Mayor tackles tough topics at meeting

ROCHESTER — Mayor Lovely Warren did not shy away from answering tough questions about law enforcement recruitment, city schools, racism and concerns over a lack of Latino representation following a presentation at the Rochester Latino Rotary Club’s Dec. 8 meeting.

Rotary member Abraham Hernández said that he reached out to the mayor to help the Latino community forge a relationship with her office.

"She’s had a rough 12 months," he said of her first year in office. "And I don’t live in the city, but I’m part of it. I work in the city. My church is in the city. We are intertwined. If you don’t think she represents us, you’re in trouble. Think again."

Father Laurence Tracy raised the most difficult topics when he asked the mayor for her personal perspective on racism and the removal of Alex Castro as executive director of the Rochester Housing Authority.

"A lot of people think we’ve made a lot of progress because we have our first African-American president and the second African-American mayor," he said. "But we still live in race and class isolation."

Warren said that a healthy dialogue among people of different viewpoints and opinions on those issues must continue in a "nonadversarial way."

"We have to be willing to have a discussion and not sensationalize," she added. "This is a community diverse not just in race but culture, thought and income. … We have to have those discussions so we can move forward."

Warren noted that tables of decision-makers also should have a seat for everyone to represent that diversity. To that end, she said that she hopes to work with the Latino community "hand-in-hand" in the future and hopes to move forward regarding the RHA situation.

"I was just as surprised as you were," she said of the firing. "There are legal issues I cannot discuss here. I recognize it’s a problem. … But I tell you to look at my record. I don’t control other people’s actions."

During her presentation, Warren spoke about President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration and how she had met with mayors from around the country in New York City to discuss how they can support the proposal.

"We are fortunate to live in a time where we have leaders who are willing to stand up for the most vulnerable among us," she said.

She said that her own father came to the United States as an illegal immigrant, eventually becoming an engineer and becoming a citizen. He always pushed his two daughters to get a good education and have a better life, Warren added.

"That is why we must work with the city school district and our community partners to make sure every child gets a fighting chance at life," she said.

Since the mayor’s office doesn’t have power over the city school district’s board of education, however, she has focused on the libraries and recreation centers to create programs to support children’s literacy and other educational efforts.

Leslie Rivera, a teacher who will end her term this month as the first Latina in the Monroe County Legislature, said that the mayor needs to get more involved in improving city schools despite her public support of charter schools. The mayor acknowledged that support during the meeting.

Charter schools "take our best children and our money," Rivera said. "It’s very frustrating."

The mayor said that in addition to returning to community policing with stations located in five sections of the city, she would also like to see a return to children attending neighborhood schools.

"We need to go back to that," Warren said. "But it’s a process. We need to create quality schools in every neighborhood … and help parents engage more."

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