William A. Johnson, former Mayor of Rochester,New York State

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This is an archived article, published in April 2003
William A Johnson, Jr
former mayor of Rochester, NY

William A. Johnson, Jr. was elected the 64th Mayor of the City of Rochester, New York State’s third largest city, in November 1993, receiving over 72 per cent of the votes. It was his first run for any political office, and he succeeded a 20-year incumbent.

Update November 2005: William Johnson did not contest the mayoral election of 8 November 2005

In November 1997, he was re-elected without opposition in either the primary or general elections. In November 2001, he was re-elected to a third term with over 78 per cent of the votes, in one of the several mayoral elections held after the 2000 census that featured African American and Hispanic contenders. Mayor Johnson announced during that campaign that he would not seek a fourth term.

Prior to his election, he served for 21 years as the President and Chief Execitve Officer of the Urban League of Rochester, where he was responsible for developing and overseeing a number of programmes, in education and youth development, family services, employment training and housing development. Among the more innovative programmes were:

SALUTE TO BLACK SCHOLARS. This was founded in 1980 to recognise the academic achievements of black high school students. In 22 years, more than 3,800 students have been cited and tens of millions of dollars in community scholarships have been awarded.

BLACK SCHOLARS ENDOWMENT FUND. This was founded in 1987 with $1 million. It has since awarded financial assistance to hundreds of deserving college students.

URBAN LEAGUE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION. This non-profit subsidiary was formed in 1986. It has constructed hundreds of new, affordable homes for first time owners. It should be noted that these programmes are still strong and vibrant, nearly ten years after Mayor Johnson's tenure with the League.

EDUCATION INITIATIVE/CALL TO ACTION. This programme was launched in 1985 as a community-wide campaign to improve the quality of education for all Rochester schoolchildren.

Many of these programmes received national recognition for their innovation and substance. In addition, Mr. Johnson increased the League's programmes from five to 29, and the annual budget from $550,000 to $4.5 million during his tenure. The Rochester league was only one of three of the 114 affiliates that got United Way allocations in excess of $1 million annually. He also trained five of his staff to become affiliate chief executives, and four more to head other not-for-profit agencies.

As Mayor, Mr Johnson has continued his tradition of innovative programmes, including the following:

Neighbours Building Neighbourhoods Programme (NBN), which introduced the principles of citizen participation and empowerment into every neighbourhood. As a result of training and consultation, citizens are now fully engaged with City Hall at every level of decision-making involving their neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhood Empowerment Teams are a series of neighbourhood-based mini-City Halls, where police officers and civilian code enforcement officers are assigned to work directly with citizens to resolve a host of quality-of-life issues, in a timely and efficient manner.

Community Economic Development schemes, through the creation of several community- and faith-based community development corporations, have partnered with the city to create new residential and commercial projects throughout the city.

The Community Oriented Policing programme has worked to improve police-community relations and has initiated and motivated a number of collaborative efforts between citizens and police to reduce crime and violence in neighbourhoods.

Good Grades Pay. This programme connects scholastic performance with summer job opportunities for deserving students.

The Bi-racial Partnerships. This matches people of different races and economic status, in order to break down racial misunderstandings in our community. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, a separate partnership linking people from Islamic and non-Islamic countries was started.

Under Mayor Johnson's leadership, the city has embarked on an ambitious programme to reduce housing blight and increase the number of new and renovated houses in the city. More than 1,500 new homes have replaced more than 1,000 dilapidated structures. The city has entered into partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and several not-for-profit developers, including the Urban League of Rochester, to complete this effort. Working with the Tops supermarket chain, the Mayor has brought several new stores back into the inner city, and provided millions of dollars for commercial revitalisation of neighbourhoods as well as the traditional downtown areas. In 1998, the city implemented -- with the help of over 3,000 citizens-- the Rochester 2010 Plan, a bold blueprint which sets forth the essential elements for the revitalisation of the entire city by the year 2010. This was the first new Comprehensive Plan in 34 years. In October 2002, a new Zoning Code was enacted which codified much of the Comprehensive Plan, and changed the traditional zoning approach from land use to design.

Mayor Johnson has recognised the devastating effects of disinvestment on urban areas, combining his experiences as Mayor with his Urban League background. He has become an outspoken advocate of smart growth policies and an equally outspoken critic of urban sprawl. He has written and spoken widely on these subjects and is invited to lecture at universities and professional associations several times a year.

Mayor Johnson has also become an ardent proponent of regionalism, understanding that cities can no longer extricate themselves by their own initiative from the structural problems that inhibit economic viability. He has recognised the strengths of the regional economy, and how all municipalities working collaboratively within their regions can increase their economic and political competitiveness. He has established working relationships with colleagues across political and geographical boundaries.

He also places a high priority on the reform of his city's public schools, continuing work that was began at the Urban League. Educational Excellence is one of the eleven campaigns included in Rochester 2010, and the Mayor knows that no city can be truly revitalised without the turnaround of its educational system.

Mayor Johnson is a Trustee of the US Conference of Mayors, where he serves as Chairman of the Smart Growth and Regionalism Task Force; a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Conference of Mayors; an active member of the National Conference of Black Mayors; and the Vice Chair of Task Force on Community and Regional Development of the National League of Cities. He is also Chair of the Board of Partners for Livable Communities, headquartered in Washington DC. He is a trustee of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and a member of the Board of Excellus, Inc., a major health care insurer in Upstate New York.

Mayor Johnson is a political scientist by training, earning B.A. and M.A. degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1965 and 1967 respectively. At Howard, he was the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, a Falk Fellow in the political science department, and listed in Who's Who Among Students in the 1965 edition. He was honoured by his alma mater in March 2003 with an
Alumni Award for Distinguished Postgraduate Achievement.

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