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Cuomo: Corruption case won't stop Buffalo Billion success, projects to be overseen by Zemsky

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vowed that the pay-to-play bid rigging allegations involving his closest advisers and major donors, including Buffalo developer Louis P. Ciminelli will not stop Buffalo's resurgence.

"I want you to know personally that these charges against these nine individuals will have absolutely nothing to do with the energy and the progress sand the momentum of Western New York's revitalization under the Buffalo Billion project," Cuomo told a crowd gathered today at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo for the officials announcement of a $42.5 million private gift for its expansion plans.

[Related: Cuomo tells reporters he had no knowledge of wrongdoing in pay-to-play case]

Cuomo said that with Alain E. Kalayeros being relieved of his duties as president of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute as part of the federal case, the projects he was overseeing and now being scrutinized will be transferred to the Empre State Development Court headed by Buffalo businessman Howard Zemsky.

"He'll take over that immediately," Cuomo said.

[Related: What is Empire State Development, and who is Howard Zemsky?]

In addition, Cuomo said he wants Zemsky to come up with the second phase of the Buffalo Billion and is giving him three months -- until the State of the State address in January -- to lay it out.

"We do not want to miss a beat," Cuomo said.

"To the naysayers and doubters," Cuomo said, "It's amazing how quick the negative can rise up. You read the paper and you hear this is going to hurt now the Buffalo Billion. Anyone who would say that really doesn't know what the Buffalo Billion was about in the first place. It had nothing to do with those nine people. It's much bigger.... It's about a fundamental transformation for Buffalo. It is taking Buffalo from a place of cynicism to a place of hope."

He later told reporters that Empire State Development Corp. would develop its own procurement process.

[See video of Cuomo speaking]

Cuomo was in Buffalo today as part of the announcement that the Albright-Knox Art Gallery has raised more than $100 million for its expansion project, spurred in large part by a $42.5 million pledge from billionaire bond-trader and Western New York native Jeffrey Gundlach. The museum is to be renamed the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum when the expansion is complete.

M&T CEO and Chairman Robert Wilmers said Gundlach's donation is "the largest single cash donation to a cultural organization in our city's history."

Gundlach lauded the work and passion Seymour H. Knox poured into the museum and its world-reknowned collection of modern art and talked of Buffalo's renaissance which he believes the museum will be a part of. "It's no longer empty sloganeering to say Buffalo's 'Talking Proud.' Remember that one?" He later joked: "Now if the Bills would just finally make the frickin' playoffs."

In addition to Gundlach's gift, Erie County Executive Mark C. Polancarz announced $5 million toward the museum project and Gov. Cuomo announced $10 million from the state.

"$5 million would normally get me a standing ovation," Poloncarz said, "but when you follow a guy giving $42.5 million."

Cuomo's appearance comes a day after a massive pay-to-play scheme involving alleged bid rigging of state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money was outlined by federal prosecutors. The case targets longtime advisers and major donors of Cuomo.

At the Albright-Knox, the governor praised Gundlach but also addressed the stunning charges in the federal corruption case revealed Thursday.

"It was an emotional day for me," Cuomo told the crowd. "One of the nine people has been a long time friend of mine. It was very disturbing."

Cuomo was referring to his long time friend and adviser Joseph Percoco who started in politics working for Cuomo's father, Mario, when he was governor. Cuomo said for the first time since his father's death he "didn't miss him being here because it would have broken his heart."

"The central plank of my administration has always been about public integrity and zero tolerance for any waste fraud or abuse," Cuomo said. "If anything I hold a friend to a higher standard. The allegations are truly truly disappointing."

Cuomo said his office will cooperate fully with the investigation. "Justice will be sure and justice will be swift."

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