Republican gubernatorial candidate William F. Weld suggested Friday that Western New York serve as the headquarters of the New York Power Authority as part of his comprehensive plan to rescue upstate from its economic doldrums.
After a three-day drive across upstate, Weld said while he and Democratic rival Eliot L. Spitzer are still sparring over semantics to describe the area's poor economy, he will offer specific plans to revive the region's business base.
"Moving the headquarters of the Power Authority to Buffalo Niagara might be a pretty good first step," he said, as would establishing a governor's office in Buffalo.
"If the headquarters of an operation were here, I just think it would influence the thinking," he added, following a meeting with business leaders at Suzanne's Restaurant on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Weld's latest move follows a drive from Schenectady to Niagara Falls, and signals a growing emphasis on the economy of a region that once served as host to tens of thousands of industrial jobs. While Spitzer described the area as "Appalachia," the former Massachusetts governor says the term fails to portray an area rich in natural beauty as well as potential.
The key, he said, lies in lessening the state's own costs and the costs it imposes on business.
"I've never been more confident about the future of Western New York and upstate, if we can get Albany to unshackle upstate," Weld said. "That's the name of the game this election year and that's going to be the name of the game starting next January."
Weld said upstate rebirth revolves around cutting costs in areas that once made Massachusetts unfriendly to business, and that contribute to the same problem in New York today. As a two-term Massachusetts governor, he cut costs in workers compensation, unemployment insurance, power, health care and regulations. After meeting with local business leaders, he says he's ready to implement the same plan here.
"My assessment is that the people of New York State have come to the realization that they have an economic and social crisis on their hands, and it's caused by these excessively high costs," he said. "We need someone who is going to plunge into that thicket with both arms and both legs."
Republicans like Weld have jumped all over Spitzer's comment that the once prosperous industrial heartland between Schenectady and Niagara Falls resembles Appalachia after its loss of industry, jobs and people.
"When you set out to persuade employers to locate and expand in an area, you simply don't start by saying this area looks like Appalachia," he said. "It conjures up the wrong image. The reason there aren't as many good jobs and good wages here as there used to be is because the costs have been raised through the roof, and that's been done by Albany."
But because he was able to work with a Democratic legislature in Boston to reduce the costs of government and business, he said unemployment fell from 10 percent to 4 percent.
"Yes," he said, "it absolutely can be done here."
Weld, who faces intra-party challenges from former Assembly Minority Leader John J. Faso and former Secretary of State Randy Daniels, said he believes he can bring different parties and philosophies together as he did in Massachusetts. He acknowledged it might boil down to a matter of style over substance, but said he hopes to look to political opponents like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to be part of the process.