A sitting president facing a re-election battle over his economic policies Tuesday hailed an upstate New York community as a job-creating example for the rest of the nation -- although the example he was pointing at took two decades in the making and billions of dollars in government money.
"Now I want what's happening in Albany to happen all across the country," President Obama said in a visit to the rapidly expanding nanosciences center at the University at Albany.
Obama was making his third trip to Albany since becoming president -- a Chamber of Commerce's dream that other upstate cities can only sit back and marvel, or simmer, over.
But the visit also served as a stark reminder that the rest of upstate, which is not on Obama's economic development tour, has a long way to go.
"The president has come to Albany so often that the rest of the state is going to get jealous at this rate," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in introducing Obama before several hundred invited guests at the latest expansion of the nanosciences center, which has attracted a who's who of high-tech companies.
The Albany economic experiment even set off a food fight among elected officials -- Cuomo on behalf of his father, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Gov. George E. Pataki on behalf of themselves -- as to who came up with the idea to first invest in the Albany nanosciences center.
Obama used the Albany area as a political backdrop both for his re-election campaign and to lash out at Republicans in Congress for not backing a series of policy proposals he says would increase employment. He floated a "to do" list for Washington lawmakers, who, he cautioned, cannot wait until after the November elections to act on job creation.
For economic development cheerleaders in other upstate communities, the Albany push by the state over the past 15 or so years and the billions of dollars accompanying it have been a source of envy: money for the Albany nanoscience center and a new chip manufacturing plant.
There also has been state money for everything from sports complexes to a train station to a new airport terminal. At the nanoscience center, a busy four-lane road is being rerouted just to make room for new growth.
"I do think, as in most states, that what happens in the state capital -- with regards to development initiatives -- is often different than what happens in other parts of the state, because they are within eyesight and car travel of the decision-makers," said Andrew Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. He noted the Albany area particularly benefited from its longtime money driver, former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who was reindicted last week on federal corruption charges.
But jealous of Albany's successes? "Of all the things about which we might have concern or lose sleep over, this isn't one of them," Rudnick said.
Obama visited Buffalo in 2010, making an early declaration that the economy was turning around.
Tuesday, current and former state officials were left squabbling over who was the greater visionary when it came to promoting the nanoscience center.
Monday, a Cuomo aide told an Albany radio station it was first the idea of the governor's father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, to pump money into what has become a center with more than $13 billion of private investment from the likes of IBM, Intel and Samsung.
Tuesday, even Obama gave a shout-out to Mario Cuomo for coming up with the initial seed money for the Albany facility. Obama had just been introduced by Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat with White House ambitions who got to give his introductions from the president's podium.
But just before Obama spoke, Silver, the Assembly leader from Manhattan, who attended the event, noted that he has led the charge for two decades to support the State University of New York facility. The center's chief executive officer, Alain Kaloyeros, also cited Silver for giving the "first" state money to his facility.
Since 2001, besides the $13 billion in private money, the total investment in the Albany facility has included $1.4 billion in state money and $250 million from the federal government. The facility employs more than 2,700 people, and the new expansion is expected to add another 1,000 jobs, a spokesman for the center said.
Even before Air Force One was in the air to Albany, Republicans were making an effort to take credit. State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox said the nanoscale center in Albany was "developed about 10 years ago by a Republican governor based on Republican principles." In a conference call with reporters, Cox said the Albany facility was a result of Pataki's leadership.
"Arguing over credit is something for small-minded people who get bogged down in the political headlines of the day. What I tried to do was put in place policies that speak for themselves," Pataki said in the conference call with Cox, the son-in-law of former President Richard M. Nixon. Pataki then pointed, for a second time in the call, to the timeline of important events on the nanoscale facility's web site. The timeline begins in 2001 -- when Pataki was in office.
Lawmakers from other upstate communities have certainly recognized the Albany resurgence in recent years.
"Clearly, government has done more for Albany in the last 15 to 20 years than other upstate cities," said Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Erie County Republican. But he said efforts have been afoot the past couple years with Cuomo administration and legislative initiatives targeting regional economies and using SUNY campuses to bolster local economies.
"I think the governor, to a certain extent, has demonstrated other areas need tending to as well," Gallivan said.