ALBANY – This is Andrew Cuomo’s town these days. It’s evident in all the trappings of state government around the Capitol – not just his name on all of the official signs, but in the tone of things and the way the business of Albany is conducted.
The governor’s State of the State message on Wednesday serves as a prime example.
This was Cuomo’s fifth State of the State, the first of his second term. That means the state’s chief executive is no longer a curiosity; no longer “Mario’s kid.” Even the State of the State has been renamed in Cuomospeak – it’s now called “Opportunity Agenda 2015.”
The speech that traditionally charts an agenda for the coming year no longer unfolds from the rostrum of the grand Assembly Chamber. Cuomo now offers a high-tech and often funny dog-and-pony show from the much more spacious Convention Center of the Empire State Plaza, complete with high-tech graphics and caricatures of himself, Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Shelly Speaker (sans any prison stripes on the day before he was arrested).
Cuomo’s slick and 21st century approach emphasizes where his administration has gone over the past year, setting a foundation for what lies ahead in 2015-16. Even the Convention Center’s cool climes reflected Albany’s January chill – just the way insiders say the governor likes it.
Former state GOP Chairman Dick Rosenbaum used to tell of a flight over Mount Rushmore with Gov. Nelson Rockefeller one night in which the all-powerful Rocky made a quick phone call. Immediately, lights were illuminating the famous landmark for the benefit of its overhead guest. That level of power may still be beyond Cuomo, but the Convention Center cold shows he’s at least running this town.
Part of all this involves Buffalo. A major component of his Wednesday presentation was what he views as his Buffalo accomplishments and what he termed as a surging housing market and boom in local construction.
“Western New York and Buffalo was the single greatest economic problem in the state of New York,” he said. Cuomo told his audience that when he offered solutions he was greeted with blank stares and shrugged shoulders.
“Well,” he said, “we did turn around Buffalo.” The governor cites what he sees as the administration’s accomplishments in Western New York for a reason. As he did during the just-ended campaign, on Wednesday he cited the region’s “woe is me” attitude.
“Western New York and Buffalo were down so long they did not even believe they could come back,” he said.
He again underscored a new feeling of optimism west of the Genesee River, that he naturally ascribes to his economic development policies like the Buffalo Billion. He now looks to employ those same economic development theories to the other parts of upstate that constantly asked: “What about us?”
And one of the key elements of his speech may have been this line: “It proved to us that if you can turn around Buffalo you can turn around anything.”
Some will say Cuomo too easily dons the armor of the knight on a white horse. State GOP Chairman Ed Cox still calls it risky. He again emphasized after the speech that Buffalo remains one of the poorest cities in America, and indeed, the governor himself pointed to the overarching problems of its public schools.
And Cox continues to belittle the entire concept of the Buffalo Billion and its resulting RiverBend solar works project. He still calls it risky.
“It’s still committing $1 billion for one factory for one company for one risky product,” Cox said in a statement that may not be entirely accurate. “And it’s owned by a billionaire. That makes sense for a commitment of taxpayer funds?”
Cox and his candidate for governor unsuccessfully made the same argument last November, and now Cuomo is back stronger than ever. With Silver now possibly fading from the picture, the governor will emerge with the potential to play an even larger role.
Assuming Silver’s legal problems and their origin in the investigations started by Cuomo’s Moreland Commission don’t drag him down, Albany is his town now and he knows it. It may mean he wants to take on another town as his own. After all, if you can turn around Buffalo, you can turn around anything.