Smith becomes Rochester’s 70th mayor

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“My pledge today to the people of Rochester is to fulfill the awesome responsibilities of this role with integrity, purpose and grace,” Mayor James Smith said.

James Smith was sworn in today as Rochester’s 70th mayor. The city’s deputy mayor since 2019, he becomes its first openly gay mayor.

Smith will hold the office through Dec. 31. Lovely Warren stepped down a month before the end of her second term as part of a plea agreement on a campaign finance charge. Mayor-elect Malik Evans is slated to take office on Jan. 1.

“My pledge today to the people of Rochester is to fulfill the awesome responsibilities of this role with integrity, purpose and grace,” Smith said. “Each day presents a new set of challenges and opportunities for our city, and I will embrace them in a way that continues the progress of the previous Administration and supports the next Administration’s preparations for success.” 

The oath of office was administered by Joanne Winslow, associate justice of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, whom City Hall described as a pioneering member of Rochester’s LGBTQ+ community.

Said Smith: “I am incredibly grateful for the blessings of my life’s experiences as a public servant and gay man, which give me the confidence to navigate this transition and honor the achievements and sacrifice of Rochester’s LGBTQ+ community who have made this historic moment both possible and poignant.”

Before he was appointed deputy mayor, Smith had served as director of communications and special events since 2015. Over his more than 25 years in local government, he has held positions including as deputy Monroe County executive, CEO and director of the Monroe County Water Authority, and Seneca County manager.

Smith lives in the city’s ABC Neighborhood. The son of an immigrant—his mother was born and raised in County Wexford, Ireland—he holds dual American and Irish citizenship.

After taking office, Smith appointed Tassie Demps, the city’s director of human resources, as deputy mayor. She is the first African-American woman to serve in that position.

Demps has been a city employee since 1990, when she began her career as a purchasing control clerk. She holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business administration from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“Tassie Demps is one of City Hall’s most trusted and accomplished administrators and advisers with an unmatched perspective of the most important resource across the enterprise,” said Smith. “Her institutional knowledge of city government and unsurpassed competence will be a tremendous benefit as we manage the transition.”

Said Demps: “When I came to work in City Hall more than 30 years ago, I could not have imagined that I would one day to be asked to fill the role of the city’s highest appointed position. I am incredibly honored to be the first African-American woman to hold this title and I am grateful for this opportunity to validate by example the city of Rochester’s commitment to nurturing talent and encouraging all of its employees to not only succeed but flourish.”

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

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