ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Democratic primary challenger, City Councilmember Malik Evans went head-to-head in a debate on News 8 WROC Tuesday.
The debate, co-sponsored by the Rochester-area metro League of Women’s Voters, touched on issues in the Rochester City School District, the recent arrest of the mayor’s husband, police accountability, and much, much more.
The primary election is scheduled for June 22, 2021. Early voting begins June 12.
Watch the full debate in the video player above. Below is a transcript of some of the key moments.
Adam Chodak — To Councilman Evans, you served as RCSD Board President from 2008 to 2013. I looked back in the News 8 archives for those years and saw many of the same issues flagged by the state in its recently highly critical reports of the district: budget gaps, job cuts, attendance issues, low graduation rates. Voters are trying to determine who’ll be the best leader here. What did you do in those years to demonstrate leadership and push for change?
Malik Evans — I’m absolutely proud of my service on the Rochester Board of Education. When I told my mom I was running for school board, she was crying. She said “I’m crying because you’re going into a school system that had 50 years of challenge, but at the same time I’m proud that you’re willing to step up as a 23 year old and serve.”
And while I was there, I’m proud of the service that I have demonstrated. We advanced the pre-K program which was not something that was on the national radar, and we got three and four-year-olds full time in school. We took advantage of the modernization program and we got phase one there. We expanded the learning schools over at school 58, started another one at school 10, the Dr. Cooper academy so while it was a challenge there is definitely more work to do, but I did my very best during my time on that board. I’m proud of my service, and of course, there are still challenges that remain, but while I was there, I did everything that I could to ensure that we gave our students a great opportunity as it related to pre-K, as well as how it related to things like facility modernization, expanded health services, and many other programs that I helped to implement while I was there.
Lovely Warren — As we all know, the challenges we face today, and many of the things that are happening in our streets, are because of the failed education education system for generations. And I am proud to have worked with superintendent Leslie Meyers-Small over the last year, and make sure they receive the support that they needed during the pandemic.
While our schools were closed, the city decided to open up our recreation centers. Our recreation centers provided learning labs to our students, right in their neighborhood. We decided to feed millions of meals to our children because we wanted to make sure that they got the nutritional support that they needed as they were at home while facing the pandemic. We continue to work with our parents, and our families, to ensure that our children get the mental and educational support that they need to overcome the challenges that they face. And we will continue to work together as we move our educational system forward.
Mayor’s husband arrested
Adam Chodak — Democratic voters want a candidate who can cruise from primary election day to general election day as unscathed as possible. You’re already facing campaign finance charges. Now we have last week’s situation. So, did you know about the illegal guns police say they found in your home and is it possible you’ll get charged for them?
Lovely Warren — I did not know about the guns or drugs. I did not own gun or drugs. And I have and will continue to move our community forward. I want everyone to know that I have since learned that the gun was registered to my mother-in-law. I am truly, truly sorry about all of this that our community faces.
People know, my grandfather was shot four times. I was in the second grade. I am a child of a substance abuse person. I know what families face. With gun violence and with drugs. I would never, ever want any child to have to face that in their entire life. And that is why as mayor, I have been focused on ensuring that we continue to work toward trying to reduce gun violence, work towards getting guns off of our street, working towards getting drugs and getting people the support and the help that they need when they are experiencing not only a mental health crisis, but also, a crisis with drug use. That is a health issue, and so with me I can tell you Adam, I’m innocent. And I believe that the facts and the truth is on our side. And I am looking forward to being found innocent because I did nothing wrong.
Malik Evans — This is a tough time in our community as it relates to gun violence as many know. We have had over 130 shootings this coming year. Over a 60% increase over last year and 85-plus folks of those folks are students and folks under the age of 25, many of them students in the Rochester City School District.
So, this issue of guns in our community is something that we have to get right, get done, and we know that. Guns are a absolutely a public health issue, but we’re also in a state of emergency as it relates to guns. Last week we released a gun reform program to try to get illegal guns off the street by targeting the I-95 corridor where we see the guns that are coming in, but it is a problem if our community that has led to many lives lost, and will continue to lead to more lives lost if we do not have an intensive focus on guns, but also on our young people to make sure that they don’t decide they want to pick up a gun.
Adam Chodak — I want to quickly add a follow up here for the mayor. In your news conference last week, you had said that the arrest was basically a political hit job, so my question to you is, do you have any evidence that this is some top of effort to attack you right now?
Lovely Warren — There are so many coincidences here and I just don’t believe in that many coincidences. I am continuing to focus on the work for the people of Rochester. During the pandemic, we worked very, very hard to ensure that resources were not only given to our businesses, but our families, that our children were taken care of.
Pre-pandemic, we had brought crime down to 30-year lows. We had unemployment at 10-year lows and we’ll continue to build on our record of success and that is what is important to me. It is about making sure that we’re getting the job done, and I can tell the citizens of Rochester, that no matter what has happened, I have focused on the work and I have delivered for you.
Police Accountability Board
Adam Chodak — The Rochester police union, the Locust Club, and the City of Rochester have a contract agreement. That agreement has been cited as reasons what the Police Accountability Board can’t discipline officers and why the mayor can’t fire officers immediately for cause. Would you seek to change that agreement to make those two actions possible?
Malik Evans — Think it is important that, in any contract, that you negotiate things that would be for the best of the community. I think that that is extremely important. It is essential, but let me talk about the Police Accountability Board. It is important that, we support the Police Accountability Board. I supported the Police Accountability Board from the beginning and supported it, not only because it came from residents, but I also supported because it passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2019, with 73% so it is important that this Police Accountability Board, not be met with obstruction, and it is important that the Police Accountability Board be given the tools this it needs to succeed, which is codified in the city charter.
So, as mayor, not only will I work with the Police Locust Club to make sure we get a contract that ensures that police officers are not what we call, warriors, but guardians. I’ll also work with the Police Accountability Board and any other interested community citizens to make sure that we create a police department that is just not one of reform, but one of culture change. We need that and saw that after the Daniel Prude situation, and we need that in order to rebuild trust in our community.
The gulf that we have in our community is something that I have not seen in my lifetime. The gulf between City Hall and those that are on the streets. So, the only way to do that is to make sure that we improve relations with the police department, with City Hall, organizations like the Police Accountability Board, and larger community-based organizations that can help us to strengthen our community and improve police community relations, which in the end will help us solve crime and also prevent crime.
Lovely Warren — Adam, I think that you were very specific about your question and it was, “how do you deal with problem officers that actually treat your citizens wrong.” And today, it takes maybe two to three, maybe even four years to fire a problem officer. This is not something that is going to be negotiated at a negotiation table. It is just unrealistic for us to even think about that. This is something that requires state law change.
If you want to be able to ensure that citizens get the support that they need when they are abused, then you have to be able to fire them for cause. Now, I believe that we have done a lot to build bridges when it comes down to making sure that our families and people in our community are taken care of when it comes down to holding officers accountable. That is the reason why I brought body worn camera videos to this community because I wanted everyone to be able to see what is happening on our streets, and so that our residents, our police officers, and everyone can be protected, but when it comes down to dealing with the challenges that face our police department, we need to be able to fire for cause.
Adam Chodak — The City Council hired an investigator to look into how City Hall and the police department handled the Daniel Prude case and why the public didn’t know about it for so long. He concluded there was lots of blame to go around, but added “In the final analysis, the decision not to publicly disclose these facts rested with Mayor Warren, as the elected mayor of the city of Rochester.” What’s your response to that?
Lovely Warren — First I want to extend my deepest condolences to Daniel Prude’s family because I know this was a very tragic loss for them and for our entire community. That investigation also showed that I was not provided with the truth, at any point in time, and at every turn, I was provided with misinformation.
When I finally saw the body-worn camera video, I wanted to disclose this information. However that was the decision that I made in listening to other people, but I believe, and I have stepped up and I’ve said that was a mistake, but for me, I brought body worn camera videos to this community, because I want people to be able to see what is happening in our streets and in our community as it pertains to our police department.
The fact of the matter is that, after the fact, we have changed the way we deal with people that have mental health issues, and substance abuse issues because we wanted to make sure that we understand this is a health issue. We need to deal with people with these challenges with compassion, and that’s why, we brought in the person in crisis team. And in this year’s budget we are increasing that team to be able to help ensure that the people that need these services get the support that they need in a compassionate way. We have to as a community, work together to ensure that our citizens, that have health crises, get the compassionate care and not be treated as criminals.
Malik Evans — This situation, absolutely, has torn the city apart and has even put friction between the two branches of government; the mayor’s office as well as City Council. Because this incident happened in March, it happened in march, and we weren’t alerted about it until September. That is a long gap, and within that gap, you still have a gap, between the larger community, and I think that even within some of our in government because we found out about this so late.
So this compounded a problem. It was already a tragedy. It was a major tragedy, but then when you have someone who says “This can never see the light of day because we will all lose our jobs and this city will burn.” Well, it really left a stain on our community. We have to try to work now to rebuild that trust. Leaders have to take responsibility for that action and any time you have an in custody death regarding a police officer, no matter if it is an overdose, or somebody hitting their head, and dying, or an officer-involved death — we have to make sure that we let the public know, because they have a right to know. Our elected officials, including the other branch of government, absolutely has a right to know when it happens. Not nine months later, but when it happens.
Adam Chodak — We hear on the scanner every night: Gun violence is on the rise. Councilmember Evans, you’ve talked about developing programs for kids and young adults to occupy their time to give them an alternative, but what do you do now to knock down the number of shootings?
Malik Evans — We have to have conversations with the individuals that are perpetuating these things and I don’t think we are doing that. First off, I want to say that most people in Rochester are peace-loving people. We should be clear about that. However, recently, be it because of the pandemic — and this is a national proble, we are seeing high levels of gun violence — so we have to target those folks who are more likely to participate in these things and intervene in their lives now.
Is it a job, is it a warning? Is it moving them to a community program ASAP? Because we’re in triage mode now. And triage mode is stopping the carnage that’s happening on the street. Long-term I talked about closing off that gun pipeline along I-95 by working with state and federal partners and we have to be able do that as well, but the long-term solution is going to be investment in our young people and an investment in our community that gives them jobs.
We need to make sure that our young people are so busy and so tired with working 365 days out of the year, access to 24 hours a day of opportunity — that they won’t want to think about picking up a gun. Long term is opportunity, but short term is intervening in these situations when we know someone shot someone and they’re going to go get street justice with it. We have to do that now because if we don’t, it is going be a long hard summer. Over 130 shootings so far this year is one too many. And, it has to stop.
Lovely Warren — One of the best ways that we can help our children is to ensure that they have access to a quality education. And if they have access to a quality education, I truly believe that they’ll make better choices. And that is the reason why I continue to work with our superintendent to ensure that our children get the support that they need. And that’s also the reason why, for the last seven years, I have worked collectively, not only with our community, but also with our police department and all of those that are focused on gun violence.
Pre-pandemic, we had 30-year lows when it came down to crime, and we all know what’s happening in Rochester, is happening all across the country, and we have to do more. And the reason why we looked at what other cities and introduced the Office of Neighborhood Safety is because I know, that we did it before by working collectively with our community. It is not a job for one person. It has to be done together and I know that we did it before, and we can do it again by working collectively together to ensure that, not only our young people get the support that they need but that every person in our city gets the support they need so that they won’t make that tragic choice to kill somebody.
Weed and reparations
Adam Chodak — You’ve talked about using future tax revenue from marijuana to pay for reparations, but there’s a big question mark over how much money marijuana sales will generate for the city. There’s a 13% sales tax, 9% goes to the state, 3% to the county and only 1% to the city. And then you have medical sales which produce much less tax revenue. Do you think marijuana alone will provide what you’re promising?
Lovely Warren — What I think is that neighborhoods in our communities that have suffered because of the criminalization of marijuana needs to be invested in and the people that have suffered the most need the support in order to overcome the challenges that they face because of this criminalization. Reparations is about righting a wrong. And we all know, that there were many wrongs that were done including red lining in our city neighborhoods. And where you see the most challenges today, is a direct result of that red lining.
And today, you know that many of our banks will not even give people mortgages in those neighborhoods because, of an effort that they have put forth to disinvest in challenged neighborhoods. I believe and their agenda is very clear, and the race commission was very, very clear, that we must invest in doing what is necessary to help the least among us, to help the neighborhood, and most of all, the people that suffered the most. We have to right the wrongs. It is what’s best for our community. And when you do that, FDR showed this, when you do that, you can lift up an entire community. I am looking forward to making sure that, the dollars that come to this community from marijuana is invested in the neighborhoods that suffered the most.
Adam Chodak — My apologies, but do you think that there will be enough money?
Lovely Warren — Whatever it is Adam, it doesn’t matter the amount. The fact is, it is important for us to invest in the people and in the neighborhoods that suffered from the criminalization of marijuana. It is a fact that right now, where we see the most challenges in our community are where the drugs and other things and people were criminalized in those neighborhoods, and I believe that an investment, a strategic investment into those communities, is imperative, and they deserve to be invested in because they were the ones, that suffered from its criminalization.
Malik Evans — Think that when you look at marijuana revenue, the first year you might get $250 million, with 62 counties across New York state. It is definitely going to take a lot more. And, with reparations which is something that I’m very familiar with, that is a $6 trillion number and also should come with an apology from the federal government.
So in order for us to be able to really have strong economic empowerment and uplift, marijuana revenue is just one piece that you have to look. Other things such as small business development, jobs, you have to have a package of things in order to make sure that we erase some of the negative things that have plagued many of our communities for hundreds and hundreds of years.
So marijuana revenue is a piece of that. We have to make sure there is equitable distribution. For example we don’t want to become Chicago. Chicago legalized marijuana and you still don’t have a single African-American dispensary in Chicago. You don’t have a single African-American sitting on a corporate board as it relates to marijuana in Chicago. So we want to be sure that any marijuana revenue that comes into Rochester that it is distributed equitably, but that we don’t pop the champagne and think it is going to solve all of our problems because it won’t and it is not enough money.
Adam Chodak — In our exclusive News 8/Emerson College poll we found 26 percent of those surveyed said jobs was the most important issue. No other issue – not even policing – even touched 20 percent. What specific programs or policies would you lean on or create to fuel economic development and job creation?
Malik Evans — First of all, the best way, the best way in America to create jobs is to support small businesses. If one in three small businesses in America — think about this — created at least one job, America could be at full employment. What does that mean? That shows you the power of small businesses, because those small businesses then become those big businesses. They become your next Datto. They become your next Wegmans. So we have to make sure that we have an intense, intense focus on small businesses, and them creating jobs.
The second piece of that is you have to make sure that you retain the businesses that are there, and that you incentivize them for training new workers to be able to come into the workforce that may not have a skill. That means giving private/public partnerships, so if it means city hall giving half that worker’s salary, and the business giving the other half, that allows people to be able to have the skill set to then move up to the jobs.
The third piece is attracting businesses that are from other places to get them to come into Rochester to say, “Hey, here is why Rochester is a great place to be.” So, the mayor being an ambassador to a company that might be in Denver, Colorado or in Tanzania, Africa or anywhere, trying to find those companies to be able to come there. It is a multi-faceted approach. It is not just one thing. Those three things are ways in which we create jobs, but retaining them, training folks are absolutely critical. But the core of it all, is small business development. They grow, and they provide jobs for people in the long run.
Lovely Warren — Well, I don’t want to talk about what I would do. I’m going to tell you about what I have done. And because of the work that we were collectively able to do at the City of Rochester, we were able to save hundreds of businesses in our community. Our restaurants were under siege during COVID. We created a program to help our restaurants and our senior citizens get the support and the help that they needed. We created a program that gave millions of dollars to our small businesses to help them to be able to survive the pandemic. We created the Office of Community Wealth Building, because everybody does not want to be an employee. We want to help them to become employers. And the Office of Community Wealth Building specifically deals with entrepreneurs getting into the market.
We also support people with our YAMTEP and REjob program, which are job training programs ensuring that they get the support that they need to go to work. And so, across the board, from helping people get the training that they need to saving jobs, to making sure that we’re providing the resources so that people can survive, we have done that. And I want to make a quick point here: pre pandemic we had the lowest unemployment rate in over a decade. The lowest unemployment rate in over a decade. We did it before. I know that working collectively together, we can do it again.
Adam Chodak — In 2017, the City of Rochester adopted a Climate Action Plan. Since then, NYS’ Climate Act has established much more aggressive goals. Do you think the City’s goals should be updated in 2022? What climate action priorities would you work to advance over the next four years?
Lovely Warren — The city has been on the cutting edge of working to ensure that we have a city and a climate for our children that ensures that they have a successful environment. When I think about the fact that we put more electric vehicles on the streets, we have currently a solar farm that is located on a previous landfill. We have put in our parking garages electric charging stations. On city hall we have instituted and put in a green roof. We have a person at city hall, that works every day, to ensure that we’re doing everything possible to reduce our emissions, as well as to abide by whatever rules and regulations are set but also, leading the way. We are currently in the process of changing our streetlights to LED lighting. We’re changing our fleets to make sure that we are doing what is necessary to reduce the emissions that we’re putting out into our community. We recognize that climate change and global warming is real, and as a city, we’re doing everything possible to work not just with the state, but also with the federal government to ensure that we’re giving our environment the support that it needs in order to be here for our children in the future.
Malik Evans — I believe that Rochester can be a place that is a leader on climate, particularly as it relates to climate as it relates to economic development.
Often times when you argue with people about climate, they say “We don’t care about the climate,” but climate change is actually an excellent economic opportunity for us to be able to create more green jobs, to get our brownfields cleaned up, which many of our urban areas have. To be able to create shovel-ready sites so we can be able to do that and take advantage of the opportunity zone credit that’s at the federal level.
So we have a lot of opportunities, and not just in our city but across our nation, to make sure we approach climate with also an economic development lens. It is also a social imperative obviously because we want to leave a planet that is better for our children but it is also a great economic opportunity for us to be able to take advantage of.
Adam Chodak — Why did you decide to run for mayor and why should voters consider you?
Malik Evans — I think that a lot of the decision was made over the last nine months. After the Daniel Prude case in which we saw the unrest that went for months and weeks, and we saw a trust that had broken down between City Hall and the larger community, a trust that had broken down between City Hall and City Council.
I think that it is important that we start to build back those divides, to close those divides and build back that trust, by trying to work together. But also while all of this stuff is going around swirling, we’re seeing people dying, and we’re seeing other issues not get talked about because it seems like unnecessary distractions are taking place in Rochester.
It is important for us to be able to pull together to solve these problems that we talked about earlier as it relates to gun violence, when we’re seeing a 60% increase from over the last year. It is important to be able to have conversations about housing. It is important to be able to have conversations about youth development which is absolutely critical for us to be able to reduce the levels of violence that we have seen, most of which is involving young people.
So, restoring, rebuilding, trusting transparency, and also building these bridges that have been broken. All of that really forced me to get into this race, to be able to offer that as an alternative to residents of City of Rochester. And they will make the ultimate decision and I hope they’ll look at my record in terms of bringing people together to be able to get things done, and that is where we are at right now, and, I hope that the voters will trust me with that.
Lovely Warren — What the voters can trust is that I’m going to do my very, very best to build on a record, because I don’t know where Councilmember Evans has been, but we have done exactly what our community has asked us to do. When it comes down to building more affordable housing, we built over 3,800 new affordable housing units in our community over the last seven years. We were able to help over 9,000 people with building those 3,800 units.
Right now, today, with the Urban League of Rochester, we have a program that is first in the state of New York that creates rent to own options for our residents. During the pandemic we were able to keep tens of thousands of people working, because we kept all of our construction projects going and on time. We were also able to feed our children and their families and save our restaurants because of the tough decisions that we made in order to keep Rochester going. And, do you know, that right now Rochester is voted as one of the number one places in the country to recover from COVID-19? And businesses are looking to move here because of what we were able to do. Building on the record of success over the last seven years.
With just a few weeks left before votes will be cast, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is trailing her Democratic primary challenger, City Councilman Malik Evans, according to a new poll released Monday.
A new WROC-TV/Emerson College poll released Monday finds Warren trailing Evans by 10 points, 49% to 39%, with 12% of likely voters remaining undecided.
Evans’ lead narrows amongst “very likely” voters, 46% to 45%, while Evans has a much larger lead from those polled who said they were “somewhat likely” to vote, 59% to 13%.
In the poll, Evans has strong support from white voters, leading Warren 84% to 11%. Conversely, Warren’s support is stronger with Hispanic voters (63% to 31%) and Black voters (47% to 37%). College educated voters broke for Evans, 65% to 31%
When asked about the recent news of Mayor Warren’s husband being arrested, 83% of Democratic voters polled said they are following the story somewhat, or very closely. Only 4% of likely voters said they have not heard about the issue.
However, a plurality of voters, 39%, said the news of the arrest makes them more likely to vote for Warren. 2% said they were less likely to vote for her, while 36% said the news has no impact on their voting decision.
A majority of Rochester voters polled, 56%, said they disapproved of Warren’s handling of the Daniel Prude case, while 17% said they approved, 23% said they were unsure, and 7% said they had never heard of the case. Among Democratic likely primary voters, 59% of those polled said they disapproved of Warren’s handling of the Prude case.
Additionally, a majority of voters, 71%, said the campaign finance charges faced by Warren as either somewhat, or very serious, while 21% said the charges are not serious, and 9% said they were unsure.
When voters polled were asked what issue the next mayor should prioritize first, jobs was the top response at 26%, followed by police reform at 18%, health care at 17%, and housing at 15%. 14% reported something else, while no other issue fell above 4%.
Voters were split on how City Council has responded to calls for police accountability: 39% approve, 36% disapprove, and 26% said they were undecided. Among Democrats, 48% approve and 31% disapprove on this topic. Among Republicans, 49% disapprove, and 28% approve. Independents reported the lowest approval rate on this issue, with 19% approval, 42% disapproval, and 39% unsure.
A majority of voters, 65%, said they view the Rochester Police Department at least somewhat favorable, while 30% view it unfavorably, and 5% are unsure. Independents report the highest favorability of the Rochester PD, at 82%, followed by 68% of Republicans. Among Democrats, 58% see the Rochester PD favorably.
Voters were asked to rate the current state of Rochester: A plurality, 40%, said they they would rate the state of Rochester as fair, while 30% said bad, 22% said good, and 7% said excellent.
Voters generally opposed the idea of mayoral control of the Rochester City School District: 46% opposed, 26% in favor, 28% unsure.
When asked their general approval of key public officials’ jobs, 70% of voters in Rochester report approving of President Biden’s job while 25% disapprove. Regarding Governor Cuomo, 54% of Rochester voters approve, while 36% disapprove. Current Mayor Warren has the lowest approval rating, with 35% approval and 51% disapproval.
This poll was conducted May 21 and 22, with a sample of 1,000 Rochester voters with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3 percentage points. Of the 1,000 people polled, 649 are registered Democrats, 101 are registered Republicans, and 250 are Independent or other.
The data sets were weighted by party, age, gender, race and education based on census and voter enrollment records. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown, ethnicity, and region carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines and a cellphone sample of SMS-to-web.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.