by Pete Bianco
Governor Andrew Cuomo quietly moved in and out of Utica on Tuesday, November 12th, addressing a hand-picked audience to announce that Utica will receive ten million dollars’ worth of funding as part of the ‘Downtown Revitalization Initiative’. One way the city has proposed to use the money is to create a median on downtown Genesee Street, constructing single lanes on each side. The Governor said this sort of large-scale infusion of millions of dollars into upstate communities “is the engine that drives the train.”
However some see ulterior motives behind this money. Cuomo’s economic formula seems to be the same across various sectors of the economy: create (or recognize) scarcity, create competition for big financial rewards, and in turn create allegiance among the politicians and big businesses who receive these financial gains. For example, the Governor limits the amount of casinos that can be constructed, or limits the amount of medical marijuana manufacturers, or creates a few opportunities where counties compete against one another to receive hundreds of millions in tax dollars. Therefore, Utica has ‘won’ this new funding.
Investigative reporter Jim Heaney, of Investigative Post, interviewed several economists regarding Cuomo’s large-scale infusion of millions of dollars to jump-start New York’s economy. For various reasons, these experts don’t see much promise in Cuomo’s approach. Heaney just received an award from the Museum of Political Corruption for breaking the story on the Buffalo Billions scandal. At the award ceremony, when asked if Cuomo was corrupt, Heaney simply answered, “Yes.”
From 2011 to 2013 Cuomo received at least $250,000 in donations from COR Development, a contractor whom he had awarded two million dollars in 2012 to develop a former hospital site in Watertown.
Joe Percoco, Cuomo’s former confidential assistant and 2014 campaign manager, received $30,000 income from COR in 2014. COR received contracts worth more than $100 million because Alain Kalayeros (Cuomo’s economic “guru”), and Todd Howe (a liaison to the Governor, according to Assemblyman Brindisi), tailored the bidding process to specifically fit COR Development, thus ensuring that they were chosen by Fort Schuyler (the corporation giving out the money) for the projects.
Additionally, Buffalo’s largest construction company, LP Ciminelli (or more specifically, Louis Ciminelli and his family members), made a $100,000 donation to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, something that later benefitted him in the long-run. In addition, Ciminelli also hosted a fundraiser for Cuomo during bidding in 2013 which raised another $250,000 for the governor, according to court papers. Ciminelli then “won” the bid for a $750 million contract. In July of 2018, Ciminelli was convicted on corruption charges related to bid-rigging.
Cuomo’s is not an open, fair and democratic process; this has been described as “pay-to-play” corruption. Cuomo’s administration awards millions in contracts to companies who in turn donate to his campaign. This is considered by many as not being what is best for upstate communities.
On November 12th, at Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts museum, Cuomo introduced Howard Zemski, the Chair of Empire State Development (agency that distributes the millions), as a “genius,” a “guru,” and even referred to Zemski driving a Cadillac as a nod to Zemski’s success.
The last person the Governor referred to as a “guru” was Alain Kalayeros, his economic ‘maharishi’ who drove a Ferrari and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for his corrupt rigging of Buffalo Billion bids.
Cuomo’s method of economic stimulus is more than suspect when actual community needs are ignored. Oneida County has one of the highest rates in the state for childhood lead poisoning. And it has been 48 years since the surgeon general issued an urgent warning regarding lead poisoning.
When will Cuomo get beyond window dressing and ribbon cutting to address longstanding needs that are causing irreparable harm?
Special thanks to the New York Times and their legal team for obtaining the documents that illuminated Percoco’s income from COR and sharing them with the Utica Phoenix.