There is a Rochester region, but Rochester is neither its heart nor its brain.
Rochester and Monroe County are where the people of the region may go to shop or work, or watch the sectional basketball championships, but they are not where they look for leadership or an example to follow. And everyone in the region knows that, except Rochester and Monroe County.
Like the self-important Finger Lakes Reopening Schools Safely Task Force which announced its presence and omniscience yesterday.
Claiming to be the decider of reopening procedures and policies for a sprawling 13-county area, the bigwigs were primarily the Monroe County executive, the Monroe County health commissioner and the superintendent of the Rochester City School District.
And they, after scores of districts in the region have finalized reopening plans to submit to the state, are going to decide how things will be done.
ForAllegany, Chemung, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties.
From their ivory towers in Monroe County.
And the inherent arrogance of that seems to escape them completely. It is as if they are looking out on the unwashed and uneducated hicks, gracing them with their superior urban insight.
The mere location of the press conference, at the extreme northern edge of the region, tells you what it’s all about. When the geographic center of the counties involved is somewhere between Naples and Prattsburgh, and you hold your press conference within sight of Rochester office towers, your cluelessness is showing.
As a practical matter, I’m fairly certain none of the officials involved could find all 13 of their subservient counties on a map.
And yet, they are going to decide.
And not begin to understand that the various cultures of the region’s communities largely reject the Rochester way of doing things. Monroe County is really cool, in Monroe County. But there are reasons people decide to live elsewhere. People in the region watch these same Monroe County officials on their TV news and shake their heads, exclaiming that they are glad they don’t live “up there.”
Further, there is no way on God’s green earth that anybody across the Rochester region would take any advice for their children from the Rochester City School District. It is seen as a disaster, horrifically miss serving its own students and offering nothing whatsoever that could be of benefit to any other district.
The people in the dozen non-Monroe counties of this group have confidence in their own leaders. They all have school superintendents and health directors and county managers and board of supervisors chairmen. These are competent and respected individuals successfully overseeing their stewardships and communities.
And every one of them, from a statistical standpoint, has handled the covid outbreak better than Monroe County.
Think about that.
People who got it right are going to be told how to do things by people who got it wrong.
It’s a re-creation of the same arrogance that makes New York City the master of the vast upstate region. Monroe County will tell its neighbors, far and wide, what to do, because it’s the urban center.
On behalf of the region: Thanks, but no thanks.
And further to Rochester and Monroe County, it would pay to get a better understanding of the dynamic of the greater region. It is not that Rochester is the center from which all things flow, it is that the region is the seedbed in which Rochester grows. The attractions and draws, from people and events to nature and recreation, are in very large measure outside the boundaries of Monroe County. Monroe County alone is a very troubled urban core with a ring of beloved but conventional suburbs. It is indistinguishable and unremarkable as a point on the American map. But Monroe County, in the context of a uniquely beautiful Finger Lakes region, with its bedrock of Southern Tier geography and values, becomes part of something truly wonderful and rare.
And that is a function of different regional cultures and priorities as much as it is of different topography and recreational opportunity.
Those differences should be respected, not subsumed.
Monroe County should be confident that it knows what’s best for Monroe County, but it should entertain no delusions whatsoever that it has any idea what’s best for any of its far-flung neighbors.