Republicans hoping to end Andrew Cuomo's run as governor this November say he has failed taxpayers, despite his large-scale investment in upstate economic development. During an appearance in Buffalo by gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro Wednesday, he and local Republican leaders took aim at Cuomo's most ambitious spending plan for the region, the Buffalo Billion.
The Buffalo Billion has been celebrated by many as a public catalyst for the Western New York region's economic redevelopment and renaissance. Buffalo's redeveloped waterfront, reconstruction and upgrades to Niagara Falls' tourist district and state park, the redevelopment of the former Robert Moses Parkway, 43North and advance manufacturing training centers are looked upon as the fruits of Governor Cuomo's program.
Critics, including State Assemblyman Ray Walter, say many of the economic developments seen in Buffalo-Niagara in recent years are instead the result of other initiatives and other investments.
"You look at things that were successful, whether it be the waterfront, which has more to do with the re-licensing of the New York Power Authority and things Congressman (Brian) Higgins has done; you look at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, investments started to take place 20 years ago to make that a reality; look at historic tax credits, things that preceded this governor," Walter said. "Those have been the real successes of economic development in Western New York, not the Buffalo Billion."
Walter added what can be directly linked to the Buffalo Billion are the Tesla/Panasonic plant in Buffalo's Riverbend neighborhood and IBM's downtown Buffalo offices, both of which he described as underperforming.
Molinaro, in his remarks in Buffalo Wednesday, presented himself as a down-to-earth individual not born into wealth or power. He suggested Cuomo, with how he implemented the Buffalo Billion, took advantage of Western New Yorkers and their hopes. He alluded to the recent corruption conviction of former longtime Cuomo associate Joseph Percoco and the anticipated testimony of fellow former associate Todd Howe.
"There have been successes and we celebrate those. But at the end of the day, this process - the economic development apparatus - is corrupted by corrosive pay-to-play politics which has been on trial for the last several months and will be on trial for the next several months," Molinaro said. "And it reached the highest levels of state government. There is no question about that."
The Buffalo Billion is expected to be a frequent target of Republican leaders and strategists as this year's race for governor heats up.
"We have a governor that has tried to buy the love and affection of everyone in Western New York after he got shellacked here in 2010," said Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy, referring to Cuomo's run against Carl Paladino in which the latter won all eight counties of Western New York. "It's not going to work this time, folks."
Niagara Falls Councilman and former Niagara Gazette publisher Chris Voccio told WBFO despite the millions of dollars the Cuomo Administration has invested in downtown Niagara Falls, Cuomo isn't necessarily well-received in the Cataract City.
"I don't believe that the money that's been dropped has elevated the governor's popularity," Voccio said. "I've not seen a poll but my guess is just talking to people - I talked to a lot of people in my campaign which was not too long ago - his popularity is very low. My guess is no matter what happens in November, Marc (Molinaro) will do very well in Niagara County and in Western New York as a whole, despite the Buffalo Billion."