“This is the way the world ends,” T.S. Eliot wrote, famously. “Not with a bang but a whimper.” This is the way good ideas end: not with success but liberal deja vu. Rochester, New York, has passed this way before
In recent years, Rochester has forged a name for not getting the deal done. In 2005, its fast ferry to Toronto sailed a slow boat to bankruptcy. The soccer Rhinos’ unfinished stadium denotes an ATM turned debt machine. Renaissance Square seemed different: a sure thing from whose jaws of victory even the Flower City couldn’t snatch defeat.
For a decade, business, labor, the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, two Monroe County Executives, and two Mayors have vowed to fix downtown. Their recent means: local, state, and $100 million in Federal stimulus. The end: a bus terminal, Monroe Community College campus, and 2,800-seat performing arts center — Ren Square.
By spring, the $230 million immoveable object seemed a slam dunk, groundbreaking due this fall. Enter liberal partisanship’s irresistible force. Despite 24 public hearings since 2004, the all-Democrat City Council, needing to condemn land for development, suddenly balked, claiming to have not been consulted or advised. Democratic Mayor Robert Duffy then revealed “reservations” he allegedly felt but had never deigned to tell. Overnight, the done deal was undone.
Controlling patronage, Duffy says he never pressured the Council to deep-six Renaissance Square. (Believing that, you think Keith Olbermann stable.) Worse, he knifed Republican County Executive Maggie Brooks, who valiantly backed the plan. “There was nothing in it for me,” she observed, correctly. “Many of my voters in the suburbs don’t care what happens to the city.” In the end, Brooks cared more about Rochester than did the liberal Mayor of Rochester.
In 2006, she said, “Let the Brooks-Duffy era pick up where [predecessor as Mayor Bill] Johnson and I left off.” Instead, leaving her, Duffy jabbers jibberish. He says private investment will fill the Square. By whom? The site has been desolate for years. What economic fools will rush in where Duffy feared to tread? Who will replace RenSquare’s 3,700 construction jobs, $20 million already spent in design, land fees, and related costs, and $100 Federal million? Inquiring minds want to know. The Mayor’s is too busy swiveling.
Tellingly, Duffy backs a multimodal facility, including relocated terminal, at a proposed high-speed rail center, half-a-mile away, at Rochester’s current Amtrak station. It will do nothing to revive downtown. It will, however, please the folly’s patron: Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, and her hip, boutique, politically correct, factually incoherent, public transit-crazed base. She/it dream of European-style light rail. Many feel Duffy dreams of succeeding Slaughter, needing her nod and clientele when the Congresswoman, 79, retires. Why else would he sink downtown by harpooning RenSquare?
In Washington, Blue Dog Democrats will help decide health care’s fate. In Rochester, Slaughter’s perceived lap dog doomed RenSquare’s fate. For years, Duffy sat silently as the project evolved. Cat got his tongue? Apparently, expedience had. Showing why it often seems from another orb, the local Democrat & Chronicle newspaper dubs the damage to him “minimal.” Minimal, criminal. The D&C itself says that, calling U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s office to “discuss” RenSquare, Duffy was told there was nothing to discuss.
Ironically, Duffy may long await his higher pay grade. For one thing, like many politicians, Slaughter may forget any quid pro quo, explicit or implied. For another, she may, like Queen Victoria, spurn retirement, “go[ing] on and on.” In the meantime, Rochester may have blown a last best chance to shed its Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight image. It is unlikely to forget, let alone make Duffy Slaughter’s heir.
In 1962, Casey Stenel surveyed his wretched expansion Mets. “Can’t anyone here,” he said, “play this game?” We will see if Duffy’s game has been that of a liberal cynic willing to sacrifice his own city on the altar of raw ambition.
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