Republican Senate candidate Rick A. Lazio found himself surrounded by dozens of twentysomething, dot-com types in downtown Buffalo on Tuesday and once again expressed his confidence in a revived upstate economy.
"There's such optimism here," he said during a noontime event at Chek.com's Lafayette Court operation. "I've been out to Silicon Valley and talked to people there, and I think there is more enthusiasm here than there. People are going to be looking to you as a beacon for growth."
But as Lazio emphasized the positive -- eight floors above the empty storefronts of Main Street -- his local allies emphasized to him the need for a change in approach. They asked him to return with new ideas about how Washington can help jump-start an economy that still needs attention.
"Rick and I talked about it," County Executive Joel A. Giambra said late Tuesday. "Yes, we're starting to see the end of the bottoming-out and the beginning of some hopeful signs, but we're not out of the woods. What's happened are not laurels to rest on."
As a result, Giambra, along with other top Republican leaders, said Tuesday that they are asking him to address problems of the upstate economy more specifically, especially in the face of continuing criticism from the campaign of Democratic opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"It's time to show why we should vote for Rick Lazio," Giambra said.
That Democratic criticism intensified with Lazio's visit, as they pointed to the upstate recovery plan Clinton unveiled in Buffalo on the first full day of her candidacy back in February.
"Last week during his debate with Hillary Clinton, Rick Lazio said he believes the upstate economy has turned the corner," said Michael Schell of Watertown, executive chairman of the state Democratic Committee. "Clearly, the Long Island congressman doesn't understand what is really going on with the upstate economy. Hillary has a real, detailed plan to boost the upstate economy."
Democratic Assemblymen Richard A. Smith and Sam Hoyt, both from Erie County, told reporters on the steps of City Hall that Lazio refuses to recognize the problem.
"I don't agree that upstate New York is doing well," Smith said. "It's taken three years now to have the leadership in Albany recognize that Western New York needs help."
"We ought to rename Rick Lazio 'George Jetson,' " added Hoyt, "because I believe he's orbiting in space if he believes we've turned the corner."
Lazio addressed other matters Tuesday stemming from last week's debate here, including complaints from the Clinton campaign that he was too aggressive.
"It's a sexist comment," he said of Clinton's comparison of him to her "little brothers."
"I think the idea that somehow men and women have different standards in contemporary life is wrong," he continued. "I don't think people in the Senate worry about whether you're a man or a woman. They just want to know you're a skillful advocate for your state."
He said he does not understand com
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plaints about aggressiveness on his part, especially when he walked to her lectern with a request to sign a pledge against raising and spending soft money.
"Mrs. Clinton knew that that pledge was out there; she had been given it a month earlier," he said. "I believe that she actually invited me to come over by suggesting somehow we should have a handshake deal on it."
But Lazio arrived in Buffalo intent on emphasizing the positive, touting Buffalo as a headquarters for high-tech firms. He chatted with Chek.com CEO Darren Ascone, 25, who relayed the success of the 2-year-old company that provides electronic communications infrastructure to more than 4 million users. The backdrop fit nicely with his assertion that Clinton is unfairly painting upstate New York as an "economic wasteland."
Ascone told Lazio that he graduated from the University at Buffalo in 1997 and now helps run a multimillion-dollar company -- the same company Clinton used as a point of optimism during a February appearance in Buffalo, where she outlined her upstate economic-revival plan.
But Giambra said that more is needed and that Washington can help. He pointed to the need for more and better job-training programs, not wasteful programs he said have emanated from Washington in recent years.
"(Lazio) and I discussed ideas about what Washington is doing to help us," Giambra said. "We have to figure out what new programs and policies are going to get at the structural problems.
Giambra said that it is "still early, only September" and emphasized that there is much time for Lazio to formulate his upstate ideas.