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Straight No Chaser: Mr. Smith Goes to City Hall

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag



Gloria Winston Al-Sarag

Gloria Winston Al-Sarag

Has anyone else noticed the difference Mr. James Smith, current communications director for the city of Rochester, has made in terms of how the mayor has been presented to the public, or is it just me? Those I’d spoken to after Mayor Lovely Warren’s recent 2015 State of the City Address remarked the difference has been like “night and day.”

But, hold up, wait a minute, before any of you start running your mouths, or wagging your tails; let the record reflect, I have considered the former communications director to be a friend, and a genuinely nice person. She has been a person for whom I have had the greatest admiration and respect. But, as time passed, it had become painfully obvious to me, and to others, that she had been way over her head in the position.

I am just  keeping it real, as I usually do, and I love writing about topics that others have discussed amongst themselves. In addition, although some of you will likely perceive my thoughts to be those of a personal nature, I can’t help that. But, what I have hoped to accomplish has been to use the change in positions as a teachable moment; one that might help others see how the potential for success may easily be coined as a “fail,” especially if administrators, and those in leadership positions have surrounded themselves with people who have had more loyalty than competence.

I am not criticizing the mayor, and/or her choices, either. Those with their minds wide open will see, I am actually trying to compliment the wisdom which brought Mr. Smith on board. I don’t know James Smith personally, but it has been more than evident to me, he did not arrive at City Hall to take a seat on the bus, but  has instead appeared to be driving that sucker when it comes to the mayor’s image and damage control.

In addition, even though department heads, and the accomplishments of staff, have given credence to the positive change, numbers, improvements, and new initiatives the mayor spoke about in her address;  I would also like to give deserving credit to the communications staff for packaging the remarks, and/or, simply put, being the artists behind the canvas which had been unveiled at Wilson Magnet.

I may have missed something, but it had been the first time I’d seen the CEO of the city deliver remarks packaged with such a professional press kit. Much has already been published about the accomplishments, in one short year, of this current administration.

I won’t dwell on what the naysayers have tried to overlook, while looking for things to criticize. The naysayers would, of course, never give the mayor the credit she deserves, because many of them are still in denial about the fact that she overcame the odds and beat their candidate.

I have been convinced the naysayers who would not support our mayor are among those who, if she managed to walk on water, would still be somewhere saying she can’t swim, before they gave her ANY credit. It’s sad, but true, that one’s enemies in the political arena just don’t go away, but either become vocal and vicious, or burn the midnight oil plotting one’s demise.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. And, sometimes, bad Karma may become evident. I have seen things a lot differently than some folks, as you may know, but I believe it was more than bad Karma in full play recently, when I saw a local Assemblyman, who used to be the chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party, attempting to replace the former speaker of the New York State Assembly.

For some reason, I had begun to think he really thought that was going to happen, and that all had been forgiven, or forgotten, regarding his mistreatment of the mayor before, and after, she won the primary. This had been pure speculation on my part, but it had appeared to me that, when he spent time in New York City, attempting to secure votes on his behalf, he must have taken for granted the fact that, even those downstate who supported our mayor had forgotten his hand in what the status quo desired to be a failed candidacy.

Well, the rest is history. She WON, in spite of all the dirty tricks, and lack of support, that had been handed down by “party” loyalists. The ones who, even after she  won the primary, still worked feverishly behind her back to ensure she would lose. I am of the opinion that, much of the juice which had been poured into those last-minute attempts to defeat her, was masterminded by someone at the helm of the party; the party which should have been supporting her, especially after the primary.

I saw this person as someone who had been standing behind a tree, helping to throw rocks, with his fingerprints all over them; even though his public persona showed only skin and grin, while taking part in photo ops. I never saw any support from this person, who should have been there for her. SO, I can’t imagine why anyone would be so full of themselves, to think the black community, and/or black legislators, who DID support the mayor would consider anything less than making history by electing Carl Heastie to the throne in the Assembly. I wanted to shout into Albany, to those who thought they had a shot, “Wait your turn!”

Anyway, the tightening of the city’s belt, as it relates to its communications and public relations departments, is key in any administration and/or candidacy. Insulation, not exploitation, has been key. Presentation, not misrepresentation, can make a difference in whether any politician will survive in the arena. I have known these things because, to have been able to present your candidate in a positive light is an art. It was at American University that the Walter Mondale people, before employing me after the Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign, had made an investment in advanced training to make sure we were all clear on how to make our candidate publicly shine at all times. Image is everything.

However, when it comes to the mayor, as I’ve stated; so far, so good. And, knowing that the city’s new communications director, James Smith, comes with impeccable credentials, and has gone to City Hall; it may be safe to say Mr. Smith may go to Washington as well. Stay tuned.