Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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LONSBERRY: And Thus Begins the Age of Malik

And thus begins the age of Malik, the next chapter in Rochester’s history.

               A new day, a new mayor, a new direction.

               Those things are certain. What’s not so certain is what the new direction will be. That’s because it’s uncertain who Malik Evans will be.

               Or rather, who he will become.

               Malik Evans rises to the mayor’s office not accidentally, but as a happenstance. Everyone knew the Lovely Warren era had to come to an end, and everyone was committed to making that happen, and a consensus candidate had essentially been settled on.

               But that candidate had a reversal and couldn’t run.

               And that left Malik, and the happy intersection of his ambitions and the city’s needs. So he became the consensus candidate, and on Primary Day the consensus prevailed 2-to-1.

               And that leads to today, and the assent of Mayor Malik Evans.

               In some ways, it is a timeless American tale. The son of a man who sold mimeographed newsletters for a dollar apiece outside Midtown Plaza has grown to live a blessed life of accomplishment and plenty, with corporate and electoral success seemingly his for the asking. In one generation, in a real-world proof of the American dream, Malik Evans’ family has gone from periphery to privilege. Through hard work and good values, a son of Rochester has become its most powerful man.

               There is inspiration in that. There is an example in that. There is a reminder of possibilities and potential in that – for all the sons and daughters of Rochester.

               But the prospects of the city and its people are tied up in what Malik Evans becomes, not what he has been. Because, as an elected official, that hasn’t been impressive.

               Malik Evans served on the school board as the long, inexorable decay of the district and its competence marched steadily downward. He did nothing to turn the tide, as a member or as the president. As a member of City Council, he likewise has been indistinguishable from his typically weak peers. As vice president of the body, he was invisible.

               He has seemed mostly to mouth the same progressive nonsense of those around him. He wants bigger reparations and more guaranteed basic income. He seems content to ride the tiger of anti-cop bigotry. Basically, his distinguishing characteristics relative to other Rochester politicians is that he’s taller, thinner and younger. Beyond that, though, pretty much the same.

               Which can work for him, but not for the city.

               Thus far, he has been naïve as to politics and policy. Benefiting from Republican support across the county and region during the campaign, he immediately turned his back on those supporters as soon as he won the primary – as if he had forgotten there might be another election another day. He has talked about his nationwide search for a “unicorn” police chief, without seeming to realize that he is saying the same thing every other urban mayor says and will probably end up with the same central-casting police chief that is failing all across urban America. That chief will be here for 18 months, make no discernible difference, and move up the ladder to be the higher-paid unicorn for some mayor in a bigger city somewhere else. And he has identified Newark, NJ, as the guiding light of urban governance, hoping to mirror its “success” in Rochester – reprising a fruitless tendency of Rochester mayors of more than 30 years, with Indianapolis or Portland or San Antonio playing the part of Newark.

               He also has wheeled out the argument that the city and the county are one, and that the county must be concerned with – and pay for – the problems of the city. That decades-old lecture seeks to play off guilt or fear – suburban folks should feel guilty for the privation of the city, or they should fear that its violence and social dysfunction will spill out into their lives.

               That’s not leadership, that’s old and ineffective.

               So, to repeat, Malik Evans pre-2022 is not what Rochester needs.

               But that might not be what Rochester is getting.

               Abraham Lincoln was a pretty forgettable congressman. Harry Truman was a minor-league political hack.

               And, like countless others in history, when fate called them, they rose to the occasion. They grew into who the job and the times and the people required. Great leaders weren’t always great, and periods of preparation aren’t always pretty.

               Which gets back to why Malik Evans was worth gambling on in the primary.

               He was raised right, and he lives right. He is a good person whose life and decisions are driven by values that have their roots in the best of our shared culture and faith. He tells the truth, he obeys the rules, he believes in being proper.

               He will bring a dignity to the office of mayor which will be a strength to him and his city.

               And whatever fate hands him, he will meet it with a sound character and a patient resolve.

               Which means he could end up being a very good or even great mayor. Only time and Malik will tell.

               And we probably won’t know anytime soon. It will be six months or a year or even longer before any sort of trend emerges or assessment can be made. He’ll have to put his mark on things, and that will take time.

               Along the way, he will screw up, and he will hit home runs. He will get it right, and he will get it wrong. But Rochester is better off than it was, and this is a day of promise.

               And thus begins the age of Malik, the next chapter in Rochester’s history.

               A new day, a new mayor, a new direction.

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