From revitalizing public transportation systems to combatting the heroin epidemic affecting cities across the nation, Mayor of Rochester Lovely Warren and Ithaca Mayor and HWS Presidential Fellow Svante Myrick opened the spring President’s Forum Series with a discussion about the innovative solutions they’ve developed to address the challenges facing their evolving cities.
“Today we welcome two extraordinary mayors who are leaders that serve their communities in important ways,” said President Mark D. Gearan. “I’m thrilled to have them here at the President’s Forum for a conversation about city issues and politics.”
Drawing a standing-room-only crowd of HWS and local community members – including Geneva’s City Counselor Mark Gramling and Jeremy Cooney ’04, chief of staff to Warren – the conversation began with remarks from Warren and Myrick before moving into a question and answer session that covered the challenges of being mayor, white flight and racial tensions in cities, and the advantages and disadvantages of being a young public figure of color.
Warren, the first female and second African-American mayor in Rochester’s history, discussed the transformation of the city to its new identity as the “photonics capital of the world,” as it was recently named by Vice President Joe Biden. “For us that was new energy, new life, being pushed into our community in a real way,” she said.
Sworn into office in 2014, Warren’s goals have been to improve educational outcomes for city students, increase economic development, improve public safety as well as community-police relations, and address economic disparities. Warren highlighted her plans for innovation, including downtown “urban innovation zones” to promote entrepreneurship; revitalizing public transportation with new options like a bike share and Uber; and creating new container living and shared living spaces in the downtown area.
“In Rochester, never again must we let good ideas pass us by,” Warren said. “We must remain ahead of the curve, in the midst of these innovations as we are now, leading from the front. Because that’s how we create and retain jobs, and that’s how we attract recent graduates to our city.”
Returning for his second time as a President’s Forum speaker, Myrick, who became at age 24 the youngest mayor and the first African American mayor in Ithaca’s history, discussed his plan to implement supervised heroin injection sites in the City of Ithaca. The plan has been in the national spotlight and recently was featured in a New York Times article, “Ithaca’s Anti-Heroin Plan: Open a Site to Shoot Heroin.”
“It is common sense to take an approach and try it, and if it fails, admit it frankly, but above all, try something,” said Myrick, quoting former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The supervised injection center is one piece of Myrick’s four-part effort, the “Ithaca Plan,” that addresses prevention, law enforcement, and treatment for the opioid epidemic. Myrick referenced successful injection facilities in Europe and in Vancouver, B.C., noting that in the past 13 years, two million people have used the facility in Vancouver without a single overdose death, while overdose rates in the 20 blocks surrounding the facility have also decreased by 25 percent.
“We have to get results, and we have to innovate to do it – we have to try new ideas. To get to those new ideas, we can’t shy away from every idea that scares us or makes us uncomfortable, or may not make intuitive sense,” he said.
The President’s Forum, established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff, as well as with interested community members. Recent guests include HWS Trustee Bill Whitaker ’73, L.H.D. ’97, an Emmy award-winning veteran of CBS News and a correspondent for “60 Minutes;” James Carville L.H.D. ’13, P’17 and Mary Matalin P’17, political strategists; Victoria Reggie Kennedy, legal strategist, financial attorney, and wife of the late Senator Kennedy; Michael Kimmel, noted sociologist, author and gender expert; and The Hon. Shireen Avis Fisher ’70, Justice of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone.