Call it a collision of politics and good old Western New York can-do attitude.
The cleanup after the tornado that struck the Erie County Fairgrounds was well under way Thursday afternoon when an aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked that the cleanup be delayed – until after the governor arrived, fair CEO Dennis Lang said.
"I said, 'You're kidding, right?'"Lang said he told a Cuomo aide who asked him to keep debris in the area where the press conference would be held. "I just turned around and walked away."
Lang said he did not know the name of the man who asked for a delay.
"After the ceremonial service was over, I haven't seen any of them, nor do I expect to see any tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," Lang said of state officials and National Guard, who were at the governor's news conference.
Cuomo's office denied it requested the cleanup be delayed.
“The Governor’s number one priority is helping the people of Western New York immediately recover from this latest extreme weather event and any suggestion otherwise is categorically false," Deputy Press Secretary Abbey Fashouer said. "The Governor has deployed more than 100 National Guard to the region, worked with impacted utilities to restore power to more than 20,000 homes and businesses, and aggressive recovery efforts – which have never once paused – will continue full stop until cleanup is completed.”
She further added that the National Guard arrived and worked on cleanup before, during and after the governor arrived. She said the governor's arrival in Hamburg was delayed because of extreme weather.
But this isn't the first time something like this has happened.
In late August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene smashed into areas of upstate, damaging hundreds of homes, wiping out farms and gutting downtown areas of tiny villages in many eastern parts of New York. In the tiny Catskills community of Prattsville, one of the epicenters of the storm’s damage, work was halted on clean-up and repair efforts as volunteers, utility crews and homeowners were asked to prepare for Cuomo’s arrival.
Cuomo that day was touring the region, along with then U.S. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, via helicopter. The plan was for Cuomo to land at the edge of town and walk through the battered community.
But, with Cuomo nearly an hour late and workers anxious to get back to their tasks, some began openly grumbling about the governor’s tardy arrival. “It’s going to be dark in a few hours and we’ve got a lot to do,’’ one volunteer told a reporter while noting that the town was without power.
At the Erie County Fair, Lang vowed Friday that the grounds would be cleaned up by Aug. 9, when the fair is scheduled to open.
He said tornado damage was still being discovered as workers went through every building, such as a puncture to the roof of the Agricultural Discovery Center. He said the three-year-old building needs a new roof.
The governor originally was scheduled to be at the fairgrounds in Hamburg at approximately 4 p.m. Thursday. Cuomo didn't arrive until about 7:10 p.m. His arrival was delayed because of extreme weather, Deputy Press Secretary Fashouer said.
By then, most of the cars belonging to the patrons of Hamburg Gaming that were damaged had been towed from the front and side parking lots, and a street sweeper cleaned up the glass from broken car windows that covered the lots.
Lang said the remaining damaged cars were towed Thursday evening after the news conference. He said the fair's crews worked until about 8 p.m., and he met with his department heads until nearly 10 p.m. making plans for Friday.
"By the time the ninth of August comes around, everyone will be surprised at how much we have done," he said. "The people are going to have to hunt for where the problems are."
News Albany bureau chief Tom Precious contributed to this report.