The election shenanigans are well underway as we enter phase two of the process: the petitioning. The two more interesting races are City Council and the mayoral race. Familiar faces seem to be a way to characterize what the options are. Rochester Woman was lucky enough to get an inside view by talking to some city residents and some of the candidates.

Chief James Sheppard focuses his agenda on what is right and the needs of the community. James Sheppard brings a true challenge to the incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren. Sheppard served his term as a legislator and now is seeking the mayor seat. A newcomer, Mary Lupien shall also throw her hat in the arena of the City Council race.

The race is becoming extremely interesting as the mayoral race includes incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren, Legislator and former Police Chief; Chief James Sheppard and newswoman Rachael Barnhart. In the days leading up to the beginnings of the election, the buzz on the streets and in the press was inclusive of the race argument.  In March, the issue of race popped up surrounding accusations about Adam McFadden and his alleged bullying and intimidating statements made surrounding the 25th Legislative District where people called for a public reprimand from Mayor Warren which never came.

Rochester politics at its best, the main characteristic seems to be a focus on “Black Lives Matter”. If you are an African-American, it is expected as an individual to cast a vote for African American politicians with the expectation the politicians who are African-Americans will automatically represent African-American interests. The color of someone’s skin doesn’t mean a person will automatically support any and all African-American issues. Don’t be hoodwinked! Politics is not governed by the color of skin, historically and emphatically, it’s about sticking with your party-line and their agenda; whether you are black or white. Vote together and we shall overcome, and that’s it regardless of color.

Recently, a community-based forum held by Transparency for Peace highlighted additional city issues. Community members were enraged by what they characterized as racist police dealings where community members were being abused by the police, the need for reform and a demand for accountability surrounding why known drug houses were not being shut down by the city. While no governmental process is perfect and it is easy to throw stones, some type of resolution must be found. The question is can a new administration tackle this agenda? Or will they just fall in with the run of the game of Rochester Politics on the day after the election is over? This is the question we as community members must ask.

Mary Lupien, is also throwing her hat in the race for city council. Mary is a substitute teacher at the Rochester City School District. She serves as a volunteer organizer at “Mothers Out Front Rochester”. Mary is no stranger to community issues. Most of her background seems to stem from grass roots organizing. Interesting on her social media page, Mary quotes Frederick Douglas “We are one, our cause is one. We must work together if we are to succeed”.

Rochester Woman asked Mary what her thoughts are about Rochester politics as she enters the race. “People in our city are struggling. Struggling to make ends meet, struggling to get where they need to go, struggling to make a better life for them and their families. With the state of our country on a national level, things will only get harder. Now I am convinced more than ever we need change at the local level to enact policies that affect systematic change to bring more equity and justice to Rochester. And this change has to come from the people living within the system and not those benefitting from the current system”.

What happens after the election is over? Business as usual or reform? Allegiances amongst the incumbents’ ring true when hitting the campaign trail. Who do you align with? Which team? After the election, does everything go back to normal? These are all questions a candidate must ask, answer and decide.

FORMER POLICE CHIEF JAMES SHEPPARD: MAYORAL CANDIDATE

Rochester Woman was given an exclusive sit down with the mayoral candidate and we asked the tough questions. Every candidate has areas where people want to know “what really happened?” Seldom is there a chance to get the answers. Often the answers provide deep insight into why something was done a certain way and often those answers are not provided to the public but the adverse situation is used to throw political mud as to why you should not vote for someone. One of the controversial issues which come up regarding mayoral candidate Chief James Sheppard is whether some of his decisions were questionable while serving the community.

A local resident Amen Imhotep Ptah was clear, he would stick with Lovely.

“What happens in our backyard will directly impact the citizens of Rochester, therefore, our local election season is of vital importance when it comes to the political and economic landscape in the city. Unfortunately, there are candidates in the mayoral race that can strategically divide the black vote, an essential element in deciding who gets elected. I truly don’t have confidence in James Sheppard especially the way he made excuses for the police misconduct while he was the Chief of Police.

And although Mayor Lovely Warren has her mis-steps while being in office (her initial stance on certain issues such as the pickaninny down at Charlotte Beach) I think she is the most qualified out of all the candidates. Rachael Barnhart does not have the community’s best interest in mind reflecting on her biased views and the use of a platform ( as a journalist, she is supposed to be objective) to attack members of political parties playing an implicit (and explicit) role in producing micro-aggressions and institutionalized racism in local media.

Also we must pay attention to the school board candidates, as well as those running for sheriff and City Council. We all should find our voice in this process and make our votes count to get these people in office that will fight for the have-nots and equity all across the all institutional arenas in our community”.

The police chief faced several difficult situations while he served the community. His tenure was during the beginning of race issues beginning to occur between the police and the community and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Despite what we as normal people think there is no room for someone’s personal point of view when they are serving the public in a leadership capacity. Do all leaders uphold this integrity? Of course not. James Sheppard was one that did. The choice to remain apolitical, including not voting was recently questioned. Instead of seeing it for what it was an act of integrity it was turned into a blemish of why people should not vote for “ Shep”.

When asked about these issues James replied:

“I never lied. I never beat anyone. I never took any money from anyone. I faced the music honorably. I learned early on in my career, people want to be heard. When issues present when there are emotions and anger involved there is usually a tense situation a hand. I tried to let people say what they have to say and if you listen you often get further. If I can do something to help I do. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do other than listen.

My duty as a police officer was to be disengaged from politics. I never spoke on my political views . I felt it was not my place. I had no position and I kept everything neutral. My job was to serve and protect public safety”.

James indicated he took the position when he served the public by having no alignment. This included removing himself from the political process all together. He did not exercise his right to vote during those years and he stands by his decision. People who entered the political realm here in Rochester started as civil rights activists. If you follow what happened after election their voice was silenced. Most people all think when entering politics, I am going to make a difference. When an individual gets there they soon find out what is expected and what happens if that politician decides to “be the rebel”.

As a public official, there are interests which come into play. Integrity vs. remaining in office is often the choice which must be made. With the use of technology certain issues are brought to the public eye with the posting of videos on social media. This is what brought the issue of community police issues to the forefront.  Private videos. Does a camera lie? Of course it shows what happened but there is also an issue of selective viewing. When only portions of what happened are filmed often the justification of a certain action is eliminated. Seeing only part of the story often leads people down a road of decision-making which is flawed based on the portion of events shared. In a police officer’s point of view often what transpired leading up to an incident is what justified a certain action.

These days upholding the law is not an easy job. Tempers are flaring justifiably when we have multiple people dying at the hands of the police and it appears race is playing into the decision to use force. Black Lives Matter. This stemmed public outrage across the nation and induced public protest in cities across the world including Rochester. We as a city, faced our own issues regarding the movement and a protest was scheduled during prime hours of the East End nightlife. Chief Sheppard was not the chief during this movement but he pointed out things we may not as citizens think about. Often during protests we see looting. There is unrest. Local businesses are affected during the times of the protest.

In Rochester, there are a group of clubs all in one area which were right in the middle of the protest that evening. Patrons feared utilizing the businesses as they would have to cross through the protests to get into any club in that area. First amendment rights allow for peaceful protests. These issues must be balanced when making policing decisions. Often when there are protests, the aim of the organizers is to be arrested to seek public outcry. When this is the issue police must balance the rights of the protesters and their duty to keep the peace.

Chief Sheppard faced this issue head on when we also as a community faced the Occupy Movement. Administrators know the history of certain groups and many times the groups uphold the movements despite the issues. History plays into what decisions need to be made. Rochester did experience violent riots in the early seventies as part of a movement and a similar protest led to police cars being overturned on Main Street. Once destruction is used, the right to protest is cancelled and the need to maintain order and peace kicks in. The police are forced to step in with violent offenders of the peace and make arrests as peacefully as they are able. Once protestors respond to officers with the use of violence this muddies the issues as officers must maintain peace and public order.

Chief Sheppard received a lot of criticism on the way he handled the Occupy Movement. When asked about this issue he responded honestly and did not run from the question of  “What really happened?”  Chief Sheppard indicated he first reviewed history of what happened in 2010, when some of the same political action groups were involved in a prior protest which ended in unfavorable situations. Many of the other protest were ending with violence to “Take back the streets”. Chief Sheppard did not want that here.  “ I was proud, Rochester was one of the only cities the protests did not turn violent”.

The city engaged in negotiations with the protest organizers and an end date was agreed upon. This date passed and it was time to end the situation. There was no question if an individual remained in the area after the date, arrest was the consequence. Shep was faced with the decision of “ how are the police going to clear the park?” He made a difficult decision. He went with his gut instinct and the goal was to end the situation peacefully. His choice was to handle it personally or to send a group of officers to arrest people. He decided it do it personally.

This decision was not to show everyone he was boss or out of arrogance, but to ensure the rights of the protesters were respected. By making all of the arrests himself, he knew first-hand how it was handled…by the book.

Chef Sheppard indicates his mother played a role in how he views the world. He came from a family of 12 children. His mother struggled to support the family but always instilled the value system it was about working hard, giving back and helping people. James’ mother lived by example. She worked hard, took care of the family and thought about herself last. She went back to school earning her GED at age 42. She continued to receive an Associates in Nursing at age 43 and her RN Bachelors at 53.

James reflects:“The nation forgot what policing was intended for; helping people not oppressing minorities. During my career in law enforcement for 32 years, I saw far too many dead bodies. The police handled disputes by documenting things and then after someone was shot, they knew who to pick up for questioning. Our job was not intended to write things down. As chief, I began to make a change a shift to preventative policing.

I tried to address the city problem of violence by identifying problems and providing solutions. Offering services to known potential offenders instead of just waiting for a violent crime to happen and arresting people. People are innocent until proven guilty and police cannot act simply because of an affiliation, there must be justification. Providing opportunities can stop one crime from happening. That makes this approach worth it”.

An interesting metaphor was compared; the starfish on the beach. Every day a man walked upon the beach. That same man despite there being hundreds of starfish washed up on the beach picked up a single starfish and threw it back into the water.

Another characteristic of local politics is anyone can run for office. Senator Rich Funke, began his career as a newscaster. Assemblyman Koon ran for office after his daughter was murdered in the community. Rachael Barnhart, a mayoral candidate was also a newscaster. Shawn Dunwoody, a local artist also joined the race for City Council. Former Chief Duffy and James Sheppard served as career law enforcement officers. The message is clear in Rochester a politician does not have to be a career-politician. Anyone can make it into office.

\An interesting thread surfaced when reviewing local politics, at least three candidates indicate they were told to “wait your turn”. At least one of those people was successful when they decided they weren’t going to wait their turn.

Chief Sheppard makes it clear: “It’s not about me vs. Lovely. The political campaign process is a three-legged stool. It is the same way for the past thirty years. All campaigns run with three issues; education, public safety and economics. At the end of the day nothing changes. The data for the last three years shows things are worst. Poverty is increasing. The stats regarding reading and math levels for children are terrible. I want to make a difference and in order to do this, we must change our focus on how we do things.

We must become self-sufficient. We must create a culture for education. We can’t just focus on downtown when developing the city. What we are doing is creating new development but pushing the people out of the area into the poverty-stricken zones because the people who lived there can no longer afford the new housing. This is not a solution, it’s masking the problem.

When I retired I didn’t have a plan. I started working with the Center for Youth and then went to Carnegie. It wasn’t my first idea to run for office. Someone else suggested it. It was pointed out I had name recognition. Paul Haney was retiring because he reached the term limit. The only thing which was important to me was I could reach back into the community and continue to give back. There seemed to be so many people with an outlet in media but they were doing nothing to make changes”.

This week the politics of Rochester really kicks off as we enter the petitioning portion of the elective process. Statements were issued by the candidates and the fiscal budget was unveiled. Chief Sheppard weighs in stating “ Let’s not play politics with our future”. The Democrat and Chronicle indicated in an article going as far to claim the proposed budget was nothing more than an “election year budget”. Team Sheppard outlines this budget proposal uses “long-term budgeting for short-term needs”.

With the current state of affairs in our city and nation-wide, its questionable whether any candidates can make a difference. Every election brings some new but they must mix with old. Can anyone make change? Let’s hope so!