By Mike Lazarou
Have you ever tried to get out of something, only to get drawn back in?
A great example of this comes from a line spoken by Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino in the film “The Godfather Part III.” The movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1990 depicts the head of a crime family who has done some bad things along the way decides in his later years to go legit. It’s at this point in his life that Michael Corleone wants to make things right. Although Michael tried to create a legitimate business the people around him make it impossible. It was in the scene where Michael finds out that he’s been double-crossed where he comes up with the words “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” Michael expresses his biggest fear of never being able to escape his life of crime. Folks, take a close look at this particular line in the movie. Do you see any similarities between Michael Corleone wanting to get out of his criminal empire and citizens wanting to get away from New York State politics?
I’m finding it to become increasingly difficult to reside in a state where we rely on a lottery system to receive state funds. Here we have our City of Amsterdam showing some positive signs of growth along with political harmony but without the state funding. Recently Governor Cuomo announced the recipient of the $10 million dollar Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), which was given to the City of Rome. Unfortunately the City of Amsterdam’s Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) was not sufficient enough for those calling the shots. Help me out here folks, why is there a lottery system granting grants to upstate cities when just about every city is in need of some form of revitalization and assistance? “Just when I thought I was out of talking about politics, they pull me back in!”
Folks, to be honest I have my questions and concerns as to the process in receiving such grants. Remember that this is not your typical auto loan. Instead it involves elected politicians with a heavy handed governor making the deals. Everything might sound legit in terms of awarding a city funding, but let’s not forget what was done in the past. Do you recall those government sessions with “Three men in the room?” Of course we all know everything today is legit… right? Cuomo’s announcement to the Mohawk Valley winner of the grant sounded good, but questionable. He stated the City of Rome’s plan as being “very strong” and “hitting all the key elements.” What does that mean? Did the City of Amsterdam miss out on some key words and forget to kiss his hand? Our governor also said the competition was “very tough,” with 104 applications submitted statewide for the second round of the DRI. He went on to say “It’s amazing the time and attention that went into putting these 104 applications together. There is not a bad application in the 104. There’s no shame in not winning first place, given that level of competition.”
What is this guy talking about? He makes it sound as though we are in some form of competitive game between two teams where one wins and the other loses. Does Governor Cuomo realize he is talking about cities and communities? Revitalizing a city is not a game. Are you familiar with the “Buffalo Billions” plan? Allow me to refresh your memory. The Buffalo Billion is a New York State government project lead by Governor Andrew Cuomo showing a plan to invest $1 billion in the Buffalo, New York area economy. The project uses a combination of state grants and tax breaks to spur economic development. The governor first announced the program in his “State of the State” address with a key project in the program focusing on a $750 million Solar City solar panel factory. Other projects included a high-tech drug research facility ($200 million), Buffalo High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub ($225 million), Buffalo Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub ($50 million), Genomic research partnership ($50 million), Workforce training and development ($10 million). Folks, here’s an interesting one where the Buffalo Niagara Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Competitiveness would be receiving in an unspecified amount of “tens of millions” of dollars in which the state has spent $8 million to buy a temporary site and is paying $800,000 to the facility’s operator. Supposedly this project is to help local manufacturing companies create new products. I would prefer not to bore you with the rest of the list and only to say that along with those projects came a federal investigation questioning the distribution of money and contracts. Federal prosecutors filed charges in September 2016. In November 2016, a federal grand jury indicted a former aid of Governor Cuomo along with a former president of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute for bribery and bid rigging along with six government contractors. Some developers connected closely to the plan were also contributors to Governor Cuomo’s campaign. There you have it folks, we have a “Teflon Don” continuing to control the purse strings while keeping a boatload of money in the family. It sounds like a new movie in the making called “The Gov-father Part 4.”
In the meantime, the City of Amsterdam as with many small cities in Upstate New York struggle to stay afloat in hoping someday to hit the lottery. The only piece of advice I can give to you as taxpayers comes from another line in The Godfather Part II “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Actually, what’s more fitting to say is “Keep your friends close, but your politicians closer.”
Just when I thought I was out of talking about politics, they pull me back in.
Until next time – hold that thought.
Mike Lazarou is a columnist for The Recorder. He lives in the City of Amsterdam.