Assemblyman discusses saving distressed cities

ROCHESTER — New York state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz visited Rochester in May as part of a tour of cities to discuss ideas to save distressed communities throughout the state.

Ortiz is chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Cities as well as head of its Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. His May 9 visit to Rochester included talks with local Latino leaders and a meeting with educators and the Ibero-American Action League’s education task force that took place at the agency’s East Main Street office.

"He is a staunch advocate not just for one particular community … but for all citizens of New York," noted Rochester City Councilwoman Jackie Ortiz.

Assemblyman Ortiz said that Rochester was No. 23 on his tour of the state’s 62 cities, and that he hopes to complete the tour by the end of the Assembly’s current session. He wants to hear from mayors and council members about the problems and pitfalls that their cities are facing, he said.

If the state does nothing to try to bolster cities, such inaction would not bode well for the entire state, he added. One city’s bankruptcy could create a domino effect for neighboring cities, Ortiz explained.

"And then, communities and neighborhoods will die and disappear," he said.

Through his tour of cities, Ortiz said that he hopes to develop an urban agenda to present to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Assembly with ideas on preventing such collapse. One of the challenges to tackle first is declining populations, he added.

"Prevention first then remediation … so cities can come back and flourish," he said.

Councilwoman Ortiz said that the assemblyman’s visit was part of city officials’ goal to develop relationships outside of Rochester and Monroe County to create the kind of vibrant city he talks about.

"We can’t do this alone," she said.

She and Hilda Rosario Escher, Ibero’s chief executive officer and president, invited Ortiz to discuss Latino issues across the board, explained Anthony Plonczynski, Ortiz’s legislative aide.

With the assemblyman’s new role leading the committee on cities, Mayor Thomas Richards joined the effort to get Ortiz to town, Plonczynski added.

"We really wanted to have a robust conversation on the city as a whole, but specifically making sure also that the Latino voice is heard," he said. "That is important, and something that has been missing."

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