Meet James Smith: Rochester’s new interim, first openly gay mayor

Local Politics

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester has a new mayor, but only for a month.

Former Mayor Lovely Warren’s resignation took effect at midnight, and her deputy mayor, James Smith, will oversee operations at City Hall until Mayor-elect, and current City Councilman, Malik Evans is sworn in on January 1, 2022. Evans ran unopposed after defeating Warren in June’s Democratic primary.

“We’re at a crossroads in our community, there’s obviously a transition coming with the new mayor and we have a sort of added wrinkle now of a different transition,” Smith told News 8 last month after Warren submitted her resignation.

When Smith was sworn in Thursday, he officially became Rochester’s 70th mayor in history, and its first openly gay mayor. After taking the oath of office, Smith appointed Tassie Demps, the City’s Director of Human Resources, as Deputy Mayor. She is the City’s first African-American woman to hold that title.

Smith was sworn in virtually Thursday due to a recent positive COVID-19 diagnosis. City Communications Directory Justin Roy told News 8 Thursday that Smith’s quarantine schedule is expected to be complete by Saturday, adding that the mayor being fully vaccinated has helped in the recovery and scheduled release of quarantine.

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

Smith assumed the role of Deputy Mayor in 2019, and previously held the position as Director of Communications and Special Events since 2015. He has held positions of increasing responsibility in local government for more than 25 years, including as Deputy Monroe County Executive; Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Monroe County Water Authority; and Seneca County Manager.

Smith told News 8 says his true task and duty now is to make sure the citizens here are served and the quality of life here stays intact when it comes to basic services. 

“I signed up for this, and when I signed up for this, I signed up for all of it. I believe I have a duty and I intend to carry that out,” he said.

Smith said he’s focused on making sure that there is a smooth transition in January for presumptive mayor Malik Evans.

“Because his success will be the success for the City and for all of us who live in the City,” he said.

City officials say Smith lives in Rochester’s ABC Neighborhood and, as the son of an immigrant, he holds dual American and Irish citizenship. His mother, Elizabeth Smith, was born and raised just outside Enniscorthy in Killagoley, County Wexford, Ireland. Officials say she immigrated to the United States in 1954 after meeting Smith’s father, Gordon Smith, in Europe while he was serving as a Master Sgt. in the U.S. Army.

Smith is a public school graduate, then going to SUNY Oswego for higher education. Throughout his career, he has worn many hats over the years serving the public; working for Seneca County, Monroe County, the City, the Water Authority, and even a regional director for Congress.

Warren resigned after accepting a plea deal in October that resolved multiple felonies, including campaign finance violations connected to her 2017 re-election bid.

Terms of the plea also resolved another set of criminal charges against the mayor. Warren and her estranged husband, Timothy Granison, were each handed three different charges after a pistol and rifle were found in their home where their daughter was left alone in May.

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