Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, running strong for a third term in office, deserves the support of Western New York voters both because of – and despite – events that have occurred over the past four years.
The fundamental fact is this: Cuomo has lavished money and attention on Western New York in a way that no governor has since DeWitt Clinton built the Erie Canal. That political corruption intruded on the largest of them – construction of the RiverBend project, where the Tesla plant now stands – demonstrates a need for much better controls on such projects, but doesn’t detract from Cuomo’s determination to reinvigorate this long-neglected region.
Political opponents have lined up – usually at the Tesla plant – to deride the signature project of the Buffalo Billion, but none has suggested anything so focused on the urgent task of reversing the decades-long decline of the state’s second-largest city. It’s an approach that has worked in the Capital region, where former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno directed untold millions of state dollars to create a high-tech economy. And, despite the barbs of the governor’s critics, it’s working here.
Importantly, there has been no serious allegation of criminality on the part of Cuomo. What can be said is that governors, and the whole of state government, need to do a better job of vetting contractors and ensuring the large state projects are free from the taint of corruption.
That wasn’t the case in Buffalo or at another state project in Syracuse. Men have been convicted of felonies in those cases. In a separate matter, two close aides to the governor, Joseph Percoco and Todd Howe, have also been convicted of felonies.
Those are serious issues that demand attention from all hands: the governor, the attorney general, the Legislature and the comptroller. Cuomo has made modest efforts on that front in the past; if he is to have a successful third term, real action on that front will have to be his priority.
Cuomo is a governor with a well tuned political antenna. He was elected as a Democratic centrist, willing to take on the teachers unions, pushing for a property tax cap and lowering state income taxes. As the party moved left – or did he anticipate it? – he moved to improve his standing with traditional Democratic groups, pushing for same-sex marriage, parental leave and free tuition. His skills will help New York navigate the state’s increasingly difficult relationship with Washington.
None of which is to diminish the attractiveness of Republican challenger Marc Molinaro. Were he to win, the Dutchess County executive foresees only a single term as governor of a blue state, and pledges to focus on the problem of corruption. He wants to empower the leader of the state’s open government office to enforce those laws and to use a new anti-corruption Moreland Commission as a “sheriff” of Albany.
His approach on economic development has less to do projects like RiverBend than with infrastructure, which is surely important, but wouldn’t have reinvigorated Western New York the way that Cuomo has. We hope and expect to see more of Molinaro, but Cuomo has earned another term.