How will Malik Evans govern?
In a virtual Rochester Beacon event Tuesday, Rochester’s presumptive new mayor gave his first detailed peek into how he hopes to govern and shape city government.
The event was made possible by gold sponsor Bond, Schoeneck & King LLP and silver sponsor Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co.
After decisively defeating incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren in the June Democratic primary, Evans faces no opponent on the ballot in the upcoming November general election.
A City Council member and former president of the city school board, Evans has so far kept a relatively low profile, saying little publicly about what changes he plans to bring to City Hall.
For the city, a six-month transition from the lame-duck Warren administration to a still-in-waiting Evans administration has been a rough ride. As she ends her second term, Warren leaves office buffeted by a yearlong controversy over her and the Rochester Police Department’s handling of fallout after the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man whose death after an encounter with RPD officers was ruled a homicide.
Warren’s swan song was a sad ballad in which she was forced to pledge to resign as a condition to pleading guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violations. The plea deal also included an agreement to drop gun and child endangerment charges against her.
In the Warren administration’s final month, the city and its police department will be overseen by placeholder administrators. The city is slated to run by Deputy Mayor James Smith. The RPD will fall under interim chief David Smith. He replaced another interim chief, Cynthia Herriott-Sulivan, who was named by Warren to replace the chief she fired over the Prude affair. Herriott-Sullivan announced her resignation two days after Warren revealed the plea deal that would force her quit early.
While Evans will start with an at least partially cleaned slate, he will also have to move quickly to get his administration up and running.
“I won’t sugarcoat the challenges. Trust must be restored,” says Evans, highlighting a breach between some community members and the RPD that over the past year widened as controversy over Prude’s death mounted.
Evans also readily acknowledges the difficulties he will face heading the government in a city with one of the highest poverty and childhood poverty rates in the country, a low rate of homeownership and an often deeply-troubled school district.
The fixes he proposes to cure such ills—increasing economic opportunity for the city’s impoverished, programs to encourage small-business startups and to attract larger firms to bring work and tax payments, and training and educational programs to lure youths away from the temptations of the street—are “nothing new under the sun,” Evans concedes, quoting the oft-invoked Bible passage.
Evans at this early stage is short on specifics as to precisely how he hopes to accomplish such goals. But he is clear on the method he plans to apply: collaboration.
Whatever initiatives he undertakes as mayor, says Evans, will only work if the community pulls together as a whole. Any anti-poverty or economic-development programs the city pursues must be done in concert with Monroe County, which runs public assistance and other programs. Private-sector businesses and area nonprofits must also be brought in as collaborators in a communitywide effort.
Such intergovernmental coordination must extend to how the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds the city, the county and the RCSD are slated to get over the next few years are spent, Evans says.
Evans is nearly but not exactly starting from a dead stop. He has a team in place and has begun to confer with Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. The mayor does not control the RCSD, Evans notes, but as a former school board president who knows how the district operates, he stands ready to offer what help the city can extend.
A onetime intern to former Rochester Mayor William Johnson Jr., Evans speaks admiringly of Johnson as a mentor. Indeed, the plans he outlines are a distant echo of Johnson’s calls for communitywide collaboration in an era when ideas like a countywide metropolitan police force or school system were bandied before being roundly rejected by suburbanites unwilling to consider ceding any local control.
How successful Evans might be in bringing about a more voluntary version of the metropolitan government some envisioned in the 1980s remains to be seen. As a Council member and former RCSD board member, he is not a novice at working the levers of local government. But it will take the skills of a diplomat and a salesman as well to realize many of the plans he envisions.
With two and a half months left before he can begin to address the city’s ills, Evans signals that he is ready.
“I’m not big on talking about what I want to do,” he says. “I prefer doing it.”
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.