Lovely Warren’s tenure as mayor of Rochester ends in ignominy, where it spent most of its eight troubled years.
She made history, but not in a good way, and the example she set as a leader is a disappointment and a disgrace. From lying about Uncle Reggie to lying about Daniel Prude, it was two terms of deception and self-serving, while the city she led slid further into decline and despair.
By nearly every objective measurement, the Rochester of 2021 is markedly worse off than the Rochester of 2014. Crime is higher, poverty is broader, employment is scarcer and cynicism is all around. Ironically, the winners have been the downtown developers who opposed her initial candidacy, and the losers have been the neighborhood residents who supported it.
In every regard, Lovely Warren has failed to live up to the hopes and potential her election represented. The people invested in her, they empowered her, they believed in her, and outside the circle of her relatives and political cronies, she did nothing for them. Worse, she often manipulated and exploited them, using outrage she ginned up to cover for her own shortcomings or to advance her own interests.
She didn’t solve their problems to make their lives better, she exploited their problems to make her own life better. For Lovely Warren, Rochester wasn’t a community, it was a trough, and she and her crew fed hungrily at it.
Along the way, she destroyed lives and careers, and presented herself as a white-robed prophetess doing God’s will and working on his errand, and characterizing all opposition as racism or sexism or the work of the devil himself.
She didn’t lead Rochester, she played Rochester.
And she will likely play it some more, as a City Court judge or a mayoral candidate, holding on to the core of voters who will support her no matter what.
But for today, she is walking out the door, sent packing by the voters and hurried along the way by the district attorney. She is resigning in disgrace one month short of the end of her term, forced to do so by a plea agreement that spared her a felony conviction and saved her her law license. Drunk with power and the belief that she was untouchable, she tried to cheat the campaign finance system, to squeeze more out of the big businesses and moneyed interests which seemed ever ready to grease her outstretched palm.
And it brought her down.
But not soon enough to spare the people of Rochester from the purposeful destruction of their police department. Not soon enough to head off what has turned out to be the deadliest year in the city’s history. Not soon enough to protect Rochester’s impoverished neighborhoods of color from the ravages of a pandemic that hit them cruelly and disproportionately.
Not soon enough to give the city a mayor who would lead and love after the sad death of Daniel Prude, instead of deceive and divide and sweep his passing under the rug for months on end.
Lovely Warren had such potential and promise. A daughter of the city’s Southwest, raised up under the political tutelage of a powerful assemblyman, she was the first true empowerment of Rochester’s homegrown black community. She knew the streets, she spoke the language, she counted the people as cousins, she seemed to have the place in her heart. She was elected proof that the most disadvantaged of Rochester’s residents could rise up and choose their own fate, direct the course of their own city. She was a personification of the American electoral dream. She was proof that power resides in the people. She could have done so much good for the city and its residents.
But it never got around to being about them.
It was always really about her.
And she turned out to be a narcissist, who saw her election not as an opportunity to serve, but as an entitlement to be exploited.
She was the local Cuomo.
And when her husband got caught running with a bad crowd, and the troopers did a drug raid at her house, and her 10-year-old daughter was home alone with an illegal gun in the nightstand and investigators all over the place, Lovely Warren sent a city driver to pick the little girl up.
And that was about when it ended.
By the time the powers that be had settled on a primary opponent to challenge her, the 2-to-1 defeat was a foregone conclusion.
But the sad clown circus played on, dressed in white for her court appearances, assertions of divine sanctification on Facebook, late-term digs against the community and her successor, and yesterday’s press tease that she would “never say never” to seeking elective office again.
The thing is, Rochester is better than this, and Rochester deserves better than this.
There is decency and integrity in Rochester, in countless homes and hearts, of people of every stripe, and maybe those traits will be in the mayor’s office tomorrow.
But they are not there today.
Not while she still holds office.
Lovely Warren made history, but not the right kind.
And now she needs to be history.