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Pro-reform Cuomo rakes in big bucks at event here; With an eye toward 2014, governor raises $450,000

Andrew M. Cuomo, riding high in the popularity polls after 16 months as governor, is scoring major success as a political fundraiser, too.

About 100 people packed the Crystal Room of the newly renovated Hotel Lafayette in downtown Buffalo on Wednesday evening for a Cuomo 2014 fundraiser that raked in at least $450,000, according to sources familiar with the event. That ranks as one of the most successful political events in Western New York history, and is thought to be the most ever earned locally for a gubernatorial campaign.

The event took place on the same day the governor told "The Capitol Pressroom" radio show that campaign finance reform remains a priority for the rest of this year's legislative session.

"The power of money in this Capitol is unbelievable," the governor said.

But he also acknowledged that no specific agreements have been reached to reform the role of money in the political system, noting the new influence of "super PACs" that can raise unlimited amounts of money at the same time that individuals face stricter limits.

"It's complicated," he said. "But I've supported campaign finance reform for a long time."

Cuomo also has not yet submitted his own specific plan for campaign finance reform, though he did list it as a 2012 goal in his State of the State address, according to spokesman Josh Vlasto.

A minimum of $5,000 per ticket was requested for the Lafayette event that featured a brief appearance by the governor, with other contribution levels as high as $50,000. The affair provides a significant addition to the already brimming Cuomo campaign treasury, which reported $14.4 million to the state Board of Elections in January.

"I've never seen anything like this," said one lobbyist familiar with local fundraising events who asked not to be identified.

No host committee or list of sponsors was included on the invitations to supporters, but sources say several local Democrats, government officials and lobbyists were involved in encouraging attendance.

Cuomo avoided the media both coming into and leaving the Lafayette.

Among those noticed walking into the event were politicians, such as Rep. Brian Higgins, Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz; developers, such as Dennis M. Penman and Paul Ciminelli; prominent local attorneys, such as Terrence M. Connors; business leaders, including Russ Brandon, chief executive officer of the Buffalo Bills; former elected officials turned lobbyists, including former County Executive Joel A. Giambra and former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello; and well-known faces such as onetime boxer Joe Mesi.

"This room will have Democrats and Republicans, businesspeople -- everyone is responding to the great job he's doing," Higgins said outside the event. "He's made a major, major change in the way people view New York State. He has Democrats and Republicans working together."

Before entering the Lafayette, Poloncarz said, "When the governor comes to town, it's good to talk to him about the issues that matter."

Vlasto said the event was considered "private," and reporters were not admitted. But he said the governor would deliver a few remarks and immediately return to Albany, adding that he planned to travel on a private aircraft.

Outside the Lafayette were several protesters from Occupy Western New York, who decried the $5,000-per-ticket fundraiser.

The protesters also thought there was a disconnect between Cuomo's fundraiser and campaign finance reform he has been talking about.

"So where is it?" said Christina Cooke, one of the Occupy protesters. "Obviously, it's not here."

Developer Rocco R. Termini reopened the historic Lafayette last month after a $43 million renovation that received a combined $16 million in state and federal historic tax credits. Last month, he convened a news conference at the hotel to call for raising the per-project cap on state historic tax credits to $12 million from the current $5 million.

Cuomo was also joined at the event by Republican State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, all Democrats from Buffalo.

Vlasto on Wednesday acknowledged the state participation in the hotel's renovation but emphasized that the campaign was paying for the Crystal Room and that its use was not donated by Termini or his Signature Development firm.

News Staff Reporter Jay Rey contributed to this report.