Tesla’s solar panel plant on South Park Avenue is becoming a popular gathering place for challengers to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Stephanie Miner, the former Syracuse mayor running on the Serve America Movement line, on Wednesday brought her campaign to the sprawling, South Buffalo complex financed by the governor’s Buffalo Billion program. The state’s approach, she said, is to “pick winners and losers” instead of investing in infrastructure and other services to support business.
“This, to me, is the worst kind of investment of public resources,” she said, labeling the state’s Buffalo Billion-sponsored solar panel factory as “born in corruption, mired in costs, and an inefficient way to spend $750 million.”
Miner’s appearance at Tesla mirrors a similar event staged in September by Republican candidate Marc Molinaro. Both point to the bid-rigging indictments stemming from the governor’s signature economic development plan, and question whether such massive sums should be bet on the success of a company facing significant economic challenges.
Appearing with running mate Michael Volpe, mayor of the Westchester County Village of Pelham, Miner said the lofty job totals promised by Cuomo and his economic development team have not materialized (though state officials say recent job targets have been achieved). She called the $750 million investment in Tesla “very high-risk.”
As when she led the state’s fourth-largest city, she said economic development programs should aim toward strengthening broadband internet, roads, bridges, sewers and railroads needed to attract industry.
“The smartest among us will then use the free market system most efficiently,” she said.
The Cuomo campaign responded with the same tenor it has directed at Molinaro’s criticism. Spokeswoman Lis Smith said “the governor fundamentally transformed the state’s approach” to economic development in Western New York, with the result being declining unemployment and growing wages.
“Western New York is home to more than half a million jobs and more millennials than ever before, and we are proud of the progress,” she said. “Stephanie Miner’s lasting legacy is bringing the City of Syracuse to the brink of financial ruin.
“She raided her own infrastructure funds and wasted taxpayer dollars on vanity PR consultants at the expense of her city’s needs,” Smith added. “It speaks to her level of delusion that she thinks she’s in any place to lecture anyone on responsible governance.”
The former mayor defends her record, however, and now promises as governor to abolish Cuomo’s Empire State Development Corp., the agency that directs his statewide economic incentives. In addition to beefing up infrastructure, she advocates a state takeover of Medicaid in upstate counties, where she says residents pay more in property taxes as a percentage of home values.
She also calls for ethics reform featuring a “truly independent” ethics commission, that closes the campaign contribution loophole for limited liability corporations, and empowers the comptroller to review economic development programs and contracts.
Miner has not gained much traction in polls, and reports only $55,000 on hand in campaign funds. Her influence in combination with other minor party candidates to draw usual Democratic votes away from Cuomo has also diminished with Cynthia Nixon’s decision to not compete on the Working Families line and the governor’s recent acceptance of that party's nomination.
But Miner said she is gaining support around the state on a message of “standing up and saying no to corruption and inefficient public policy.” She was making only her second appearance in the state’s second largest city.
“It’s a very big state,” she said.
Still, she is attracting notable supporters such as former County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination earlier this year on a platform of “rebranding the Republican Party.” He appeared with her Wednesday and told reporters that after running for office as both a Democrat and Republican, he is now committed to the Serve America Movement Party.
“After watching this debacle with the [Brett Kavanaugh] confirmation hearings, I came to the conclusion we need an alternative,” he said, adding he feels the system is “skewed” toward powerful incumbents like Cuomo.
James J. Eagan, the former secretary of Cuomo’s Democratic State Committee, is also supporting Miner and serving as her statewide campaign manager.