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COMMENTARY

Stephanie Miner says 'Billion' reaffirms upstate bid for governor

Stephanie Miner acknowledges the obstacles. The former Democratic mayor of Syracuse, a graduate of the University at Buffalo law school, is running for governor as an independent.

No candidate from west of Albany has been elected governor since Republican Nathan Miller, also a Syracuse lawyer, defeated Al Smith in 1920. And if you go through the list of New York's governors, you have to venture into the 19th century to find anyone listed as anything except a traditional Republican or Democrat.

Yet Miner said last week's federal "Buffalo Billion" convictions of Buffalo contractor Louis P. Ciminelli, former SUNY Polytechnic Institute president Alain Kaloyeros and Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, executives with COR Development in greater Syracuse, all related to bid-rigging, establish "why there's no room for me in Andrew Cuomo's Democratic Party, where you turn a blind eye to corruption in the state and then rail against corruption in the Trump administration."

Miner's breach with Cuomo goes back to her days as mayor of Syracuse, when she contended the governor's economic development policies neglected the disintegrating infrastructure in many statewide communities, especially the large upstate cities. Miner also tangled with COR and lost in court over her objections to tax exemptions for a Syracuse hotel project, which the developer sought from Onondaga County's Industrial Development Agency.

Despite that history, she said she takes no satisfaction in the "human wreckage" caused by last week's convictions. Those results, she said, "are a symptom of a political system that is toxic and corrupt and serves special interests, and New Yorkers were well aware of it before this trial," a system that she said "involves wasting money on economic development policies that reward big donors."

Miner cited sewage overflows near a global tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, the recent collapse of an old railroad bridge in downtown Syracuse and the continuing struggles of the subway system in New York as vivid "illustrations of the government's systemic failures."

Analysis: Ex-Syracuse mayor challenges Cuomo, citing Buffalo Billion trial

The true issue in New York, she said, is that "a donor class" with enough wealth and influence to attract the attention of politicians gets put front and center, often with scant results, while the most immediate needs of everyday taxpayers – as epitomized by roads, bridges and subways – are too often neglected.

If you "re-energize the electorate," Miner said, if you get more people to the polls, civic leaders could no longer afford to sidestep those pressing needs.

Last week, Cuomo rejected the idea that the real indictment from the trials was of a larger statewide system of "pay-to-play." In a piece reported by The News' Tom Precious, the governor said the convictions "had nothing to do with campaign contributions. This was bid-rigging … Let’s get the facts straight.’’

In Syracuse, Miner's split with Cuomo and Joanie Mahoney, a Republican county executive who worked closely with the governor, led Mahoney to question why Miner would fracture a potential alliance with Cuomo that Mahoney argued could benefit the city.

Republican candidate Marc Molinaro has welcomed Miner's entry in the gubernatorial race, and she was asked Sunday if she was concerned as a longtime Democrat that an independent bid – especially with Cuomo wounded by the recent trials – might serve primarily to elevate Molinaro's chances in November.

"I'm concerned about New York State," said Miner, citing statistics about a large "out-migration" in New York. "This is not a race where you can be silent and complicit and say one party's corruption is better than another's. I say I'm offering real change and real reform and a real choice."

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

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