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Evans Ousts Warren in Mayoral Primary; New Faces on City Council, School Board

Patti Singer
and Tyronda James

Malik,Evans, who won the Democratic primary for mayor, listens to his aunt Kimberly Flint after he gave his victory speech June 22, 2021. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Malik Evans invoked the inspiration of family and friends as he soaked in his victory over incumbent Lovely Warren in the Democratic mayoral primary June 22.

He also remembered Bob the crossing guard, who watched Evans at the intersection of South Avenue and Linden Street as he made his way to School 12.

“Bob used to always stop me and say, ‘You can go all the way to the top if you’re not afraid,’” Evans recalled.

Then he turned to the supporters who backed his candidacy and asked, “Are we ready to take Rochester to the top?”

Applause and cheers answered him, and Evans spent the rest of the night giving and getting hugs and handshakes as he made his way through the ballroom at One East Avenue.

Evans won by about a 2-to-1 margin, according to unofficial results from the Monroe County Board of Elections. About 19,000 voters cast ballots. Warren, who had upset Tom Richards in a primary to win her first term, was seeking her third.

“It is OK that the city has chosen to go in a different direction,” she told supporters. “I want you all to support the new leadership. I want you all to make sure that you gird him up and the same way that you pray for me, that you pray for him. It is not easy to lead. It’s not easy to be in this position. And so I know that, and I wish the very, very best for him and his family. I want him to know that I am here to support him one hundred percent.”

Warren said running for mayor was less about her and more about her daughter and all the Black girls of this city. Warren said she wanted her daughter and every child to see her success and understand that they, too, can achieve their own goals and dreams.

Warren said she doesn’t regret a thing and that her journey taught her so much and has strengthened her faith allowing her to see and understand life more clearly. From losing her mother to COVID-19 related complications and attacks on her family, she said challenges will come.

“There is always going to be a challenge before you, how you handle that challenge matters,” she said. “What you do with what obstacles are put in your way is what matters. And so through this journey, I know that this here isn’t an ending. It is just the beginning.”

Warren spoke about the accomplishments for the city, such as affordable housing to investing in neighborhoods and in downtown. “When I first ran for office, I told you that we could do both. And we did. We brought more resources in seven years that have been invested in this city in two decades. And it is okay. We invested the resources that needed to happen.”

The primary also brought about major change in the Monroe County Legislature, as three members of the Black and Asian Caucus lost.

Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, Vincent Felder and Frank Keophetlasy were ousted and none were on third-party lines. William Burgess, Mercedes V. Simmons and Ricky Frazier, respectively, each led by about 2-to-1 margins, according to unofficial results. All are unopposed in November.

The caucus issued a statement that it was disappointed but said it was proud of what it had accomplished: leading the call for creation of the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; creating a fund for indigent burials; promoting minority and women-owned businesses in awarding of county contracts and ensuring funding for minority-run arts organizations affected by the pandemic.

City Council and the Rochester City School District Board of Education will have new faces.

Activist Stanley Martin won a seat on council as did Kim Smith, who shared the slate with Martin.

Camille Simmons and James Patterson are newcomers to the school board.

Evans will finish his term on City Council, where he serves as chairman of the finance committee.

During a news conference the morning after his victory, Evans thanked Warren for what he called a classy concession speech, and he said he looked forward to working with her over the next six months as he prepares a transition team and assesses city departments. “I intend to bring into this administration the best talent to bear.”

Evans again thanked his staff and volunteers, and said he would be calling each one to express his gratitude. “I was elected because of just about every single person that was in that room last night. … I was overwhelmed by the support I got in this campaign.”

Evans also is on the Working Families line in November, and there is no Republican opponent.

Asked what he thought were the reasons he won, Evans said he stuck to a clear message and topics such as economic empowerment and youth opportunity came from conversations with residents. Pressed on whether controversy surrounding Warren played a role, Evans acknowledged the influence of external factors but he came back to the importance of having a message.

“If you didn’t have a message and you were just running because you were running against the other person, you don’t win. You have to have a message. You have to give people a reason as to why you are running, why are you out there? And that’s what my team did.”

During the 30-minute news conference, Evans talked about pressing issues:

Violence: Evans said he was saddened to hear that the Rochester City School District planned to move activities indoors because of shootings. “I am tired of seeing particularly young African-American men being killed. And we have to make sure that we have a comprehensive strategy with that. And we will be working on those plans now and doing what we can in the interim to make sure that we are successful.” He said he wanted to call on African American men to “come out, step up and help to really try to stop this carnage. … It’s not representative of who we are as a city. If we don’t get a handle on it, it’s going to spiral even more out of control.”

Public safety and policing: Evans said during his victory speech that he envisions police as guardians and not warriors. During his news conference, the career banker talked about reframing the discussion about defunding police into one of investments in other areas. The career banker said economic opportunity cannot be separated from safety. “If people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to open up a business. At the same time, if people don’t feel respected by police, they’re not going to help them solve crimes.”

Evans said he had no thoughts yet on a permanent police chief. Interim Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan was appointed by Warren after she fired La’Ron Singletary in the aftermath of public acknowledgment of the death of Daniel Prude.

He did say the candidate would need to connect with the community, be a good communicator and have a strategy for public safety. “I’m looking for someone that is going to be accountable to the people of Rochester and not to themselves. … They have to have a commitment to service.”

The 2021-22 city budget: Evans was among four City Council members to vote against Warren’s budget. He said he didn’t vote against the budget, per se, but against how it was discussed in council. Despite inheriting the spending plan, he said amendments could be made if necessary.

Emphasis on COVID-19 vaccines: In ZIP codes such as 14605, where the rate for at least one dose is 34.4%, and in 14615, where the rate is 43.7%, according to the the Centers for Disease Control data reported by the state Department of Health. The rate for completion is around 33% for both ZIP codes. ZIP codes 14614 and 14613 have first-dose rates of 30%. He said he wanted to work with County Executive Adam Bello and the state to increase vaccination rates.

COVID relief funds: Evans he talked with Sen. Chuck Schumer about the more than $200 million in American Rescue Plan funding for Rochester. Evans said there needed to be “a robust community conversation” about how the money is spent. He said Schumer told him he’d work with the federal government to give Rochester the flexibility to spend the money “for things that we believe will move Rochester forward.”