Democrat Thomas Richards, a one-time chief executive of the city’s gas-and-electric utility, coasted past former three-term mayor William Johnson Jr. on Tuesday to win a special election for the mayor’s office.
“I’ve always believed in this place … in its great potential,” Richards said in a victory speech to cheering supporters.
An estimated 26 percent of the nearly 95,300 eligible voters cast ballots in the election.
With all precincts reporting unofficial returns, Richards captured 49 percent of the vote in the race to succeed Robert Duffy, who became the state’s lieutenant governor in January. Johnson drew 42 percent, and Green Party candidate Alex Green, a former teacher who owns a game store, trailed with nearly 9 percent.
Richards, 67, a party nominee who became Duffy’s deputy mayor in October, headed Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. from 1998 until he was forced out in a 2002 merger. He earned a severance package valued at $10 million. He left retirement in 2006 to become the city’s corporation counsel.
Richards said his first order of business in May is tackling a projected $50 million budget deficit “and it’s not going to be easy.”
Johnson, 68, led the city’s Urban League for 20 years before being elected to City Hall on his first try in 1993. He stepped down in 2005. He said he decided to compete again on an independence ticket to give voters a choice among Democrats to fill out the remainder of Duffy’s four-year term.
While disappointed with the outcome, Johnson said he was pleased voters “had a choice in this election where none was promised to them originally.”
As for future plans, “I’m going back to the classroom,” added Johnson, who teaches public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Duffy was the city’s police chief during much of Johnson’s tenure and was in his second term as mayor last May when he became Andrew Cuomo’s choice to join his winning campaign for governor. On his departure, Richards became acting mayor but resigned after just 18 days to clear the path for him to run for the office.
The shortened mayoral campaign had been relatively low key, with candidates focusing on how best to spread out a scarcity of funds to lift ailing, inner-ring neighborhoods.
Johnson was dogged by complaints about his handling of a failed ferry service to Toronto that left Rochester with upward of $20 million in losses. But he countered that the city’s reinvigorated port benefited from a huge influx of federal and state aid.
The city shed 4.2 percent of its population over the last decade. It had 219,700 residents in 2000 and a high mark of 332,500 in 1950.