Thomas S. Richards was sworn-in as Mayor of Rochester on Friday, April 15 by former Mayor and Lt. Governor Robert J. Duffy during an inauguration ceremony in City Hall. View a photo gallery of the event.
Mayor Thomas S. Richards
Inauguration Speech – Friday, April 15, 2011
City Council Chambers
Thank you Lieutenant Governor Duffy, Assemblyman Gantt, members of City Council, members of the clergy and all the City workers here or watching today.
I’d like to recognize our County Executive Maggie Brooks, and Deputy County Executive Daniel DeLaus members of our County Legislature and all of the elected officials here today.
I will start out by thanking my wife Betty for her infinite patience and especially her sense of humor, which I have severely tested these past several months. Thanks to the rest of my family, my sister, Jane Hyde, our son, Matthew and his wife Jill, and for as long as they last here today, my grandchildren, Henry and Jacob Richards.
It would not be false modesty to say that I did not expect to be standing here today and even less so to say that Betty did not expect to be sitting there.
What I expected was to be sitting next to Betty and wondering how long Bob Duffy’s speech would be. So I guess there is some justice in having the Lt. Governor trapped in the front row wondering how long my speech will be.
I am here because many people had faith in me and supported me, many of whom—too many to mention—are here. Certainly the Lt. Governor, Dave Gantt and Joe Morelle are primary among them, along with Nichole Malec who managed my campaign.
I was a political neophyte and a somewhat reluctant campaigner. While I enjoyed meeting and discussing issues with voters and citizens, I make no claim to having enjoyed the rest of the process. However, as difficult as the political process is, I grew to like and respect the political people I worked with. More than they get credit for, they are motivated by a desire for good government and willing to work hard to get it. I thank them all for that lesson.
One other lesson I continually remember is that, reluctant campaigner or not, it is a privilege to serve in an elected position such as Mayor. We ask people to put their faith in us to make decisions that significantly affect their lives. It is an act of faith that we ask of them for the serious task we embark on. Our response after such a tough campaign should not be pride in being elected, but humility in the face of that faith and that task.
I would like to share some of my vision for this task of being Mayor with you today.
First is the need to restore an appreciation for the collective common interest in this entity we call the City.
I believe we have lost appreciation for the fact that while our governments are collective entities, they nonetheless have limits. The sum of the parts must ultimately equal the whole. What we are seeing now is a growing trend of certain areas overtaking and swamping other areas of our government, much like New York State has experienced.
Those of us who work for, or depend on the government—and that is all of us in some degree or another—are bound together by a common interest in this entity and its limits.
This is a time of turmoil across the country as we struggle to bring our financial capacity in line with the ever-escalating demands on government.
Government budgets are not just numbers and money; they are expressions of philosophy and values. Government spending matters and that is why the reaction to it is so strong.
Because budgets represent philosophy and values and people care about them, they can represent fertile ground for demagoguery. Selfish causes can hide behind noble causes, like the welfare of children or the poor and less fortunate. Previously dormant resentment can lead to the demonizing of decent, committed public employees.
These are complicated issues that go beyond the City and across the country. However, I believe that there is something about the way we govern, at least in New York that is making the situation worse.
For many years, the allocation of resources in New York has been the battle of special interests, and we are all a special interest in some area.
The game is to go to Albany or to City Hall and get your interest funded or protected—often by people who have no responsibility for the consequences—and then fight to hang on it to it.
This process involves making your righteous claim to those resources or commitments and then only bearing responsibility for the righteousness of that claim—and not for the impact on others or for the impact on the common interest—on the whole of the entity that is the government.
It is difficult to assail a claim of protecting the public or to helping children, yet at the same time the results of that effort for one group may significantly damage the whole.
The result has been to pile program upon program, mandate upon mandate, until the parts are greater than the whole and the whole begins to fail, as it is today. The greater good – the whole of the city is now subservient to some of the parts of the city.
Our current financial challenges are structural, which means that we have to change the structure to solve them.
We are going to have to do more than argue about who gets cut and who doesn’t. It will need to be more than a yelling contest, or declarations that one claim on the budget is more righteous than another. Such claims do not exist in a vacuum, but as part of the common interest—of the common whole—and we are each responsible for our impact on the whole and cannot avoid it.
This may sound logical, but it is very hard to do. Witness that we have not been doing it for some time.
Each righteous claim for the resources of all is not equal, and priorities change over time. As I said, budgets are not only about numbers and money, but about philosophy and values. As important as police and fire protection and schools are, at some point libraries, recreation centers and fixing the roads are important as well.
And therein lies the challenge. A budget is not just a matter of adding up all of the righteous claims for resources—for the parts will exceed the whole and the common entity will collapse. Budgeting is a matter of making choices.
But woe unto us if we fail to make those choices, as inevitably, as we are today, we will pay the price.
In my vision for our City, we will recapture an understanding and appreciation of our common interest—of our being bound by the limits of this entity that is the City—and begin behaving accordingly.
This challenge must be met by the City itself, but in addition there is embedded in this challenge an opportunity—an opportunity to expand our definition of the common good—of the whole.
Never waste a crisis and there has been no better time in my memory for governments to come together and work for the taxpayers we jointly serve.
The headquarters of three of the largest, if not the largest, governmental entities in the region are located within 3 blocks of each other in downtown—within walking distance of here: Rochester City Hall, the Monroe County Office Building and the City School District headquarters.
These three entities command more than $2 billion in spending.
We have always shared common geography and some common responsibilities and functions. And today, we all we share something else, a common financial problem.
There is nothing like running out of money to clarify your thinking or to help you set your priorities. What seemed impossible or undesirable before might not look so bad today, compared to the other options.
I am not talking about spending the next decade arguing about fundamental governmental structure. I am talking about common functions that can be done jointly without diminishing anyone’s democracy or right to service.
I am not talking about bailing each other out, but helping each other out. It must benefit all entities, rather than shift cost from one to another. Governmental cost shifting is how we got into some of the mess we now find ourselves in.
There will be some loss of control, but you can only effectively control what you can afford. Stubbornly hanging on to control at the cost of diminishing service and unreasonably raising taxes does not serve our citizens well. This is serving the special interest at the expense of the common good—of the unavoidable impact on the whole of our community.
It may not help any of us this year, but in my vision of our City, it is time to get serious about this and I believe that my partners in government are willing to listen.
This brings me to a second element of my vision for this task of being Mayor.
Beyond our financial challenges, I can envision a growing and successful—albeit changed—economy emerging for our region and City.
It will take time and the government at all levels will have to work hard to facilitate it, but this community has good bones. We have the elements to prosper in a more diverse knowledge-driven economy.
The wealth generated by our now-diminished manufacturing base has left us with great educational institutions which are now independently successful. They are a wealth of highly-trained people and ideas.
The manufacturing that remains in our community— which is substantial—is driven by technology and refined skills.
Rochester is rich in cultural opportunities beyond our size and we are able to provide a varied, affordable and manageable lifestyle for our residents.
These are all key elements of the economy that will prosper in our country in the coming years and they are already here in our community.
There is one caution in this vision for our economy. Our community will not be successful unless this vision is broadly participated in. If the future is to be a knowledge-based economy, then our citizens must be prepared to participate in it.
One of the priorities of the Duffy administration—and it will be a priority in my administration—is education.
Our citizens will not participate in the knowledge-based economy unless they are educated to do so. And far too few or our children are being so educated in our public schools today.
We can only go so far along the path to a revitalized economy and community, if our citizens are ill-equipped to participate. This is not just a problem for the young people in our schools, tragic as that failure is.
It is an even greater problem for our common interest. If we fail to bring along such a large portion of the common whole that is our community, then we cannot avoid the negative impact.
We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves and recognize that our common interest and our common good demands serious progress on preparing our young people for the future.
The City I envision in the future is not just revitalized and successful, but broadly participated in. This can only happen if we have significantly improved the performance of our school system.
As much as I have discussed some challenges today, those challenges are enclosed within a vision for our City and broader community that is full of promise and opportunity. I have always felt that way about this place and I still do.
As I said when I began, I approach this office with humility for the task and the faith that has been placed in me. I am honored by this opportunity and I will do my best to justify that honor.