Despite a tumultuous couple of years, Rochester’s Mayor Lovely Warren leaves the office with “no regrets.”
“I fulfilled the promises I made eight years ago,” Warren said in a video farewell address. “And so many people helped me along the way. And our work speaks for itself.”
Warren steps down as the 69th mayor at midnight. Deputy Mayor James Smith will hold the office for the final month of Warren’s term, in accordance with a plea agreement on felony charges reached in October. The charges were brought on by campaign finance violations. Warren pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, with an admission that she accepted donations beyond the legal limits.
Rochester’s first female African-American mayor, Warren was initially sworn in Jan. 1, 2014. In November 2017, she won election to a second four-year term. Warren sought re-election this year, but City Council member Malik Evans defeated her in the June 23 Democratic primary. He won the general election last month, facing no opposition.
In her address, Warren, 44, spoke directly to her daughter Taylor, 11, and Rochester’s children. She noted that her love for them served as a guide as she governed.
Warren’s administrative agenda focused on creating more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods, and better educational opportunities, her office says. Among those accomplishments is Constellation Brands’ decision to move downtown. The company’s $50 million investment will renovate five buildings on the Aqueduct campus located between East Main and Broad streets, across from Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial.
“For the first time in a generation, we brought the world headquarters of a Fortune 500 company to downtown. And created an environment where people wanted to eat, work and play on our Main Street,” Warren said. “People from outside of our city have seen what we accomplished and they want to be part of it.”
On her watch, Warren also instituted the use of body-worn cameras for police officers in 2016. Her intent was to offer the community a greater role in police accountability and give officers a tool to refute false accusations. Those cameras would also blemish her legacy—they captured Daniel Prude’s arrest, which led to his subsequent death, resulting in cries for police reform and, in some circles, her ouster. It further fractured trust between the police and City Hall and the community.
In her last days in office, Warren has worked to repair that trust somewhat, signing an agreement with Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of United Leadership Christian Ministry, to create a Civilian Public Safety Interview Panel for prospective Rochester Police Department hires. On Tuesday, she inked a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, to enable Rochester to use the Brady Center’s national reach to analyze crime trends and prevention efforts in Rochester in comparison with other cities. The goal: to leverage that knowledge to protect neighborhoods.
Building strong, connected communities was an important goal for the Warren administration. In a book “A Lovely Legacy: Belief Made Real,” following a tradition set by previous mayors, Warren cites the progress in the city’s Northeast quadrant as an example. She worked to “deliver safety and housing stability; (and) demonstrate the transformative power of community with equitable investments and collaborative services.” The Rochester Land Bank provided increased funding to promote affordable home ownership, and neighborhood service centers were tasked with promoting neighborhood preservation and strengthening commercial corridors.
“(The city) invested more than $872 million to build and renovate more than 4,000 affordable homes, making it possible for more than 9,000 people to escape the cycle of poverty and build generational wealth,” Warren said.
She closed her speech looking ahead to her new chapter with Taylor, asking her daughter and other children to stay strong and not quit.
“This is a moment of historic change, not just for Rochester but across the country and the world. And you know, change brings uncertainty and fear. And the pandemic has only made it worse,” Warren said. “When people are afraid, they become angry—and mean. They fight to hold on to what they have, instead of working together to create more. They preach a gospel of fear, instead of one of acceptance. They look for anything they can use to divide, instead of to unite.
You and the children of our city are the beacons of hope that our community must embrace.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.