The collateral damage of Wilson’s withdrawal from the gubernatorial race; if you’re explaining, you’re losing; a chance to have a say about Buffalo’s next budget

Farewell, Harry, we hardly knew ‘ya

Last week’s news that Republican businessman Harry Wilson will pass on the opportunity to run for governor certainly has serious consequences for the Republican Party. State Chairman Ed Cox convened a meeting of party leaders on Monday in Albany to interview the remaining potential GOP nominees: former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra; Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb; and State Senator John DeFrancisco. Aside from the interviews, the party is trying to figure out where it is going. The New York Daily News story about the meeting made use of such words as “panic,” “desperate,” and “depressing.”

A few weeks back Bob McCarthy had a column in the Buffalo News reporting that the party was focused on Harry Wilson as its preferred candidate. Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy referred to Wilson as the Rep’s “franchise quarterback.” We all know how important a franchise quarterback can be.

With all due respect to the three identified candidates that are presently out there, Giambra, Kolb and DeFrancisco are, in a football analogy, the equivalent of E.J. Manuel, Kyle Orton and Kelly Holcomb – journeymen backup quarterbacks who occasionally start a game, but are really best suited for holding the clip board, or rather the Microsoft Surface, on the sidelines.

It’s always possible that a new franchise quarterback will turn up for the Republicans. It’s also possible that the Buffalo Sabres will win the Stanley Cup this year. But the election is only ten months away. Organizing and funding a gubernatorial campaign in New York State takes lots of time and money.

Most likely the party will wander in the wilderness. As has been suggested, if Andrew Cuomo were to be drawn into scandal during the upcoming corruption trial of his close friend Joseph Percoco, Cuomo would have some serious problems. If that does not happen, he may have a primary election opponent but he will otherwise cruise to victory.

Choosing Giambra, Kolb or DeFrancisco will do nothing to improve what is already likely to be a very serious off year for Republican Party turnout. Other statewide candidates for lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general, as well as congressional and state legislative candidates, will all be negatively affected by hubris.

Aside from all the fun that the Republicans might be having as they sort this out, they can also look forward to a fight coming up for the leadership of the party. Ed Cox has accomplished nothing as state chairman, and others are taking note. Once again, in the New York Daily News article referred to above, the only party leader other than Cox who is mentioned is Langworthy. Nick will have a lot to talk about if he challenges Cox. What he proposes to do about the party dilemma will be interesting.

There is another piece of collateral damage that will fall out from the lack of a major Republican candidate for governor. The Conservative Party is attached at the hip to the Republicans, particularly on the state level. No Republican since 1974 has been elected to statewide office without the support of the Conservatives.

So the question is, what do the Conservatives do? They could:

  • Wait for a Republican miracle candidate to appear
  • Latch on to one of the B-candidates, Kolb or DeFrancisco. DeFrancisco is rumored to be dropping out. Giambra won’t be considered by the Conservatives because of his recent support of Democrats as well as his efforts to challenge Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo in years past.
  • Run their own candidate, regardless of what the Republicans do, as they did in 1990. Nick Langworthy was in elementary school at the time, but the experience for both the Republicans and the Conservatives was unpleasant that year as Conservative Herbert London nearly ran ahead of Republican Pierre Rinfret for second place on the ballot; Mario Cuomo won with 53 percent of the vote. Had that happened the Republicans would have been displaced in a variety of public positions, particularly at county Boards of Elections, which are run by the two parties with the most votes for governor.
  • The downside for the Conservatives supporting a B-list Republican candidate could be that the alliance would drop the Conservatives down on the ballot for the next four years while another minor party, aligned with Cuomo, could move up on the pecking order.

If you’re explaining, you’re losing

The expression is attributed to Ronald Reagan. It’s so true.

The Trump administration is certainly doing a lot of explaining, when they are not lying.

The expression about explaining also has relevance in 2018 in the presentation and implementation of New York State economic development programs. There’s a whole lot of explaining going on.

The Upstate New York economy has been troubled and declining for many years. It can be traced to many things, including manufacturing moving south, taxes going up, and regulations becoming stifling. It has something to do with the layers of government that exist and the power of public employee unions.

These problems have been developing for decades. They are not exclusively the fault of Andrew Cuomo, or David Paterson, or Elliott Spitzer, or George Pataki, or Mario Cuomo, or Hugh Carey. I’ll stop the review of history there, because I think that many of the problems do go back to Nelson Rockefeller, who served as governor for nearly 16 years. Rockefeller’s Lieutenant Governor, Malcolm Wilson, served as governor for just about a year at the end of Rocky’s fourth term.

The end of the Rockefeller era overlapped the beginning of my interest in politics. I can recall a very large and expensive brochure used in one of Rocky’s campaigns that had the headline, “He’s done a lot, he’ll do more.” So true.

Rockefeller had a vision, actually lots of visions, about what he thought New York State ought to look like. He created the state’s Medicaid program, expanded the State University, and built skyscrapers in Albany and roads, and many other things. Sort of like a “make New York great again” campaign. Most of these projects were very expensive. They resulted in higher taxes and greater government bureaucracy.

Over the past four and a half post-Rockefeller decades succeeding governors have tried in various ways and with varying degrees of success to turn around some things that Rockefeller created. Many of those programs of the more recent governors relate to economic development initiatives in upstate.

The Buffalo area has seen a welcomed resurgence in recent years. Our heavy dependence on manufacturing led to great pain as many manufacturers, particularly steel and chemical companies, cut back substantially on employment or closed altogether.

Out of the dismal job and plant cuts came a greater emphasis on banking, insurance and other financial services. The economy diversified and employment levels started to run closer to state and national figures, although wages have trailed other areas.

The Western New York area has been provided with tons of money by New York State to help build on the progress that was already there from local efforts. Governor Cuomo announced “The Buffalo Billion,” as in one billion dollars – quite a haul.

The biggest piece of that money went to the construction and outfitting of the massive Solar City project on the site of the former Republic Steel in South Buffalo. Three-quarters of a billion dollars later, with changing names and owners and intended work, the massive project is physically more or less done, but the promise of hundreds of jobs has yet to materialize. Along the way there are still questions about how solar power will fit into the nation’s plans, particularly during the term of an administration where fossil fuel sources are favored.

There have been complications along the way. The Investigative Post has done an outstanding job reporting on the problems relating to the Solar City project. And then there is the whole matter of federal corruption trials related to this and other economic development projects upstate.

As the Solar City project has moved toward construction completion and into an operational phase, the number of once-promised jobs has dropped by hundreds. Reports indicate that wages for many of the jobs are not far above minimum wage. Job fairs and interviewing continue, but results appear to be few.

The object of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on one project, of course, is supposed to be hundreds of jobs. Plant management doesn’t say much. State economic development officials, meanwhile, continue the drumbeat about how great the project is and what it means to the area’s economy. Press statements are mostly about trying to explain how the once targeted goal of one thousand plus jobs has dwindled. Explanations about the great future are vague. Where are the jobs?

The folks at Empire State Development seem to get very testy about such things. And it doesn’t just relate to Solar City. The START-UP NY program, which is intended to develop business connections to colleges throughout the state, has produced little. Empire State Development hid the poor program results and then even changed the rules so that reports on job creation were made irrelevant.

State Assembly Economic Development Committee Chairman Robin Schimminger and Assemblyman Ray Walter have had some tussles with the head of Empire State and the events were not pretty. It is certainly hard to fess up to things not going as well as they were advertised to be going, but the truth is more important than a defense of a failure.

Citizen action in Buffalo

You don’t often get a chance to have some say about where your tax dollars are going, but if you are a resident of the City of Buffalo you have such an opportunity this month.

An open forum will be held in the City Council Chambers (13th floor, City Hall) on Tuesday, January 16th between 5:30 and 7:30 pm. This first ever Budget Proposal Day will give city residents the opportunity to speak on their proposals for the $500 million annual City budget. Come prepared.

Further information is available by calling Brian at 852-3813.

Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly