SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Late Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama and his controversial support for FMC

Federal Medical Center was the one time Hazama and public opinion diverged.

FILE-CHUCK-HAZAMA-04.jpg
Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama is pictured in this Post Bulletin file photo. Post Bulletin file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

Today, much of what is today's Rochester was built during former Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama's tenure.

Most consider his greatest legacy to be his advocacy and support for the city's flood control system. When the rains pound today, residents rest easy that their homes won't be washed away.

But it was far from his only accomplishment, which alone would have cemented his reputation as one of Rochester's greatest mayors. Hazama, who served as mayor from 1979 to 1996, presided over a pace of growth and downtown development that hasn't been rivaled since. Hazama died last Sunday at 89.

RELATED: Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama dies
Consider: Hazama led the campaign to adopt a half-cent sales tax in Rochester to finance the flood control project and expansion of Mayo Civic Center. He started Rochesterfest. He spurred downtown redevelopment, including what is called Galleria at University Square and the Peace Plaza. He initiated Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., making it into a catalyst for public-private partnerships. Rochester City Hall was moved to its riverfront location during his time.

But Hazama didn't always have the winds of public opinion at his back. His support for the Federal Medical Center stands as the most stark example of his willingness to defy public opinion if he thought it clashed with Rochester's larger interests. The FMC was an issue that not only deeply divided Rochester, it was overwhelmingly opposed by the public. But Hazama supported it anyway.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Chuck came from a generation where he made up his mind and let the chips fall where they may," said former Rochester City Council President John Hunziker, who served alongside Hazama. "And if he got unelected, so be it."

Hazama and Senjem-2.jpg
Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama with State Sen. Dave Senjem. Contributed / Dave Senjem

Today, hardly anyone bats an eye that Rochester is home to a federal medical prison that houses drug dealers, terrorists, mobsters and other criminals. The fierce passions that it aroused have been lost to time. But during a two-year timeframe in the mid-1980s, it generated a ferocious resistance, including death threats, petitions and picket lines. Political careers ended over the issue.

It unleashed primal fears. Residents in east Rochester who would live next to the proposed prison could easily imagine escaped criminals rampaging through Rochester and doing God knows what.

As is the case today, Hazama operated within a weak mayoral system. His office was often ceremonial, and Hazama was a cheerleader par excellence. He left the nitty-gritty details to the city council, but he engaged on the big issues.

"Chuck would rarely speak at city council meetings; very often he wouldn't come," said Sen. Dave Senjem, whose service on the city council overlapped with Hazama's time as mayor. "In terms of downtown development, more happened in the '90s than since then. And that all happened under his guard."

When the city council voted 4-3 to spend $250,000 to oppose the medical prison, Hazama vetoed it. Hazama called it the "only major veto I held on the council," and it paved the way for the FMC.

ADVERTISEMENT

Why was Hazama such a staunch supporter of the FMC, which now stands on the grounds of the old Rochester State Hospital? Hazama was convinced it was an economic winner. And subsequent events validated that belief. It has pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. Once the prison was built in the mid-1980s and there were no prison breakouts, the fears subsided.

f82b15e1575424dd36caddb9caf0bd87.jpg
Former Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama waves to the crowd as he serves as grand marshal in the Rochesterfest Grand Parade June 22, 2012, in downtown Rochester.

Hazama had toured federal medical centers in North Carolina and Missouri, an experience that he said transformed his attitude toward the facilities.

"When I walked into the Butner facility and was greeted by a seven-month pregnant lady who introduced herself as the warden, all the images I had of a prison went down the tubes," he said.

An ace in the hole in FMC's favor, people speculate, was Mayo Clinic's support for the project. That support was never public or published. Mayo today earns millions providing medical services at the facility.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The clinic wanted it," Hunziker said. "It was good place for their doctors at the time and everybody else, at least from my point of view, to do training."

Hazama apparently never paid a political price for his support of the FMC. He remained a beloved figure among many.

Joe Powers, a restauranteur and caterer, recalls living through that tumultuous time. His dad, Jim Powers, lost his city council seat to Hunziker because of his support for the FMC.

"Our whole family was extremely close to him. He was at our house a lot," Powers recalled about his then grade school-aged children. "My kids in their bedrooms had a picture of Jesus Christ and next to it was Chuck Hazama. And I'm not joking about that. They loved talking to him, being around him. He was our president."

From the archives:

hazama things opening up.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a Dec. 1988 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama going home.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a April 1980 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama racquetball.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a Dec. 1979 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama rochfest button.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in an April 1985 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama job.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a May 1980 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama giant leap.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a June 1987 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama in the hot seat.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a June 1986 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama coach.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a Feb. 1980 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

hazama appleseed.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a Sept. 1980 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

FILE-CHUCK-HAZAMA-03.jpg
Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama is pictured in this Post Bulletin file photo. Post Bulletin file photo

hazama capping off the evening.jpg
Former Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama appears in a Sept. 1986 issue of the Post Bulletin. Post Bulletin File

gus_page_0006.jpg
A Post Bulletin newspaper clipping from November 9, 1987 at the kick-off of the downtown Galleria development with Gus Chafoulias and Mayor Chuck Hazama. (Post Bulletin archive)

FILE-CHUCK-HAZAMA-06.jpg
Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama is pictured third from right in this Post Bulletin file photo. Post Bulletin file photo

FILE-CHUCK-HAZAMA-05.jpg
Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama is pictured in this Post Bulletin file photo. Post Bulletin file photo

FILE-CHUCK-HAZAMA-01.jpg
Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama is pictured in this Post Bulletin file photo. Post Bulletin file photo

Related Topics: PEOPLEROCHESTEREXCLUSIVE
Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
What to read next
View "slice of life" photos from around the area.
Highlights of events in 1997, 1972, 1947 and 1922.
Columnist Loren Else says America is the land of the free thanks to brave souls such as Bill Hollander.
Highlights of events in 1997, 1972, 1947 and 1922.