Cars lined both sides of Merriman Street, half of them parked illegally. People dipped their hands into their pockets, shielding them from the cold. And inside, it was only more packed, as people were forced to crowd together to make room to hear James Sheppard’s announce his candidacy for mayor.
Sheppard, former Rochester police chief and current county legislator, announced his campaign for mayor Saturday morning at Workers United, using the building as a backdrop for his campaign promise: Get Rochester working again.
“Our city deserves a leader with one mission: restoring Rochester’s promise,” he said, addressing the eager crowd. He built on a message of a stagnant Rochester; one where he and his followers see no change in crime, employment and poverty rates. Sheppard currently represents the 23rd district, which encompasses part of southeast Rochester, like Cobbs Hill and Browncroft, and northeast Brighton.
And while this campaign message means getting Rochesterians jobs, he said it also means fixing and improving the various parts of the city to get it “working” again, including education.
“I’ve been wanting Jim to run forever so I can’t wait to vote for him,” said Lenore Adams, an EMMA resident who said she supports Sheppard. “We have so much talent and passion in Rochester but it’s muddled down in all of the violence and hate that instead takes up the conversation. I think Sheppard could clear some of that.”
He also took the time Saturday to point out he differs from Warren:
“(Mayor Warren’s) administration believes in a philosophy of hiding and ignoring bad news,” he said before adding that he expects to be part of all city conversations and play an integral role in solving city issues and hearing from the people directly. More importantly he said he’ll seek those conversations out.
He also discussed how he handled protestors in Washington Square while he was police chief for the Rochester Police Department. Demonstrators were camping out in the space, part of the “Occupy” movement. He said he met with them and worked with them, but Warren didn’t do the same with Black Lives Matter protestors during the July protest. That night, over 70 were arrested, one of the highest rates in the nation for similar protests. He pointed to her decision to defer to RPD Chief Michael Ciminelli instead of showing up that night and he stated she also wasn’t there for the Boys & Girls Club shooting of 2015.
“This administration wasn’t there,” he said. “I will be.”
— James M. Sheppard (@jsheppard_m) January 14, 2017
It’s a race that’s looking increasingly contentious as Rachel Barnhart entertains a campaign herself. Having just lost to incumbent Harry Bronson in the Assembly, she has now turned an eye to running the city. Neither her nor Mayor Lovely Warren have announced their intention officially but that hasn’t stopped the conversation from including both of their names.
“I don’t know who I’ll vote for,” said Mickey Pollock, 35. “It’s taken decades to get where we are now so I think people beating up the mayor for not fixing it in 3 years, well that’s unfair. And if you think Sheppard is going to do it, well you’re being unrealistic. We need to think long-term too.”
However, a statement released by the Friends of Lovely Warren challenged Sheppard’s claim to truly represent the city and understand its needs:
“Mr. Sheppard does not have strong or established ties to city neighborhoods or the city’s electorate. He only moved his family to a neighborhood in the City of Rochester from Wayne County in 2007 when it was required for further police promotion and he was not even registered to vote, either in Wayne County or Rochester, before 2014. As police chief Mr. Sheppard oversaw an era known for heavy handed police tactics, under his ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy, and where our police officers were centralized and removed from neighborhood policing…Mr. Sheppard’s candidacy for Mayor, after serving only one year as a County Legislator without any results, is offensive to the people of Rochester.”