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U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that a state-imposed fiscal control board is the right medicine to cure Buffalo's critical financial condition but that there also must be a focus on the area's long-term opportunities to improve the local economy and image.

The New York Democrat has particularly high hopes for the University at Buffalo Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and the spinoffs it will create for Western New York.

"I'm betting on bioinformatics. I may be wrong, but I think I'm right," Clinton said, citing the $10 million in federal funding she has helped direct toward efforts to create a bioinformatics center here.

"I think it's a good bet to generate jobs and generate good feedback about Buffalo," she said.

Additional federal money for the center will be in the forthcoming federal budget, she said, but it is too early to know how much.

During a series of Western New York stops Thursday, the senator said that while the area is facing "tougher conditions than most" upstate New York communities, it is important to focus on specific opportunities.

"We need to invest in the opportunities we have in front of us, things that could really turn into something for the long term," Clinton said.

While looking forward, Clinton did not downplay Buffalo's current money woes. She said she supports State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi's conclusions that a fiscal control board is necessary to put the city's finances back in order.

"I don't think there's another option. Something has to be done," she said. "It could be a real saving grace, if it's done the right way."

That right way, according to Clinton, is to select board members who are willing to make tough decisions. She said she would like to see a mix of representatives from the public and private sectors willing to change Buffalo's financial course without regard for political repercussions.

"They have to be able to work independently to do things that politically you can't get people to do," she said.

Clinton, who campaigned on a platform of helping the upstate economy, said she has found helping to jump-start the Buffalo economy from Washington more difficult than she first thought, placing blame on Bush administration policies.

"I never would have predicted the administration would undo the prosperity of the 1990s," she said, noting that the economic upswing then largely bypassed Buffalo.

The senator's list of concerns for the Buffalo area also includes the recent spate of accidents -- some of them fatal -- along Route 20 in Hamburg. Clinton said she has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to send in a team to investigate the conditions.

"It's just tragic what's happening out there," she said. "We need to find a short-term solution, not wait until we can get a new intersection put in."

Clinton also addressed national and international issues in an afternoon meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board. She expressed general frustration with the Bush administration and the Republican majority on topics ranging from the U.S. economy to the war in Iraq:

On Iraq, based on what she knew at the time, Clinton still would have voted to authorize military action against the regime of Saddam Hussein. However, based on more recent intelligence, notably the inability to find any weapons of mass destruction, she said she is not sure she would have approved sending in U.S. troops.

On President Bush's impending visit to the Middle East, the senator called it an "important trip" and applauded Bush's decision to make an in-person appeal for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

On the Bush tax cut, Clinton said, "It defies the rules of arithmetic." The tax cut, she said, will not revive the economy.

On presidential politics, she said the Democratic Party has "five or so" good candidates for 2004, any of whom would make a good president. The problem, she said, is that their message is not yet getting through to the public. "There is no echo chamber," she said.

Earlier in the day, Clinton visited the Cassadaga Job Corps Center in Chautauqua County, where she viewed the construction site for a building that will house a new program for licensed practical nurses. The program is a partnership of the center and Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.

The center produces more than 100 certified nurse's aides each year, and is partnering with CVS for a pharmacy program.

Clinton also toured several GED classrooms and the carpentry and electrical training shops.

Chautauqua correspondent Norma Braude contributed to this report.

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