Rochester Mayor James Patrick Smith is a rare creature in public office.
He is competent, and professional, less concerned with ego and more concerned with results.
He has been a Republican and he has been a Democrat. He has served at the local, county and federal levels, and he has reliably delivered for bosses of every type.
Sometimes he has suffered with bosses of suspect character, and sometimes he has been blamed for their failings. But when left to lead in his own right, as when he was manager of Seneca County, he has been spectacular.
Because he gets things done.
He reads the fine print, he knows the rules, he works cooperatively with people, he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t throw fits, and he gets things done. He is about accomplishment.
And his 30 days as accidental mayor of the city of Rochester will not be wasted. He is not a placeholder. He is not a cipher. He is not the type to sit on his ass.
And he is neither an “acting” mayor nor an “interim” mayor. He is the mayor. Period. With all the authority and prerogative of any chief executive at City Hall.
And he will use that power to address the issues of today, and to gracefully transition to the mayor of tomorrow. The city is not on autopilot, it has a mayor, and on New Year’s Day James Patrick Smith will smoothly hand control to Malik Evans, just the way it ought to be.
Which means that for the next 30 days people can blissfully forget about City Hall. There will be no drama, no surprises, no controversies.
But there will be some history made.
James Patrick Smith will be the first openly gay mayor of the city of Rochester. A generation ago, when Tim Mains was elected to City Council, becoming Rochester’s first publicly gay elected official, it was a big deal, with people heralding it or condemning it, depending on perspective. Thus far, the new mayor’s sexual orientation has gone unmentioned, except as an apposition on a city website, explaining his particular role as liaison to the gay community. That is probably a reflection of changes in society, and a reluctance of the new mayor to draw attention to himself.
The rise of this mayor is also a victory for every governmental staffer out there. At every level of government, there is the elected official whose name you know, and a team of staffers whose names you don’t know. They are the ones who get things done. Officials think grand thoughts, and staffers turn them into things that actually happen. Most such staffers are anonymous, but every one of them dreams dreams of their own. Every little kid imagines being the president – nobody imagines being the chief of staff.
And James Patrick Smith has served a congressman, a county executive or two, a water authority, a board of supervisors, and a mayor. He is a professional facilitator of other people’s visions.
But for 30 days he will be line, not staff, and he will command, not suggest.
That will be a major accomplishment for him, the proving of a life’s work, and it will be a great benefit to the city.
Because Rochester and the region that surrounds it need a break.
Lovely had her issues and drama, and she needs to be gone. Malik has his hopes and possibilities, but no articulated philosophy, staff or plan. January will begin a season of hope, but it will be months or longer before we have an idea of whether or not Malik Evans can rise to the needs of his city.
Which leaves us with this season of calm. A restful interregnum during which we can celebrate the holidays and not worry about meltdowns at City Hall.
The king is dead, long live the king. The system has worked and the torch has passed.
Mayor James Patrick Smith is at the wheel, and he will steer a steady course.
And Rochester will be better for it.