Bob Duffy

Duffy: Photonics Project Safe Despite SUNY Poly Mess

Relax.

That’s the short version of the message former LG Bob Duffy sent to those in Rochester and Buffalo who are concerned about some of the negative attention alleged bid-rigging and corruption charges could have on two multi-million dollar local projects.

“I do understand the concern; I certainly understand the optics and perceptions,” said Duffy during a CapTon interview last night.

Now the CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the American Institute for Manufacturing Photonics Leadership Council, Duffy finds himself in a familiar role of cheerleader-in-chief. Following the resignation of head of SUNY Polytechnic, Alain Kaloyeros, the administrator of the photonics investment in the wake of charges brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Duffy urged calm.

“I think people should just stand by,” he said. “The criminal justice system for anything that pops up will run its course.”

Despite reports that one the companies set to make an investment may be rethinking its move to Rochester, Duffy insisted the project is full steam ahead with or without “Photonica.”

“I’m not sure how strong that deal was in the first place,” he said. “We certainly welcome Photonica to come, but they are not the foundation of the Photonics TAP facility in Rochester.”

The testing and packaging (TAP) facility is still on track to be built by summer 2017, and Duffy expressed confidence that corrective actions being taken by Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky will bring companies like Phontonica back into the fold.

“There may be some projects that were promised down the road that maybe were not well-funded,” Duffy said. “And I have confidence now that the governor’s team – and specifically Howard Zemsky, who is an accomplished private sector business leader, somebody that I have great respect for and great trust in – he’s evaluating all these contracts now to make sure the ones in place are funded, that they are appropriate, that there are no issues whatsoever.”

Duffy was on his way out the door when several Buffalo Billion related projects went out to bid. When asked specifically about Bharara’s allegations related to the awarding of contracts in the SolarCity project at Buffalo’s Riverbend, Duffy backed his former boss.

“I never at any time in my tenure saw, heard or felt anything inappropriate, illegal, anything having to do with corruption – and you know what? I have pretty good instincts,” the former LG insisted. “Quite frankly, I’ve never been involved in a scandal. I would’ve walked away in a heartbeat if that were the case. I never saw that.”

In the meantime, Duffy hopes skills that served him well during his decades in public life – his ability to read the room, and his personal skills – will buy the state and those in the private sector a little more time to work things out.

“Everybody just relax,” he said. “Have faith that the right things will be done. If things are appropriate, they’ll move on unimpeded without any question and if there are issues along the way, it gives the governor’s team a chance to step in and fix those and get back on track.”

Control Over Rochester Photonics Initiative Still The Subject Of Debate

About two months after the tug of war over where a $600 million photonics center in Rochester should be located went public, it appears the infighting is far from over.  SUNY Polytechnic, which has consistently described itself as the lead contract designee through the Department of Defense, seemed to rekindle that battle on Monday.

“I was asked to do this to establish and strengthen relationships in the business community,” said Former Lt. Governor Bob Duffy.

SUNY Polytechnic appointed Duffy, who currently heads the Rochester Business Alliance, to lead the AIM Photonics Leadership Council. Duffy said the council will be in charge of strategy and will make key decisions for the institute that’s expected to generate hundreds if not thousands of local jobs.

“As I’ve been told this is the decision-making group for AIM Photonics. It is my hope, first and foremost, that we fulfill and really go beyond the expectation of the DOD for this effort,” said Duffy.

As a former mayor and police chief, Duffy remains a popular figure in Rochester, but his appointment appears to put him odds with some his former political allies.

“This is not a SUNY Poly initiative.  It’s an initiative of AIM Photonics and RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) and the U of R (University of Rochester) have equal standing here,” said State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle.

Morelle joined Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in August to criticize SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Dr. Alain Kaloyeros and his apparent unwillingness to communicate with the other partners in the photonics center.  Kaloyeros’ appointment of his friend did little to alleviate his concerns

“The good news Bob Duffy is known to us, the troubling part is that this was done without the consultation of the partners and that’s a consistent and persistent criticism of this,” Morelle said.

Morelle’s understanding of Duffy’s role, and the responsibility the leadership council will have over the project seems to be different than Duffy’s.  Morelle described the body as a technical advisory board and said an overarching governance board, appointed by the Governor, will take the lead.

“Well I think the Governor needs to make the appointments to the AIM Photonics Board so we don’t have individual players who are making unilateral decision that may not be in the interests of the initiatives going forward,” Morelle said.

According to the Governor’s Office, the seven-person governance board would be made up of members from the governor’s office, SUNY, University of Rochester and RIT.  The board was announced shortly after those involved got into the aforementioned public dispute about where the center’s headquarters should go.

According to SUNY, The Leadership Council and Governance Board serve different but complimentary roles and responsibilities.  One focuses on strategy and technical matters, while the other focuses on business and economic development.

It said both boards are co-equal entities that will work together to ensure the successful growth and expansion of the photonics institute.  The Leadership Council, as required by the Department of Defense, will focus on the strategic planning and technical direction of the institute while the governance board will help oversee and implement business outreach and economic development strategy.

Duffy believes the governance board will make recommendations to the council he is leading, not the other way around.  He also downplayed the dispute between Kaloyeros and the other partners.

“If the disagreements and discussions were kept more private then this would not have been a story.  It is my belief; any vestige of bad feelings does not exist. If it does exist, I would put it on the individual,” said Duffy.

Duffy said he’ll know more about who the other members of the Leadership Council are during the group’s first meeting in Albany next Tuesday.

In the meantime, Morelle is hoping the Governor will clear up the confusion and appoint a local expert to the seven-member governance board.

“Rob Clark is one of the leading experts on optics and Photonics in the world and he was the one who chaired this until yesterday.  And his removal was troubling,” Morelle said.

Morelle is keenly aware the back and forth is bad for the future of the project and hopes all parties get on the same page soon.

“I think the last thing that we would want to see, I think the last thing the department of defense would like to see are the individual partners in this going off on their own, with their own agendas.  And that’s troubling to me and yet I think that’s what’s going to happen unless we can get SUNY Poly to act like a contributing member of a community instead of acting in their own interests,” Morelle added.

Political Fight Over Rochester Photonics Center Gets Heated

It’s been called Rochester’s “Buffalo Billion.” But a political fight over where to headquarter a $600-million photonics center is threatening to over shadow what could be a major economic boost for the area.

“I agree this has been unseemly over the last week or so,” said State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle. “But we felt it was important at the outset to make certain that the University of Rochester, RIT and the Rochester Community are full partners in this effort,” Morelle said.

Last month, Vice President Joe Biden joined Governor Cuomo in announcing the federal Department of Defense chose Rochester as the site of the Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation. All involved agreed the headquarters for the center should be in Downtown Rochester, but there was disagreement about exactly where to put it.

While Morelle and the co-chairs of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council preferred the Rochester’s historic Sibley Building, Rochester business leaders and the President of SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany seemed to prefer the former Bausch + Lomb building now known as the Legacy Tower.

“The one thing we were troubled by, was decisions being made unilaterally by SUNY Poly in Albany about what facilities in Rochester would be used as part of this photonics center,” said Morelle

That decision seemed to come on Monday when the college announced a deal to lease 25,000 square feet of space in the aforementioned Legacy Tower. Despite complaints from Morelle and others, SUNY Polytechnic explained as the DOD contract designee, it had the power to make the decision.

University of Rochester President Joel Seligman told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Breanna Fuss, Tuesday, the announcement was “premature.”

“Let me put it this way, it was unnecessary and awkward,” Seligman said.

Seligman, believing the two colleges are “50-50” partners, said both institutions have now agreed more discussion and study is needed before they make a final decision on a site for the headquarters.

“This not necessarily the way I wanted to reach this outcome but I look forward to working with (SUNY Polytechnic Institute President) Dr. Alain Kaloyeros and the governor’s office,” Segilman said.

In a statement, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter was not so careful in her criticism of the announcement and of Kaloyeros himself.

“This dispute is not about office space. It’s about leadership of the photonics center and that Rochester-area leaders should decide where the headquarters is located. I worked for three years to achieve this and we will not be deterred by one man’s ego,” Slaughter said.

But Kaloyeros and his college’s previous choice of the Legacy Tower has powerful support as well. The President of the Rochester Business Alliance, former Lt. Governor Bob Duffy released a statement Monday supporting that option.

Tuesday afternoon, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and the University of Rochester released a joined statement saying they were on the same page and the final site for the center still has not be chosen. Morelle credits the Governor’s office for the reversal.

“I think the Governor’s office was very involved this afternoon bringing folks together and I’m grateful to them for helping us move forward on a very, very important project that we’re hopefully moving forward together on,” said Morelle.

Despite the renewed optimism, a source told Time Warner Cable News, Tuesday, the plan to move the photonics headquarters to the Legacy Tower is moving forward. Morelle acknowledged the public concern this fight has created could jeopardize the project, but remains confident it will get done.

“I think today’s joint announcement between president Seligman and Dr. Kaloyeros now paves the way for us to get down to the really important business of working on the economic transformation for Rochester,” Morelle added.

 

Duffy Signs On To Letter Urging Permanent Tax Cap

Former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, now the CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, was among the signatories of a letter that backs a permanent cap on property taxes in the state.

The letter, addressed to state lawmakers, comes as rent control regulations for New York City and its environs are due to expire in June; the cap is linked to the extension of rent control, but isn’t due to sunset until next year.

The letter, which was also backed by four other business groups and chambers of commerce, urges lawmakers to not make any changes to cap, which limits property tax levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

“In short, the state’s tax cap is working. And changing what has been controlling our otherwise out-of- control taxes would be a mistake, because New York State continues to have some of the highest local taxes in the nation,” the letter states. “The suburban communities around New York City continue to pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation as measured in real dollars, while Upstate communities still pay some of the highest property taxes rates in the nation as a percentage of their home values.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has called for a permanent extension of the tax cap, a signature economic measure from his first term.

Duffy served as lieutenant governor under Cuomo until last year, when he declined to run for re-election and was replaced on the ticket by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Keep the Cap Legislative Letter by Nick Reisman

Morelle Supporters See ‘Interim’ Title As Audition

Even with the “interim” title, State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle’s temporary promotion marks the first time since 1991 that a representative from outside New York City has filled the Speaker’s role.  Those close to the Rochester-area Democrat see this as an opportunity to prove he can fill the role permanently.

“He’s uniquely qualified to be the Speaker.  Whether or not the political realities will come together for him I don’t know.  But I would encourage him to move forward with this,” said Former State Senator Ted O’Brien.

O’Brein and Morelle have a long standing friendship and have worked together in Monroe County politics for decades.  Even O’Brien acknowledges beating out a Downstate rival to win the majority of votes in the Assembly Democratic Conference will be an uphill battle.

“It is tough.  Sixty-one of the members represent districts in New York City.  I think he has to be able to comfort people that he’s going to be looking out for everyone and New York City won’t be disadvantaged by his term as Speaker,” O’Brien said.

Bringing different factions of a party together is something Morelle has experience with.  As the head of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, he was able to keep peace among the David Gantt wing of the party and those more loyal to former Rochester Mayor and Lt. Governor Bob Duffy.

Morelle left the chairmanship soon after a divisive 2013 Rochester Mayoral Democratic Primary, between Lovely Warren and Tom Richards, to focus on his role as Assembly Majority Leader.  O’Brien believes both experiences make him uniquely qualified to lead.

“I think he’s proven during his time as Majority Leader that he can keep this conference that’s so diverse, from so many different parts of the state, working together.  He’s already earned careful consideration,” said O’Brien.

How Morelle handles the next two weeks of critical budget negotiations could be a factor in whether or not he gets to keep the job. While difficult, O’Brien believes it’s an opportunity for Morelle to separate himself from other candidates.

“I hope he goes forward but it’s going to be a special burden for him.  Not only does he have to solicit support as Assembly Speaker, he has to do the job for the next two weeks too.  But if anyone can do that Joe Morelle can,” O’Brien added.

If Morelle were to become Speaker it would mark the first time since 1925 that a Western New Yorker held the permanent post. The last time a Speaker hailed from Monroe County (Morelle’s home county) was back in 1898.

Duffy Won’t Call Cuomo On RBA Business

From the Morning Memo:

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy was feted on Thursday at the Economic Development Council’s annual awards show as a loyal member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first-term administration.

The multiple standing ovations Duffy received at the Egg Theater underscored his popularity with both Cuomo staffers as well as the state’s business community, who he has worked closely with as the chairman of the regional economic development councils.

Now Duffy is entering a new phase of his career as a regional business booster himself: the head of the Rochester Business Alliance.

Duffy has insisted — as he did last night on Capital Tonight — that he’s made sure to follow all regulations as he tries to influence public policy outside of government.

Duffy won’t be registering as a lobbyist, but he’s still adhering to a two-year ban on lobbying his old colleagues in the administration — a ban that includes Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I’m a role player, as is the governor,” Duffy said in the interview. “I won’t call the governor to lobby for something personally. The organization can call.”

Duffy added that he’s not on the hook for a lifetime ban from interacting with public officials when it comes to his new role at the RBA.

Nevertheless, he’s consulted with both the lobbying regulators at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics as well as ethics officers in the administration.

“There’s different legal positions whether the top four positions would follow under the public officer’s law,” Duffy said. “No one has to worry. I know the obligations. I’m going to follow those to the letter for two years and I don’t believe I have lifetime restrictions on anything because I don’t think the nature of my position would support that.”

Duffy was initially up for the top job at the RBA a year ago and the news caused some awkward headlines for the administration as it appeared the lieutenant governor was on his way out a year before the election.

Duffy, however, said Cuomo made a point of having the two of them appear in public together at that time, a subtle demonstration that there was no rift.

“That’s the kind of person this governor is,” he said.

Duffy: Lobbying Albany ‘A Small Slice’ Of New Job

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy on Monday said he will adhere to any guidance offered by ethics regulators when it comes to his new post as the CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance.

But Duffy added to reporters earlier today that lobbying the state on business issues is only fraction of the job he’s due to assume in January.

“Lobbying in Albany and going to Albany is just a small slice of it,” Duffy said.

Duffy said he’s been consulting with both ethics officers in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office as well as the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ostensibly independent entity that regulates lobbying.

Duffy will be sticking to a two-year ban on lobbying the executive chamber, but he also pointed out that he did not have a decision-making role as lieutenant governor.

Duffy, a former mayor of Rochester, said his job as the chairman of the governor’s regional economic councils was that of a “convener” who nonetheless was able to establish contacts with the state’s business community.

“In applying for the job at the RBA and accepting the job there are no conflicts,” Duffy said. “I’ve dealt very closely with JCOPE, with the chamber’s ethics officers. I’m very well aware of the ethics. I’m very aware of my ethical obligations going forward. While there may be some issues that I will work around, I will work around those, I will avoid any perception of conflict of the future.”

He does not plan to register as a lobbyist.

Still, Duffy taking on the new role will give Cuomo an ally in the state’s business community. The Rochester Business Alliance over the last several years has backed Unshackle Upstate, a pro-business group that hasn’t hesitated in criticizing the governor’s policies during his first term.

Duffy said he’s awaiting a possible ruling from JCOPE over the scope of what his work will be, but said he expects any restrictions to be limited.

“I don’t think I’ll be hamstrung at all,” he said.

Duffy did not run for re-election this year; former Rep. Kathy Hochul filled his spot on the ticket and will take office as lieutenant governor on Jan. 1.

Duffy To Take Helm Of Rochester Business Alliance

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy will become the next CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance at the start of the new year, the organization announced on Wednesday morning.

Duffy starts his new job Jan. 5.

 In replacing retiring CEO Sandy Parker with Duffy, the RBA is getting a former mayor of Rochester who has close ties with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, now entering his second term.

“I would like to thank the Rochester Business Alliance Board of Directors, executive committee, and search committee for their confidence and for providing me with this outstanding opportunity,” Duffy said in a statement this morning. “I have always had immense respect for Rochester Business Alliance and its work advocating for business and the community at large and providing valuable services to its members. I look forward to returning home to Rochester and working as part of the great RBA team.”

Duffy has been nothing if not loyal to Cuomo over the last four years, and has helped direct economic development efforts on the administration’s behalf.

Cuomo, too, gets another ally in the upstate business community, which the governor has courted through tax policies and economic-development programs.

At the same time, Duffy could help shore up support for Cuomo in Rochester, a city that has felt miffed over the attention given to its neighbor to the west through the “Buffalo Billion” economic development program.

Cuomo has said he plans on a major upstate economic development push in his second term.

Duffy chose to not run for a second term, and was replaced on the Democratic ticket by Lt. Gov.-elect Kathy Hochul.

The development is not a surprising one.

Duffy had reportedly expressed interest in the top post at the Rochester Business Alliance last year, raising speculation that he would leave the administration early.

However, Duffy stayed for a full term, even as Parker put off her retirement by a year.

Duffy Defends Cuomo After NYT Endorsement Snub

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy defended Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s record over the last four years on Wednesday, saying the incumbent Democrat doesn’t take enough credit for his successes during the first term.

Duffy was reacting to a question about The New York Times’ editorial board declining to endorse in the primary campaign between Cuomo and Fordham Law School Professor Zephyr Teachout.

The editorial board concluded that while it couldn’t endorse Cuomo based on his lack of strengthening ethics in Albany, Teachout was too inexperienced for the post (This led Gawker to declare The Times is just as “cowardly and corrupt” as Cuomo).

“Endorsements — those are opinions of people,” Duffy said at a ribbon cutting ceremony in Binghatmon. “I can’t speak to opinions, but I can speak to facts. I’m not sure what criteria they use.”

Referring to the recent construction at SUNY Binghamton, Duffy praised Cuomo’s handling of the job.

“I’ve seen first hand what he’s done,” Duffy said. “I don’t think he takes enough credit for what he does do.”

Duffy is not running for re-election this year, vacating the number two spot on the ticket in favor of former Rep. Kathy Hochul.

The former Rochester mayor pointed back to 2011, when Cuomo push for, and won, the passage of same-sex marriage legalization in the state.

“I go back to year one with marriage equality and right forward to see some of the things he’s led. So I can’t speak to their criteria, but I’ll defend my governor any day of the week with what he’s done,” Duffy said. “I’m not in office next year, so this is Bob Duffy’s opinion. It’s my opinion now, it’s my opinion next year.”

Duffy: No Comment On Special Prosecutor

As Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino pushes for a special state prosecutor to pursue a concurrent Moreland Commission investigation, Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy declined to comment on the proposal.

“Watching this whole issue transpire, the governor’s been very clear about not commenting on the Moreland Commission,” Duffy told reporters in Buffalo today. “It’s not something I have any indirect or direct knowledge of, anyway.”

Astorino has called for a panel to appoint a prosecutor to investigate whether any state laws were broken when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office became involved in the direction of subpoenas from the commission, appointed last year to probe illegality in the state Legislature.

The circumstances of the commission’s demise in April, as well as Cuomo’s office’s involvement, is the subject of an investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

After his office received a letter warning against the coordination of public statements issued by former members of the commission, Cuomo said in a statement he would refrain from publicly comment on the case.

Duffy noted that was the current policy and added that Bharara’s office was reviewing the matter.

“I would defer all questions back to him,” Duffy said.