Against a backdrop of civic trauma and deep anxiety about Rochester’s reputation on the statewide and national stages, Malik Evans clinched the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday, handily defeating two-term incumbent Lovely Warren.
The win by Evans, a member of the City Council, was a lopsided victory in which voters embraced his message of restoring transparency and “building bridges” at City Hall and all but ended Warren’s chances for a third term in office.
Unlike her opponent, Warren does not have the endorsement of any other party and, barring the unlikely possibility that she could wage a successful write-in campaign in the general election, her days at the helm of city government will conclude at the end of the year.
Unofficial results from the Monroe County Board of Elections as of 10:50 p.m. had Evans leading Warren 67% to 33%, with 105 of 113 election districts reporting.
Evans declared victory at 10:30 p.m., bounding onto the stage in the penthouse at the East Avenue office building that doubled as his campaign headquarters.
“Tonight is the beginning of putting Rochester in the upper echelon of cities where it belongs,” an ebullient Evans said.
Warren conceded defeat about a half-hour later, addressing supporters at The Sidebar on South Avenue.
"When you lose everything, you recognize what matters," she said in a thinly veiled nod to the myriad professional and personal issues she has faced in the last year, including losing her mother to complications from the coronavirus and the death of her political mentor, the late Assemblymember David Gantt.
"This here isn't an ending, it's just a beginning," she said.
Evans, 41, is still expected to campaign through the general election, but his clinching the Democratic primary was akin to winning the mayoralty. Not only does not he not face a challenger, but he also had the endorsement of the Working Families Party.
His status as the impending mayor-elect was recognized in a statement from the head of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, Zach King, who said he and the committee "look forward to working with the incoming Evans administration to advance our shared goals of transparency, good governance, and accountability to city residents."
He also gave a nod to Warren, whom he said "blazed trails and shattered ceilings" as the first Black woman to lead the city.
Many political observers considered Evans a longshot to unseat Warren early in the mayoral campaign, despite the mayor being whipsawed by scandal for the better part of the last year.
Warren has been widely criticized for her handling of the death of Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester police, which her administration kept secret for six months, and was indicted on campaign finance fraud charges that have yet to be settled.
Still, Evans generated scant publicity for months following his announcing his candidacy in January and the political machine that propelled Warren to an upset victory eight years ago and helped her trounce her opponents four years later was thought by many to be too powerful to overcome.
But Evans’s prospects brightened with the arrest three weeks ago of Warren’s husband, Timothy Granison, whom local and federal prosecutors have accused of being a player in a cocaine ring that they say he helped run in part out of the home he shares with Warren and their young daughter.
Warren attempted to distance herself from her husband, explaining publicly that they have been legally separated for some time despite living under the same roof, and derided the charges against him as a politically and racially motivated gambit to oust her from City Hall.
The Democratic electorate, in the end, appeared to not buy into her logic and decided enough was enough with the onslaught of bad publicity for her administration and the city.
Meanwhile, Evans plodded along steadily, releasing public policy proposal after public policy proposal that he called his “Compact with the Community” and refusing to directly attack the mayor on character.
The political careers of both Evans and Warren have in many ways mirrored each other.
Evans was the youngest person ever elected to the Rochester Board of Education, when voters sent him there in 2003 at the age of 23. He would eventually become its president. Four years later, Warren was elected to the City Council and soon became its youngest president in history.
The mayor continued her meteoric rise in 2013, when she upset the incumbent mayor, Tom Richards, in the Democratic primary and sail to the mayoralty. Evans was elected to the City Council in 2017.
Despite their parallel tracks forcing them to work together sometimes closely over the years, Warren began mudslinging within hours of Evans announced his candidacy, suggesting that Evans, a Black man, was following in a long line of Black men who seek to unseat Black women in power.
Evans kept his campaign clean, preferring to keep the focus on his policies.
Evans proposed expanding youth development and peer mediation programs, directing more support to juvenile court, and creating a new youth jobs program. Citing the rising gun violence plaguing Rochester and other American cities, he called for appointing a gun czar who would report directly to the mayor and work with state and federal law enforcement agencies.
He proposed expanding youth development and peer mediation programs, directing more support to juvenile court, and creating a new youth jobs program. Citing the rising gun violence plaguing Rochester and other American cities, he called for appointing a gun czar who would report directly to the mayor and work with state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Evans also outlined what he coined an “economic empowerment plan” that he intends to use to help residents start businesses, get job training, and find work. He proposed raising the amount of money available for homebuyer grants and downpayment matching programs to as much as $5 million.
Along the way, he received a key endorsement from Warren's former deputy mayor, Cedric Alexander, who said Evans possessed the "character" and "moral fiber" to restore confidence in city residents and Rochester's reputation.
In throwing his support behind Evans, Alexander recalled meeting him when Evans was still a high school student and recognizing him as "an up-and-comer."
During his victory speech, Evans recalled being a boy and his crossing guard at School 12 telling him, "You can go all the way to the top if you're not afraid."
"So I ask you Rochester, are you ready to take it all the way to the top?" Evans said. "Are you afraid?"
With reporting from CITY staff writer Gino Fanelli.