By John Kane
For all his rhetoric, brashness and tough-guy image, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is picking a fight he cannot win and he is hurting local communities as he mounts his war of words with the Seneca Nation.
It would be different if he had some words from the State/Seneca Gaming Compact to fight with, but as Buffalo News reporter Tom Precious rightly noted in the first news story on this, the compact is silent on any payments beyond 14 years.
It is unfortunate that officials from both political parties scattered through municipal, county and state governments refuse to do what Precious did and simply read the compact. Include the media in this as well, for while every radio, TV and print media source has been quick to quote the governor’s insults, none of them has called him out on the actual words of the compact.
Characterizing the end of revenue sharing as the “Seneca interpretation of the agreement” rather than the facts of the compact seems to be difficult even for The Buffalo News after that one initial story.
Calls for the governor to meet with the Seneca president and “resolve” this dispute assume that there is a dispute to resolve. Seneca President Todd Gates has repeatedly suggested that he is willing to meet with Cuomo but he has never requested a meeting or suggested that such a meeting would result in a return to paying the state. It won’t. The Senecas, from the young to the old, including 16 councilors and the executives are united on this. Revenue sharing with the state is done!
The Senecas have been clear, however, that they do plan to continue to be good neighbors to the region. Of course they employ thousands with good paying jobs but they also promised the municipalities that provide services to their venues that they would compensate them for their costs and explore ways to help the region, as they have always done. They have offered a place at their table to discuss projects and programs that they might participate in.
But the governor’s tough talk and all those buying into it have prevented those conversations from happening. The Senecas aren’t backing down but apparently everyone else is too scared to cross Cuomo and take the Senecas up on their offer.
Even opponents of the governor are fanning the flames, perhaps hoping he’ll crash and burn, but in the meantime, they are doing nothing to take up the gracious offer from the Senecas. Not one politician has gone on the record and said, “The Senecas are right.”
The governor needs to step aside and let local officials meet and work out what they can. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s words on a legally binding contract.
The governor is wrong and he knows it. Threats, arbitration, lawsuits and rhetoric are not bringing revenue sharing back to the state, and only talks at the table offered by the Senecas to local leaders will see any sharing by the Senecas.
John Kane, a Mohawk, is a freelance columnist and radio host. He lives on the Cattaraugus Territory of the Seneca Nation and hosts radio shows there and in New York City.