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Subject: T.P. Ryan Jr., 74, Ex-Mayor of Rochester

March 14
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Date Posted: March 24, 2003 2:48:42 EDT

Thomas P. Ryan Jr., the mayor of Rochester during two decades of fiscal challenges and urban redevelopment, died on March 14 in Rochester. He was 74.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, friends of the family said. His death came the day before the city's annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which he established 26 years ago. Marchers dedicated this year's parade to him.

As mayor from 1974 to 1994, Mr. Ryan raised professionalism in City Hall by discouraging patronage and the solicitation of campaign contributions from contractors. He tried to stem population decline by rebuilding the downtown commercial district and city neighborhoods.

Mr. Ryan was the city's first "strong mayor" since the 1920's. In 1984, voters approved a measure to end the city's council-manager government, in which the city manager was the chief administrative officer and the City Council chose the mayor. After years as the appointed mayor, Mr. Ryan, who favored the change, was directly elected to the post the following year.

He was known for his ability to collaborate with political opponents. When a series of taxpayer lawsuits in the 1970's determined that Rochester and other upstate cities had exceeded constitutional tax limits, Mr. Ryan, a Democrat, worked with Republican leaders to save the city from bankruptcy. He reached an agreement with the Monroe County executive, Lucien A. Morin, a Republican, to increase the city's share of local sales tax revenues.

While Mr. Ryan once described the mayoralty as "the only job I will ever want," he was uncomfortable in the limelight.

"It was the business of the city that consumed him, not the ribbon cuttings," said Betsy Relin, a former county elections commissioner.

Mr. Ryan grew up in Rochester, working at his father's market in the Park Avenue neighborhood. He served in the Marine Corps and graduated from St. Bonaventure University and Syracuse Law School. His political career began in 1961, when he was elected county supervisor. He was appointed mayor after being elected to the Rochester City Council in 1973, and later won two elections to the post.

Under Mr. Ryan's leadership, the city built a convention center, revitalized its Genesee riverfront, including the High Falls area, renovated a former federal building as the new City Hall and helped develop Frontier Field, a baseball park near the headquarters of the Eastman Kodak Company.

Yet one development became a longstanding embarrassment. Construction of a 25-story hotel halted when the private developer ran out of money. The unfinished building on the city's main street stood empty for three years until Mr. Ryan and other government and corporate leaders assembled financing.

When the hotel finally opened in 1992, Mr. Ryan engaged in an uncharacteristic display of public theatrics by throwing political cartoons about the project into the trash.

Mr. Ryan decided not to seek re-election in 1993. He was succeeded by William A. Johnson Jr., a Democrat and the first African-American to hold the position. Although Mr. Ryan declined to endorse a candidate in the race, he announced his intention to vote for Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Ryan's survivors include his wife, Charlotte; a daughter, Mary; a brother, Joseph; and a sister, Mary Griffin.

T.P. in 1984

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