Candidate Forum 2015 Recap

On Wednesday September 16th, the Rochester area’s first candidate forum on climate change was held at The Harley School.  This event was cosponsored by the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, League of Women Voters, and Harley School.2015-09-16-19.11.38-300x225

A total of 14 candidates spoke to a packed auditorium on the theme of “Building an Economy for Climate Stability”.  The candidates, including one Republican, offered many specific goals for our communities.  The need to prepare our region to mitigate the impacts of climate change, particularly flooding, was a recurring theme.

Of 141 candidates who were invited to the forum, the following attended:2015-09-16-19.11.08-300x209

City Council
Molly Clifford – Democratic, Working Families, Independence (NW district)
Dorothy Paige – Green (NW district)
Alex White – Green (South district)

Town Supervisor
Kathleen Draper – Democratic, Victor Voices (Victor)
Edmund Dunn – Democratic (Perinton)
Bill Moehle – Democratic, Working Families, Independence (Brighton)

Monroe County Legislator
Simeon Banister – Democratic (13th district)
Joshua Bauroth – Democratic, Working Families, Independence (24th district)
Vincent Felder – Democratic (22nd district)
Eddie Gartz – Republican (write-in candidate, 6th district)
Cindy Kaleh – Democratic, Working Families (28th district)
Yversha Roman – Democratic, Working Families (26th district)IMGP2455

Monroe County Executive
Rajesh Barnabus – Green
Sandy Frankel – Democratic, Working Families

The audience submitted questions related to four main concerns: (1) How would the candidates increase community education about climate change, (2) How would they transition our communities away from fossil fuels, (3) How would they reduce transportation-related emissions and discourage unnecessary driving, (4) What would they do about the risk posed by the explosive Bakken Oil Trains?  Because time ran short at the forum, we asked candidates to submit answers to these questions in writing.  Scroll down to read their responses.

Video recordings of the candidates’ opening statements are available here.  Photos and detailed information about how the forum was structured can be found on the Harley School’s blog.

 Audience questions: 

  1. Education of the community is essential to successful change.  How would you increase knowledge/acceptance of climate science to pave the way for “green” initiatives?
    • Alex White (Green): “I understand the importance of education but I feel the biggest obstacle to change is a lack of effective alternatives. For example if we want people to use public transit then we have to build a public transit system which works.  It must compete both in convenience and in travel time with vehicles.  Then we can talk about fossil fuels and their affect on the climate as there is an equal option for people.  Perhaps the best place to start this would be public utility as this would reduce electric costs and allow us to simultaneously invest in a fossil free generation system which is local. “
    • Eddie Gartz (Republican): “When I was a young boy “back before the first ice age” 🙂  they had “Do Not Litter Campaigns” and “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”, and I believe they worked exceptionally well.  In regards to litter before the effort we’d see trash thrown all over in Seabreeze near the hot stands… Years later NONE. People really try once they learn.  In regards to Green Issues  I think trying to get people to accept climate change is unnecessary. Most people will gladly accept the need to clean up the planet, bring costs down in the home, not pollute the rivers and streams by throwing waste and oil in the storm sewers. When you ask some one to accept climate change many cringe, yet when you talk about cleaning up the planet they know there is a need. So accepting climate change may not be necessary to get the job done. START CAMPAIGNS TO FIX AND TEACH.”
    • Rajesh Barnabas (Green): “I think the apt quote here is by German physicist Max Planck: ‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’ Unfortunately the next generation is not getting familiar with climate change because the mainstream media is not covering it. In 2007, the three major U.S. networks – CBS, NBC, and ABC – ran 147 stories on climate change; in 2011 the networks ran just 14 stories on the subject. (This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein, p. 34) Klein’s book also points out the fact young people entering college today are more obsessed with making money than past generations. Only about 44% of college freshman in 1966 rated making a lot of money as “essential.” By 2013, the figure had jumped to 82%. It is precisely this pursuit of ‘bling,’ or infinite economic expansion rather than equity that is destroying the planet. The problem is too urgent to push off on the next generation to respond. We don’t really need any more documentaries or books on the subject matter to educate the people, the response needs to be more of a physical showing of people power rather than cerebral exercise at this point. 
  2. Few of the ideas presented tonight have addressed the need to shift away from fossil fuel energy sources.  Rochester has no shortage of wind.  And what about solar?  Geothermal?  What will you do to transition Monroe County away from fossil fuels, to clean energy sources?
    • Alex White (Green): “One of the biggest problems with shifting away from fossil fuels is the lack of infrastructure.  We need to have the public put in electric car charging stations in public garages and at various other public destinations. Government needs to put solar on all public buildings as this would increase the number of installers and lower costs.  It is a tragedy that the School Modernization Program has no alternative energy component as this would be the perfect opportunity to lead.  Rochester should be investing in a Deep Water Lake Cooling systems like Toronto has. Further we should consider using HUD loans to provide local property tax incentives to increase energy efficiency and install alternative energy systems.  Finally Rochester has a unique opportunity to put wind power along the shore of Lake Ontario at Durand Eastman Park.  This power would be best as a public utility which lowered the electric costs for the poor in Rochester and Irondequoit.”
    • Eddie Gartz (Republican): “Tax rebates for conversion to solar in homes around Monroe County. Continued conversion to electric transportation in all city vehicles. Would be a great start plus see #3.”
    • Rajesh Barnabas (Green): “My response would be swift as County Executive. I would pursuit a public buyout of RG&E so we could finally invest in renewable energy and get off the oldest and most dangerous nuclear power plant in the country. RG&E won’t even release their energy portfolio info. to show citizens what sources they are getting their energy from. This is insane. We need a transparent utility company that is publicly owned, like almost every other country in the world does it, and also Fairport, Spencerport, and Churchville. Also if it is a good enough idea for outgoing County Exec. Maggie Brooks to put up solar arrays to save county buildings some costs, shouldn’t we solarize the entire county? Solar power has come down in costs 99% in the past four decades and 75% in the past six years. This is largely due to the Chinese giving huge subsidies to their solar industry. Monroe County could start subsidizing solar, wind, and hydro rather than the dirty fossil fuel industry it is propping up today. I would enact a “Zero Carbon Tolerance” (see my expanded policy description at  policy and severely tax carbon emitting industries and automotive modes of travel.”
  3. Anyone wishing to leave this forum without a car would have to walk 12 minutes to find a bus stop and wait an hour for a bus…or walk without sidewalks…or bike without bike lanes or clear shoulders.  What would you do to encourage “CO2-reducing” transit and discourage car culture in Monroe County?
    • Alex White (Green): “Our public transit system in Rochester is a joke. RGRTA is more concerned with profits and bonuses for the senior staff than service for the community.  It is time to completely over haul our transit system using the federal money available for light rail to create a new system. It is time to abandon the whole spoke and hub system and put in a system where rail lines provide long distance transit across the city to buses which then provide short distance transport from many different hubs.  The odd point is that RGRTA even did a study which recommended a similar system with buses which would save commuters time and cost less to operate.”
    • Eddie Gartz (Republican): “This is a wild idea I know.  But in Florida many people get around neighborhoods with electric golf carts. Except for winter months there are now golf cart style cars that are fabulous but I’d not want to drive on the roads with one and come up against a tractor trailer or any typical car.  If we started placing wide sidewalks on one side of the main roads and opened up the neighborhoods to allow electric cars we could stop the use of automobiles dramatically. Wouldn’t you want to take a small electric car if the only thing on the roads were other small electric cars.”
    • Rajesh Barnabas (Green): “I was the only person I noticed that biked to the forum. I bike everywhere so this is not just for show. I know exactly what it is like to dodge shards of glass on the shoulders of the road, and navigate the mysterious new biking lanes the city has implemented. As an avid biker, a major priority would be to transform Rochester into a biking city. But if Rochester is anything like the average American city, then only .9% use bikes for travel. Compare that with 40% in the Amsterdam or 60% in Shanghai. The solution: first you take money from non-mandated transportation spending and use it for protected and covered bike lanes allowing for all-season travel. Secondly you convert the old subway tracks into underground multi-lane bike highways.
  4. Trains carrying tank cars of highly volatile Bakken oil pass through Monroe County each day.  These trains have been involved in a number of accidents in other areas, most notably Lac-Mégantic, Canada, where 47 people were killed.  Other than disaster planning and disaster response, do you see a role for local and county governments in protecting residents from the threat these trains pose?
    • Alex White (Green): “I understand the threat the transportation of Bakken Oil has posed and with the deplorable state of rail system in the US we are begging for a disaster.  The problem though is the oil culture which demands more fossil fuels and at more locations.  We should of course ban these trains from entering populous areas but this is beyond the purview of local government but what we really should do is break the dependence on fossil fuel with better public utilities, more alternative energy production, and an effective public transportation system.”
    • Eddie Gartz (Repubican): “Our Rail System is a shambles.  There truly is no need to even have a person driving the train. They should only be there to watch over the system if we had a modern rail service. Plus there are ways to design a new rail system that would make it imposable for trains to jump tracks.  Reconstruction of our rail system is an imperative. We could eliminate the danger by fixing rather than placing more regulations. Until the problem with the rail system is resolved setting very low speed limits through cities and towns and reducing the speed in all other places should be a must. Restrictions on when and where these trains travel could also help the problem.”
    • Rajesh Barnabas (Green): “Yes this is important to address. Would like to meld issues of environmental justice and social justice here. I would conference with the good work that Mothers Out Front Rochester group is doing on this issue and form collaboration with organizers at NEAD(North East Area Development). CSX transportation is also important because the amount of fumes and asthma causing toxins these trains pump into the air when they sit and change tracks near the depot off E. Main St. Both the re-fueling station for RTS and CSX are located in the same area of the city, that NEAD and MOFR could address together. CSX and RTS pollution disproportionally effects the air and ground quality of residents already enduring poverty and primarily impacts people of color.”