A Buffalo surgeon, who lost out in his bid last year to become state health commissioner, is now in line to be appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki to head a new state agency charged with bringing high technology jobs to New York.
Dr. Russell Bessette, who helped coordinate the team of doctors that treated County Executive Joel A. Giambra's throat cancer surgery last month, will be tapped to take over as head of the state's Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research, sources said Friday.
A spokesman for Pataki declined to comment, and Bessette did not return calls for comment.
But sources in Albany and Buffalo said Pataki had sent Bessette's name to the Senate to begin the confirmation process. Bessette is close to Republican Party officials in Erie County, but he is also highly respected by medical and hospital groups for his background in public health and technology issues.
The pending appointment comes after months of intense jockeying behind the scenes among various Republican Party factions over who would head the new agency. The new agency, which will start out small with a proposed staff of just 50 employees, according to the governor's recent budget proposal, was created to, in part, promote research and economic development at the state's public and private universities. The agency will, among its many duties, help coordinate deals between private industry and colleges that can lead to new products being developed and then put on the marketplace. And it will recommend to the state Board of Regents on ways in which the state's colleges can participate in drawing more high-technology industries to New York.
The agency is expected to play a major role in the Pataki administration's newly focused eye on improving the upstate economy. It will oversee the awarding of $95 million in the coming year to help build new laboratories and encourage research centers at the state's Centers for Advanced Technology sites and State University of New York facilities. Another $7.5 million will go to help colleges recruit research faculty members, and $5 million is earmarked for colleges to put their high-technology innovations onto the marketplace.
Bessette, a plastic surgeon and dentist, is chairman of the state Public Health Council and executive director of the Technology Transfer Center at Sisters Hospital, which is one of the programs that will be administered by the new state agency.Bessette was in line to become state health commissioner last year. But that appointment went to Dr. Antonia Novello, a former U.S. surgeon general.
Bessette supporters said they are encouraged by Pataki's expected appointment of the surgeon because it could help Western New York's fledgling high-technology industries. "The fact that it's going to be somebody from Western New York heading up this venture is, I think, a significant signal for our community," said Erie County Republican Party Chairman Robert Davis.