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New year, same City Council fights

Rochester City Council chambers.
Brian Sharp
Rochester City Council chambers.

A new year at City Council has come with fresh policy agendas, new leadership — and the continued airing of grievances.

City Council met Tuesday for its annual organizational meeting — adopting rules, electing leadership, and swearing in one new member, Bridget Monroe, representing the northwest district.

“Look, I ain't gonna sit here and play no games,” Councilmember Michael Patterson said as the conversation turned to fostering unity. “I don’t pump with y’all. Just don’t.”

“I think your worldview and how you move through this space clearly demonstrates why you are not being nominated for presidency,” Councilmember Stanley Martin retorted. “It demonstrates so much about you. And all I'm gonna say is congrats.”

Miguel Meléndez retained the president’s post, while LaShay Harris replaced Mary Lupien as vice president.

The move to elect Harris came as little surprise to those following Council. But Lupien’s loss, as well as changes to Council rules, rekindled an ongoing divide between her, Martin and Kim Smith and the rest of Council.

Lupien, representing the East District, had launched a campaign in December to keep her seat. However, no one nominated the second-term progressive stalwart for the post. And Harris, representing the South District, was able to take the title with a unanimous vote, including Lupien’s.

Vice president is a largely ceremonial position, whose only real power is replacing the president if they are unable to attend a meeting.

Just why the divisions exist on City Council depends on which Councilmember you ask.

Lupien said it’s animosity targeted at her. Martin said it's sexism baked into the structure of the body. Meléndez pointed to a culture of infighting over political views.

Meléndez has attempted to serve as somewhat of a peacemaker in his time as president, but said his focus is advancing policy rather than seeking harmony.

“I think I’ve learned over the past two years how difficult it can be when you have nine duly-elected leaders with very different opinions,” Meléndez said.

Smith, Martin, and Lupien have long complained that they are excluded from discussions around legislation and procedure. Smith called on Melendez to answer how he would push for “consensus” and “what a just democracy should look like.”

But Patterson, who represents the Northeast District, blamed Lupien, Martin, and Smith for the division — while adding that he has no desire to work with them.

“You don’t work collaboratively or collectively with the majority of this body,” Patterson said, suggesting some or all were socialists. “And our approach to governing is different.

“I feel no obligation to defer to your opinion if the majority of the body feels otherwise,” he continued. “So, if you’d like to advance things and do things differently, I humbly suggest you start in the mirror.”

Who is responsible for discord on Council is a game of finger-pointing. But, in phone calls Wednesday, Martin, Lupien, and Meléndez all agreed that they want better discourse on Council and see the infighting as petty.

Meléndez noted personal attacks are unwarranted and called for a focus on developing legislation on critical issues, like housing, the opioid epidemic, and public safety.

“I really hope that we can put personal beef aside and start to do what we were put here for,” Martin said.

Martin cast the only vote against Meléndez for president. Smith had made a motion during the meeting to nominate Harris for the position, which Harris declined.

Smith said that the nomination was an attempt at creating unity.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.