops, it brings people in to your center city,” Warren said.

The candidates also traded barbs over a number of other issues including campaign finance reform, crime and jobs statistics. 

All three candidates seemed to indicate support of the ability for the city to review police actions, and talked about the possibility of revamping a civilian review board. But Sheppard also defended his record as police chief after critical comments Barnhart made about the way he conducted himself in certain circumstances.

“I think I did fine,” said James Sheppard in a post-debate interview. “I think in terms of the issues, we all have differing positions on a number of them. I think we differentiated ourselves relative to how we stand on them. I think the big thing that was shown tonight is the lack of leadership by both my opponents.”

“I think voters saw a very clear contrast,” Barnhart agreed, saying the differences between them were stark. “They saw two people who are fighting over what we have now and fighting over leadership style. Then there was me….debates are great equalizers because it doesn’t matter how much money you have. You're all on this stage and answering the same questions.”

“I think I did wonderful tonight,” reflected Warren. “I have a record that I defended. For the last three and a half years as mayor, I’ve been committed to three things: making sure we have safer, vibrant neighborhoods, better educational opportunities and jobs and opportunities for our citizens and I think we've shown we made these investments.”        

The three candidates will be on the Democratic Mayoral Primary Ballot next Tuesday, September 12th. Voting is from Noon to 9pm. WXXI will have live coverage starting at 9pm on AM 1370 and streaming at wxxinews.org

Here's video from WXXI's Martin Kaufman of some of the post-debate interviews: