I swear, if some of the audience members had been dressed in animal costumes, you would have thought it was a TV game show like “Let’s Make A Deal.”
But there’s no Monty Hall; instead, it was the gov bringing together several hundred of these economic development types from all across the state to announce what is said to be $785 million in state grants as disparate as $2,395 to train three workers in Jefferson County how to use Adobe Illustrator software to $1.3 million for a green roof at Doane Stuart School in Rensselaer.
These were the governor’s brand new Regional Economic Development Councils, in town to hear which regions would be bringing home the largest hauls. There were bursts of applause as short video vignettes described the manner in which each of the 10 regions would spend your tax dollars, if only the state bureaucracy would shine on that area of the state. They even brought in Maria Bartiromo, financial reporter for CNBC, known to the less reverent as the “Money Honey,” to announce the winners and lend some show biz gravitas to the moment. Cuomo’s people told me she did not get paid for the gig.
They could have sent these folks the news in a letter, but no, Andrew Cuomo favors spectacle. Remember last year, when the governor-elect planned to cap off his inauguration on New Year’s Day with a surprise visit to the Jersey barriers at the State Street entrance to the Capitol, where he would wave his arms and workers were expected to make the oft-maligned barriers disappear? A lovely plan until some lousy TV reporter announced the disappearing-barriers scheme several days beforehand and ruined the surprise.
Anyway, getting back to last week’s regional economic council celebration, such a show you ain’t seen recently. The gov’s people treated all these semi-interesting folks to a breakfast of bagels and sweet buns and hot coffee — “let ’em eat Danish” — a very nice spread in anybody’s book. I told some guy from someplace in western New York that Cuomo does this breakfast thing for the news media every Thursday morning, and every once in a while, he treats us to bacon and eggs, and I am pretty sure that he believed me. I wish I could have heard the conversation when he got back to Lackawanna or Jamestown or wherever he was from: “Yeah, I’m not kiddin’, this reporter told me our taxes are paying for bagels and joe for the Albany press corps.”
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos seemed starstuck by Bartiromo’s presence, telling her from the podium, ”It’s great to see you in person.” And every single person on stage, Democrat and Republican, took care to kiss Governor Cuomo’s ring. Yes, his ring. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Cuomo it had been “a good week,” a reference to the governor’s magnificent ability to sell as tax reform his flip-flop (or is it a “wink-wink?”) on a vow not to reimpose the so-called “millionaires’ surcharge.”
But, when the applause died, members of the Capital Region’s Economic Development Council could be excused for not fully sharing the merriment. This area was an also-ran. Four of the 10 regions, including the economically deprived Adirondacks North Country, were the grand prize winners, each grabbing more than $100 million in grants. I never could understand the numbers. Originally, it was said to be a competition for $200 million in funding, but a total of $785 million was awarded and, after listening to the governor’s press people explain a couple of times how that could be, I still am mystified, but I do not care for any further explanations.
The co-chairs of the Capital Region effort, RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson and SEFCU CEO Michael Castellana, both put the best face on our award of $62.7 million. Dr. Jackson was remarkably stoic, given that the largest segment of this area’s plan, $25 million for a next generation supercomputer at RPI, was ignored. The supercomputer proposal exposed a not-so-secret non-love affair between Dr. Jackson and Alain Kaloyeros, both of whom will be subject to Cuomo’s millionaires’ surcharge. Kaloyeros, UAlbany’s Mr. Nanotech, a fellow who gives new meaning to “self confidence,” privately had been complaining that the supercomputer bid was a conflict of interest for Jackson. And, two weeks ago, not so privately, Kaloyeros repeatedly ridiculed the supercomputer during the public announcement of a new tech firm coming to the Watervliet Arsenal. Dr. Jackson (and members of the council) maintained that the bigger, better computer would bring several thousand jobs with it. And, after losing out in the competition, she all but shook her fist in the air, vowing that RPI would get that supercomputer, state cash or no state cash.
Hard to say if the computer hurt the local bid. Truth is, beforehand, several technocrat or development types had been telling me we were a longshot because of the hundreds and hundreds of millions that had come this way in recent years for nanoscale at UAlbany and the huge state giveaway for GlobalFoundries.
And, there’s always next year. But next year, how about some music at the announcements and maybe even bacon and eggs?