New York 28th District
Rochester, with a metro area of just over 1 million, is one of the major cities of upstate New York. Located where the Erie Canal crosses the Genesee River, Rochester became a major industrial city—the Flour City—in the 1830s, as it milled the wheat produced by western New York farmers. Then, it was one of the early high-tech cities, after a bank clerk named George Eastman began making photographic dry plates and marketed the first still camera and film for Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera. Later, Bausch & Lomb developed its lens business in Rochester, and the optics and imaging industry continues to be a significant regional employer. Its great industries—Bausch & Lomb, Eastman Kodak, and Xerox, which started here as Haloid—have thrived on technical innovation, precision workmanship, high reliability, and customer service, giving Rochester an affluent and well-educated population as well as fine civic institutions, including the George Eastman House, one of the world’s leading repositories of photographic and motion picture history. Rochester was also the home base of women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. This was the city that in 1918 invented the Community Chest and at one time had the nation’s highest United Way contributions. Unhappily, Rochester’s big employers have fallen on hard times, and young professionals have been leaving the area. Kodak, hard hit by competition from digital cameras, employed 60,000 people in the Rochester area in 1981; by 2008 that was down to 9,200. Xerox jobs in the area were down to half of what they once were, from 16,000 to 7,400. The city’s population—332,000 in 1950—dropped below 207,000 in 2007. That decline has been accompanied by an increase in crime and poverty in areas only a few blocks from historic homes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Not far west of Rochester is a very different part of upstate New York, the Niagara Frontier—the local name for the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area. The Niagara Frontier was once an armed frontier, between the United States and British-held Upper Canada, where American troops crossed the raging Niagara River during the War of 1812 to fight the Battle of Lundys Lane. Later in the 19th century, Niagara Falls became a prime vacation spot, a must-see sight for European tourists and American honeymooners. Few tourists today notice the huge water intakes farther up the river or the hydroelectric power lines strung out on giant pylons fanning out in every direction, providing cheap public power for the chemical and steel factories that made the Niagara Frontier one of the heavy-industry capitals of America. But the city of Niagara Falls has suffered hard times. Tourists tend to stay on the Canadian side, which has better views of the Falls and loose enforcement of sex and gambling laws that make it, as some say, the “Las Vegas of the North.” Niagara Falls has lost much of its manufacturing since the 1960s and has suffered double-digit unemployment and population losses. The downtown, leveled by urban renewal, remains troubled.
The 28th Congressional District of New York, created by redistricting in 2002, includes Rochester, Niagara Falls, and part of Buffalo, all connected by a thin strip of land along Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. A bit more than 46% of the district is in Monroe County, and a bit less than 37% is in Erie County. Most of Rochester’s suburbs are in three other districts, but the 28th includes Grand Island, Tonawanda, and the northeast quadrant of Buffalo, where it takes in much of the city’s downtown and its fine cultural institutions. This is mainly a central city district. Twenty-nine percent of residents are African-American, the highest percentage in any upstate district. Politically, this is a solidly Democratic district.