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Buffalo, Rochester hire same lobbyist

Buffalo and Rochester find themselves competing with each other this year for a limited pot of state money, but they have taken an unusual step -- hiring the same lobbying firm to go after that aid at the state Capitol.

Both cities have turned to Hinman Straub, a top Albany lobbying firm, to try to squeeze more money from the state to help their struggling budgets.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown insisted no conflict exists.

"It's not an issue of who gets more -- Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse or any other city. It's an issue that all of New York's cities, particularly upstate, need additional financial assistance from Albany," Brown said.

"Certainly, now is not the time for division. I think our common challenge should bring us together, not separate us," he said.

Brown and Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy in January began campaigning at the state Capitol to increase the state aid to their cities.

Duffy's strategy, though, ruffled some feathers among Buffalo-area lawmakers because of his claim that Rochester has been unfairly treated while Buffalo has made out well. "While Buffalo still faces many challenges, the data supports that Rochester's needs are greater and Rochester's situation is far more desperate," he told state lawmakers in January.

Aid to Rochester should be brought "into parity" with Buffalo's state revenue sharing, Duffy said. He complained about Gov. George E. Pataki's budget that would increase aid to Rochester by $5.9 million while aid to Buffalo would increase by $12.7 million. The governor's proposed budget would give Buffalo $433 per citizen, but only $271 per citizen for Rochester, he said.

According to the state lobbying commission, the same 12 lobbyists at Hinman Straub are registered to represent both cities.

But Peter Cutler, a Brown spokesman, said he did not believe the firm's lobbyist handling the Buffalo account -- Janet Penksa -- is doing any work on behalf of Rochester.

Penksa is a former top budget adviser to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and former government affairs director at the University at Buffalo. Until recently, she also was a member of the Erie County control board.

Buffalo officials knew when the city was negotiating with Hinman Straub that the firm also was wooing the Rochester mayor to represent that city in Albany, Cutler said. The two mayors, both new to their jobs, are not trying to take state money away from each other, he added.

"This may very well work out to benefit both cities rather than appear to be in conflict," Cutler said.

The Rochester mayor is "comfortable" with the lobbying arrangement, said his spokesman, Michael Keane. And Hinman Straub has assigned different lobbyists to represent the two cities, he added.

In Albany Friday evening, legislators announced a tentative deal to add $26.3 million in state aid to Buffalo, a 22.8 percent increase over last year and more than double what Pataki had proposed for the city. "We recognize upstate communities are dealing with significant problems," said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, a Suffolk County Democrat who co-chaired the Senate and Assembly panel that made the revenue sharing deal Friday.

Rochester, on a percentage basis, tentatively faired better than Buffalo, with an $18 million hike, or 33 percent increase from last year.

The whole package is still subject to a final budget deal.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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