How to Be an Effective Local Advocate

Interview with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren

Unlike your US Senator or your state legislator, the mayor of your city spends nearly every day in your community. Take citizens of Rochester, New York. Quorum sat down with Rochester’s Mayor Lovely Warren to understand how advocates can work with local officials on promoting their issue and kicking-starting initiatives in the community.

Here are Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren’s three tips for being an effective local advocate:

Bring Solutions to the Table

One of the advantages of working with a mayor on an issue rather than an elected official at the state or federal level is there are fewer levels of staff to get through in order to get a meeting. According to Warren, most constituents who reach out to meet with her get a chance to discuss their issue or idea.

The biggest key to a successful meeting according to Warren is to not just highlight the issue you’d like the city government to address, but to propose solutions and action items.

“How can I help you get from point A to point B? Just having that process thought out beforehand, if you’re coming in for a specific problem then what is it that you believe the city, the mayor, or the government can do to help you solve that problem,” Warren said. “If you are in the preliminary stages then wait until you get to that next step to bring it forward because you may not get the chance to sit down and talk at an extensive level again.”

Find Improvements Instead of Replacements

One of the ways that Warren has been able to improve upon problems facing the city without facing the uphill climb of brainstorming a new idea or finding funding is by using what already exists in city infrastructure and making them more efficient.

Warren showed the impact of this strategy in her fight to address income inequality in the city. She found that it was far too challenging for someone interested in starting a business in Rochester to complete all the necessary steps for success.

“If I wanted to start a business I would work on my business plan over here, get my financing over there, possibly get a mentor over here,” Warren said. “We're bringing all of these support networks together so that it is easier for the person to navigate the systems we have in place.”

By looking first at existing programs and how they can be improved rather than going straight to implementing new systems, things can get done in the city faster and at a lower cost.

Bridge Divides Between Communities

Before becoming mayor, Warren was a member of the Rochester City Council, representing one of the poorest districts in the city. Whenever she wanted to advocate for an issue facing her district, she put herself in the shoes of other city council members and their more affluent districts to consider how the policies affected their constituents.

With this perspective, Warren could frame her advocacy amongst the council in a way that presented positive policy developments to the full city, so the council could have a strong argument for why something should be implemented when it went to the mayor’s office.

“[We had to] get the administration to see that it was an investment that was worth making,” Warren said. “[I had to] find a balance and learn how to become not just an advocate but also a bridge builder for different issues that may be affecting my constituents.”

As an advocacy organization, you can be one step ahead by proposing partnerships or initiatives that offer compelling benefits for all communities within a city, making it easier for local officials to get on board—particularly the mayor.

Bottom Line:

If you are an advocacy professional looking to impact policies at the local level, it is critical to be an effective partner with city leadership—namely the mayor. Rochester’s Lovely Warren shows that with a few considerations, local advocates can stand a greater chance at achieving their desired outcomes.

As much as advocacy at the city level is about the ideas you are presenting, it’s also key to consider your process. By proposing solutions early, finding improvements rather than replacements, and being a bridge-builder, you’ll have a stronger relationship with city leadership and stand at a greater likelihood for success. Learn how you can track dialogue on local officials with Quorum Local.

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