The Republican legislators greeting workers at a Lockport factory Tuesday seemed to tip-toe around politics while calling for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to end New York's Covid-19 restrictions.
But they also delivered to him a message steeped in utmost clarity: Western New York needs to jump-start its stalled economy at the earliest possible juncture.
"The best thing you can do now, governor, is get this region re-opened," said Rep. Tom Reed of Corning. "If this continues, there will be more jobs lost, more bankruptcies, and more structural damage (to the economy).
"The voice of the people of New York is speaking, we are not a people who wants to live in a state of fear. This state of fear has to come to an end. It's time to move and lead forward."
Appearing at Diversified Manufacturing Inc. in Lockport, Reed was joined by State Sens. Christopher L. Jacobs of Orchard Park and Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda, along with Assemblyman Michael J. Norris of Lockport.
Reed, who has mused about challenging Cuomo in 2022, delivered similar messages in Monroe and Chautauqua counties Tuesday in what seemed to be a calculated effort to drive home a "reopening" message to the governor. He praised some of Cuomo's efforts, but also noted that lumping counties such as Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany with a major urban center such as Erie "was probably not the best decision."
Rural counties may be in a better position to reopen some aspects of their economies with far fewer Covid-19 cases and fewer drastic effects, Reed said.
"I think we should learn from that and take in the uniqueness of each," he said. "I think we can do better than that."
Ortt, meanwhile, said the state's focus must solve dual crises revolving around public health and the economy. He pointed to the more than 100 essential workers at Diversified Manufacturing to argue that the rest of the state's workers have to return to their jobs, too.
"This is what it looks like when we're back to work," he said of the Diversified Manufacturing workforce and the need to beat the virus. "The key is we can do two things at the same time."
Jacobs, a candidate for the 27th Congressional District, noted that Western New York still needs to meet more state metrics before Albany will approve a return to work. But he credited Reed with helping to reject a "one size fits all" approach to all of New York.
"Without your work, we would all be beholden to the situation in New York City," he said, adding that he seeks an accelerated timetable for re-opening businesses. Restaurants, he said, should not have to wait until July.
Jacobs also took a shot at state labor officials and the delays surrounding unemployment claims filed by those losing their jobs.
"We are getting inundated with calls about it taking seven, eight or nine weeks and being told: 'Don't worry, it's going to take a little bit of time,' " he said. "That's not helping anybody with no money or food in the fridge. We need to fix this unemployment situation now."
In an interview on Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul defended the state's reopening strategy, pointing to the improved public health situation stemming from the widespread embrace of masks and social distancing. She said Albany is in sync with the Republican legislators and also seeks an opening in the near future.
"We can open up tomorrow but the public has to believe it's safe," she said. "So we have to build confidence.
"When they walk back onto a construction site or into a factory, they need to know they will not be subjected to that virus. Pausing again – nobody wants that."
The lieutenant governor also said the state's regional approach is "working," and that people living in Dunkirk or Fredonia should also be assured of hospital capacity in the entire region.