Rachel Barnhart is engaged in a vendetta, not an investigation. This is not journalism, it is spitefulness.
And the bottom line is this: There was an election, and Lovely Warren won.
Here’s the background: Former television reporter Rachel Barnhart has been blown out in two elections in as many years. Most recently, she took on incumbent Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in a three-way primary.
Barnhart came in third.
Warren won by a country mile.
As a consequence, the mayor gets sworn in for another term next week.
But already her administration has been the target of hundreds of freedom-of-information requests from Rachel Barnhart and her website. They are an opportunistic data mining of the administration, hoping to find or insinuate corruption in her former political opponent.
And that’s fine.
Though Rachel Barnhart is no longer a journalist, the Freedom of Information Law is not for journalists. It is for people and businesses who want to access government information about government or other people and businesses. It is intended to ensure that matters of public record truly are of public record.
And Rachel Barnhart can file all the requests she wants and get all the information she wants.
It is her right to conduct a witch hunt.
And it is the mayor’s right to call her on it.
And the mayor is right in her characterization of Rachel Barnhart’s actions. These are not the actions of either a reporter or a politician, as evidenced by the fact that no reporter or politician in Rochester has ever engaged in this sort of sweeping search for information.
Rochester has a long history of journalistic records searches. It was a request to see the death certificates of those slain at the Attica prison uprising, for example, that led to a Pulitzer Prize for the old Times-Union. Similarly, local television and newspaper investigations of the Rochester City School District and the city government result in fairly frequent freedom-of-information requests – but never anything approaching this breadth and scope.
Rochester politicians do seek government information about their opponents, but typically before elections as part of opposition research. It is done in the spirit of “gotcha” and for political benefit, not as some act of public service. Politicians make freedom-of-information requests to beat an opponent, not after they’ve been beaten by an opponent.
If this was journalism, you would see it replicated by journalists. But you don’t.
And if this was politics, you would see it replicated by politicians. But you don’t.
This is neither journalism nor politics – it is Rachel.
And it is being driven by her sense of spite.
That may well be demonstrated by a new city policy to disclose all freedom-of-information requests it receives and the information they contain. That will make for perfect transparency, and it will put in context the inquiries filed by Rachel Barnhart or anyone else. It will show what is normal behavior and what is abnormal behavior.
I suspect the pure numbers will show that Rachel Barnhart is engaged in abnormal behavior in regard to public records inquiries.
Her recent complaints about the deputy mayor and his schedule and professional activities may be a good example. She went through every bit of data available about him. Yet her conclusions are a weak insinuation at best or a purposeful defamation at worst. The deputy mayor is an at-will employee of the mayor, whose duties and responsibilities are defined by the mayor. She determines what he does when and for how long. He is “under the direction and control of the mayor,” according to the city charter. Not because she’s Lovely Warren, but because she’s the mayor and that is a mayor’s prerogative. The notion that Cedric Alexander, who was a national expert on police work before he became deputy mayor, should continue to be a national expert on police work after he became deputy mayor, should surprise or trouble no one. The notion that Lovely Warren would allow him to continue to be a national expert on police work shouldn’t surprise anyone either.
The fact is, most Rochesterians are probably proud of Cedric Alexander’s national profile and outside responsibilities. They give him, and the city, enhanced stature.
I am not a Lovely Warren fan. I am not a Rachel Barnhart enemy.
I just call balls and strikes.
And on this one, Rachel is way off.
She is within her rights, but her undertaking is unseemly and will only alienate further a community that has already drawn away from her.
Lovely Warren isn’t perfect, or anywhere close.
But there was an election, and Lovely Warren won. And with each election comes a wiping of the slate, and a new recognition of the will of the people and the power of the ballot box.
Rachel Barnhart and everybody else had their chance to make a case against Lovely Warren, and they failed. Lovely Warren won the chance to go forward newer and stronger, and decent people will let her.
If she screws up down the road, if she does something wrong going forward, then nail her.
But this harassment isn’t a public service, it is a public embarrassment.
It’s not an investigation, it’s an inquisition.
It is a fit being thrown by someone who was rejected by the voters.