by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post
Looking at the video of Thursday’s press conference, I couldn’t help but notice the make up of the self-proclaimed Western New York Leaders For Peace Bridge Progress.
White, male and wealthy.
A cross-section of the community, they are not. But they do reflect the political donor class, particularly Democratic friendly contributors.
A check of state Board of Elections records show almost everyone in the 22 person group is a frequent contributor to political campaigns, collectively giving hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade. Nine have contributed $52,750 to Cuomo’s campaign, either directly or through their companies or spouses.
The group includes several notable developers who, among other things, make money by leasing properties to the state or reaping the benefits of state-authorized tax breaks. The roster includes Rocco Termini, Mark Croce, Sam Savarino and Laura Zaepfel of Uniland.
Others are appointed by the governor to key state authorities, including Robert Gioia, chairman of the Erie Harbor Canal Development Corp., and John Koelmel, chairman of the New York Power Authority.
Considering all this, I concluded Western New York Leaders For Peace Bridge Progress is more or less a front group for the governor and said so in an analysis I did for WGRZ that aired Thursday. If there was any doubt, former Mayor Tony Masiello, recently appointed by Cuomo to a seat on the Peace Bridge Authority, spoke at the group’s press conference.
Keep in mind that Cuomo and his inner circle attempt to script everything. There is no way folks with ties to the governor would go off and do anything like this on their own. They’d be afraid to.
Something else caught my eye in reading over the group’s press release. They lauded “the plan put forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo.” Problem is – officially, anyway – there is no plan.
Update, 3:30 p.m. Friday: An alert reader who called up the press release earlier in the day did some detective work and determined the author’s name: P. Gallivan. As in the governor’s press liaison for Western New York. See for yourself. That confirms the group is fronting for Cuomo.
Sam Hoyt, the governor’s point man on the Peace Bridge, has insisted over and over there is no plan. Of course, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who is among the pols carrying Cuomo’s water on the Peace Bridge, was on YNN the other day talking about the plan in detail. (And otherwise misstating facts left and right.)
My point is, if there is a plan, it has not been shared with the public.
One other thing struck me in what was said at the press conference, and that’s the continued focus on commerce, moving traffic, etc. and an indifference to the public health consequences for the thousands of poor, minority residents who live in the adjoining neighborhood. They’re suffering through an asthma epidemic, as we documented a couple of weeks ago.
What I find most troubling in all this is what I consider the disinformation campaign being waged by the Cuomo crowd. I haven’t seen anything quite this brazen in my 27 years of reporting in this town.
Politicians shade the truth, shall we say, all the time. But what I’m seeing out of the Cuomo camp goes way, way beyond that.
Are improvements in order on the U.S. side of the bridge? Certainly. Many, in fact, are in the works. Others may be justifiable, as well.
But several of the key issues are being ignored. One is the health impacts on neighborhood residents. The other is whether an expanded plaza would really reduce traffic congestion on the bridge.
The fundamental problem isn’t the design or capacity of the bridge – it used to handle a lot more traffic with fewer delays. Rather, the back ups are the byproduct of the increased time it takes U.S. customs officers to inspect cars and trucks. The solution: more inspectors or fewer questions.
Cuomo could double the number of inspection booths, but if there are no more officers to man them, nothing will change. And to this point, Uncle Sam isn’t offering any more manpower.
It would seem to me that a calmer, honest conversation is in order that takes the real issues into account. Insisting on that would represent real leadership. Instead, we got Thursday’s stage-managed spectacle.
Also see Investigative Post’s transparency on Peace Bridge coverage.