By Rodney Brown
Overwhelmingly, Republican voters have determined who will sit on Henrietta’s town board, or become the next town supervisor, for more than a decade. However, according to the Monroe County Board of Elections, Democrats currently represent the greater percentage of registered voters in Henrietta.
Political infighting among the top brass has reportedly decimated the party’s leadership in the once-monolithic Henrietta Democratic Committee, and Republicans have wasted no time taking advantage of the party’s fragmented state.
Year after year, the town’s Republican committee has shepherded their voters to the polls, with incredible success. But, recently, there’s been a resurgence in the Democratic committee, which is led by commercial real estate appraiser Simeon Banister, and investment planner Robert Barley.
Barley is currently seeking a position on the town’s board, and Banister, the town’s newly-appointed town Democratic leader, is running to replace Republican incumbent John Howland, Monroe County Legislator of the 13 District.
Both men have described themselves as non-traditional, progressive candidates.
“The Democratic party in Henrietta was not in existence for the last fifteen years,” Banister stated. “I was appointed town Democratic leader approximately 18 months ago. When I took over, there were 11 people that were listed on the roster, and only two of them were actually participating. We are up to 80 members, and we usually have about 30 to 35 folks that are regularly coming to meetings, participating and helping out during the petitioning process. So, we are excited about the growth that’s happening here.”
Barley, a graduate of Monroe High School, moved to Henrietta in 1989. He has been in investment planning for more than 28 years, and owns his own investment practice, MDR Investment Management. In addition, he plays an integral role in the Rush-Henrietta basketball and football programs, including serving as their announcer. He is also currently a member of Henrietta’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
“I’ve been on the zoning board for six years, and I’ve said for the last couple of years, I wanted to move up to the town board, and become more involved with the fiscal responsibility of the community, and that’s what I am looking to do,” Barley stated. “The latest thing that happened in our community, with Town Supervisor Jack Moore calling people from the city who catch the bus for transportation to work, ‘city cousins,’ kind of riled me up to want, not only to move up on the town board, but to change the face on how things are going in the community. There hasn’t been a lot of inclusion with our citizens about, how are we going to do things? We need some transparency, and better government for everyone to be included, not just people that are well off, because the diversity in our community is not that way. We have people that have special needs too, as far as economics.”
Barley said his campaign for town board has been centered on fiscal responsibility, and he’s claimed revenues collected from town residents have been poorly managed, stating, “It was fiscal malfeasance for the current supervisor to send a $100 check to anyone he could. I would think that money would’ve provided a better bang for the buck, if it was used for the upcoming recreational center. The $100 could have helped that expense. We’ve now increased our recreational services, and our park services; everything has doubled. You used to get a shelter for $50, now it’s $100. We’re not looking to charge our residents more money for a service. We are looking to keep our fees down, but, this is the way it’s going across the board.”
Barley also pointed out, “The town board says, ‘We are not raising your taxes,’ but, any auxiliary service you want, you are going to pay a lot more for it. This is not good for our residents. If you want to be more fiscally responsible for residents in our town, and if we had a budget that was over-funded from either sales revenue or assessments, we should keep those other services down. If we’re pulling that kind of money from our property values, we can redo our assessments, or lower the factor on it; something more long-lasting than a $100 check. We need real leadership, not gimmicks.”
By comparison, Simeon Banister is a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser with Midland Appraisal Associates Inc. in Rochester. He is also the principal owner of Legacy Advisory Services LLC, a small Henrietta-based consulting firm that offers strategic planning, and real estate consultation services.
He also recently led an innovative project called “Save for Success,” a joint partnership between Monroe Community College, ESL Federal Credit Union, and the PathStone Corporation. Banister also serves as president of the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, which leads the planning and execution of the Annual MLK Day Community-Wide Celebration at the Eastman Theater.
He sits on the boards of the Hillside Foundation, Genesee Land Trust, and the Congressional Award Foundation. Thus far, Banister is an accomplished veteran of government and politics, having worked in the New York State Senate, the state Department of Taxation and Finance, for the State University of New York, the New York City Council, and the Office of the NYC Public Advocate.
Relative to his current run for office, Banister said he wants to replace John Howland as Monroe County Legislator of the 13th District, “For a number of different reasons. But, the biggest of which is that, our district is essentially underrepresented, and we have a legislator who has essentially abdicated the responsibility of actually legislating. He’s introduced no legislation since he has been in office the last couple of years. Howland chairs the planning and economic development committee. In that committee, I went back and looked at the tapes. Besides a hearing where he had a budget briefing, they’ve not had a meeting that lasted longer than twelve minutes. You think about the kind of energy we need in our community, around planning and economic development, and for him not to see fit to ask important questions.”
“When critical figures from the county have been presented in front of their committee, you see no one asking questions,” Banister added. “This, in my mind, is a little inappropriate. Over the course of the last decade, there are two towns in Monroe County that have affected population growth; one is Webster, and the other is Henrietta. When I look at Henrietta, we also have part of the district in Pittsford. And, even that community has changed somewhat. So, as we see that kind of growth and development, I think it’s time to have representation that’s reflective of the community, and that has not always been the case here. And I’ve got some good ideas for some things we could do to impact the community, as far as management and budgeting, with respect to the county. And, a plan that will maximize what’s happening at Rochester Institute of Technology (R.I.T.), and some other places, by redirecting that energy back to Henrietta.”
When asked how he would overcome being a member of the minority party in the county legislature, and move to a status where he would effectively be able to bring forth changes, Banister stated, “I’ve worked in government for my share of time, so I know what it’s like to be in the minority. The common belief is, if you’re in the minority, you’re impotent, but that’s not true at all. In fact, if you are loud enough, and you are vocal enough, there are a lot of things you can get done to bring attention to a lot of the places where the ball has been dropped, and things that have been fumbled. It’s absolutely my intention to be very loud about those instances, where they have been malfeasant in government. We need to be loud about what is going on in the Monroe County government. Our county government right now has a BAA-1 credit rating. This is the equivalent of having a 600 credit score. It means, anytime you want to finance to get things done, you have to pay more for the money to do that, and most of the people in town don’t even know that’s the case. And, we’ve got to be loud about that. What has led us to that point? We’ve got the cronyism, we’ve got the corruption, we’ve got the people getting the sweetheart deals, and money going out the door for development projects that don’t present the yield they’re supposed to, in terms of jobs and economic development for our community. Things our opponent should be raising the red flag on. I will be there to raise that flag.”
“I am extraordinarily pro-business and pro-development,” he continued. “It makes sense for us, because we’ve got to make sure we are keeping up to what’s going on nationally. We’ve got to make sure this photonics piece is exciting, in terms of the potential it can be for the future of Rochester. We want to be able to take advantage of all of this kind of stuff, but we can’t just give money. We can’t afford to. We can’t be in a situation where we are writing blank checks, and, when we look back, there’s nothing to show for it.”
In addition, Banister added, “When I look at this community, in Henrietta, and Pittsford, we’ve got some wonderful natural assets, including R.I.T., which is turning out all these brilliant young people. They come to Henrietta, and spend their time here, get their education, and they’re in the wind. Now, that’s not their fault. They’ve got to make the best choice for them, but, we can do a better job of making Henrietta become a place they want to stay. We are going to be working closely with them on what we call, “Tech Transfer and Commercialization,” to make sure that we can create the right environment, so they want to plant their businesses here, and build those businesses here. There are a number of other things we can do, that are going to be very concrete, like focusing on the quality of life here. Henrietta contributes a significant share of tax revenue to the county, and we are not getting that return, in terms of road plowing and services we get out the county. I am going to be waving that flag. If we are giving, we should be getting it too.”
If elected, Barley and Banister will be the first African Americans to occupy a position on the town board, and to represent the 13 District in the county legislature.
However, Barley stated, “The diversity aspect is important probably more for the people in the town. I am going to do the right thing for the people, and look out for their dollars. The significance for me would be another achievement. It’s another achievement of doing something right, and showing, when you do the right things, good things happen. Out of the 17 percent of African Americans in the community, we have a lot of them doing great things in our community. We need diversity, and we need another point of view. We need someone that will say ‘no,’ and not be afraid there will be any repercussions from that.”
Banister added, “There are a lot of studies that say diversity is a good thing; people can see things from different perspectives, and be able to solve problems in more creative ways. Also, the nature of my particular experience is, I’ve worked in government at all the different levels. I bring a range of contacts to this position. I will be able to reach into the state, and the federal government to obtain assistance for our community in a way that, certainly, my opponent doesn’t have the capacity to be able to do.”