Cuomo Says No Stadium Talks While He Attended Bills Game

From the Morning Memo:

Maybe Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, and his dog Captain had an excuse for mistakenly awarding the New York Jets a victory a full day before the team actually played (and got demolished by the New England Patriots).

After all, Cuomo was in a suite at the Buffalo Bills stadium watching the only team that plays home games in the state shortly before the erroneous tweet. The governor watched the Bills beat Miami with team owners Kim and Terry Pegula.
“I was not talking about the Jets or the Giants,” Cuomo joked when asked what he discussed with the Pegulas. “I can tell you that.”

There is the small matter of new stadium lease negotiations approaching quickly. The current deal expires in the summer of 2023.

However, Cuomo said he was not discussing a new deal or the possibility of building a new stadium either.

“We we’re talking about the Bills. We were talking about the game and we were talking about Western New York,” he said.

The NFL has indicated it believes a new stadium would help ensure the long-term viability of the team in Western New York. There is much less talk about the team moving now though than there was during the last negotiations.

While the state and the county will take some credit for including a non-relocation clause in the deal, most observers believe the Pegulas $1.4 billion purchase solidified the teams future.

Whoever is responsible, Cuomo said it was a good thing for the entire region.

“We have spent a lot of time investing in Western New York and getting past the pessimism and the cynicism, saying to people we can revive Western New York. It doesn’t have to be that people leave and businesses leave and I believe strongly that there is a new chapter in the future of Western New York and keeping the Bills in Western New York, I think, was critical to that process,” he said.

The governor seems to be reveling in the successful start for the Bills and the Pegula-owned Sabres hockey team too. He said the winning ways are increasing pride in the region.

He probably has another reason to be pleased the football team avoided losing to the winless Dolphins while he was at the stadium. Bills fans are known to be a bit superstitious.

Senecas Recently Approved Management Agreement For Sportsbetting

From the Morning Memo:

As several news outlets have recently noted, the Seneca Gaming Corporation is seeking applicants for “sportsbook managers” and “sportsbook ticket writers” at its casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.

The Senecas have said for several weeks they are making progress on their sports betting operation but have been reluctant to give a specific timeline on when things will be in place. Since the state Gaming Commission establishes regulations this summer, the other tribes as well as the four sanctioned non-Indian Upstate casinos have already launched their sportsbooks.

However, the Senecas don’t seem to feel a sense of urgency. President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. did not provide any opening dates when asked Wednesday. He did say the corporation recently approved its management agreement and it “should be coming up anytime soon here.” 

A Seneca spokesperson said they are still working through an external process. Their casinos will have a benefit others in Upstate do not.

They are in close proximity to two “Big 4” professional sports teams – the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo Mayor Brown Disagrees With City’s Credit Rating Downgrade

The mayor of Buffalo is not taking much stock in a recent critical analysis of the city’s finances.

Fitch Ratings downgraded Buffalo’s credit rating one spot, from AA- to A+. The agency noted the city’s revenue projections in recent years have been overly optimistic and its reserves are dwindling.

Mayor Byron Brown, D, said the city contacted Fitch directly to disagree with the assessment and believes the rating could be restored in the next couple of months.

“Our approach will be to educate all of the credit rating agencies on how the city is fiscally managing itself on new revenues that are coming into the city, on cost efficiencies that we have developed for the city and our goal would be to see this rating and other ratings go up,” he said.

Brown said he is pleased with where the administration is in its strategic plan. He does not believe Fitch had a good understanding of new revenue streams including higher parking rates, new school speed zone cameras and an enhanced unit securing federal grants.

He also pointed out the adjustment will not have an immediate impact on the city’s bottom line.

“We spoke with our independent financial advisor who has indicated that this adjustment by Fitch should not impact the city’s interest rates and when we borrow money, we should be able to borrow at the same interest rate.”

Fitch also noted the city is suffering from shortfalls created by the ongoing dispute between the Seneca Nation and New York State over casino revenues. The state shares a portion of the payments it receives from the Senecas with the cities that house the casinos, however the Senecas haven’t made a payment in more than two years.

The state has already advanced money to the other two cities, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, and Brown confirmed Buffalo will received $7.5 million in the near future.

“This is what we said all along, that the state would send relief if this process continued to drag on,” he said.

Brown said he remains confident the Senecas will eventually have to make both back payments and recurring payments and it will eventually be a windfall for Buffalo.

Buffalo School Board At Odds With Some Parents Over Election Date Change Legislation

A battle over whether to move Buffalo’s Board of Education elections from May to November continues wage on, despite the fact the state Legislature has already approved the bill.

The state Senate and Assembly both passed the legislation right before the end of session in June. A coalition of parents, business leaders and clergy celebrated the vote after pushing for the board election to coincide with the regular general election for years.

However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, has yet to sign the bill and current board members are asking him not to do so. The board unanimously passed a resolution last week, requesting the governor not sign the date change legislation and asking the state delegation to consult with a broader cross section of the community.

The Change the Date Coalition that led the push, had harsh words for those members during a Wednesday press conference.

“To vote for a resolution to tell the governor not to sign legislation that we’ve worked years to get passed, for whatever excuse those eight board members want to use, it’s not just irresponsible, it’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve seen an elected official in Western New York do in a long time,” Pastor Kinzer Pointer, Agape Fellowship Baptist Church, said.

The coalition said it already has broad support that included Assembly Democratic Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Democratic State Senator sponsoring the bill. The Buffalo Common Council also unanimously passed its own resolution last year in support of changing the date.

“I don’t even know if its possible to get any more support for a piece of legislation like this. We’ve got the maximum amount of support that you can get,” parent and activist Sam Radford said.

However, the board actually argues the opposite in its resolution. It pointed out all Western New York Assembly members but one voted against the bill – including Buffalo Democrat Sean Ryan who preferred a compromise.

It also argued the basic premise that moving the election to November would increase voter turnout. The resolution said the 7 percent turnout for the BOE’s May 2019 election was better than many surrounding suburban districts and comparable to recent mayoral and common council primaries.

Among other arguments, the resolution also said a November date would bring partisan politics into a non-partisan election and give new members a more limited amount of time to understand the complexities of the school district and develop a budget. The coalition responded Wednesday, it believes the members, all of whom were endorsed by the Buffalo Teachers Federation, is carrying water for the union which wields more influence when there is lower turnout.

The governor has until the end of December to sign the bill but it’s proponents are asking him to take action as soon as possible.

Court Order Will Keep Caputo From Attending His ‘Big Brother’ Roger Stone’s Event In Buffalo

When political consultant Roger Stone speaks Friday evening in Buffalo, perhaps his closest ally in Western New York won’t be present.

Stone is set to discuss the 2020 presidential election. The event will also serve as a fundraiser to help pay legal bills for his November trial connected to the Russia special investigation.

That trial also is the reason Stone cannot have any contact with his friend and colleague Michael Caputo.

“I attended Roger’s arraignment in late January, ready to play the role of family spokesman, as we had agreed months before his arrest,” Caputo said in a statement. “There I was told Roger was not to speak with me again. Later, this was communicated to his attorneys in a sealed court order.”

Both men worked with the Trump 2016 presidential campaign in some capacity. Caputo described Stone as a “big brother” and noted for 32 years they spoke nearly every day and their families spent holidays together.

“I’m not a defendant nor a witness in his trial,” he said. “I have no role at all. This ban on contact is a rank infringement on Roger’s Constitutional rights – but that doesn’t matter in America today. In a country where a sitting president can weaponize his national security agencies to spy on a political rival, where the frightening powers of the federal government can be brought down like a sledgehammer on innocent men like General Flynn and Roger Stone for purely political reasons, we have no rights, none of us, and least of all Roger Stone.”

As a result of the court order, Caputo said he is not allowed at the Stone event, hosted by former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. He said he’s asked all his friends to attend the event, donate to the defense fund, and say hello for him.

“I miss Roger’s oddball sense of humor, his friendship, his generosity, his brilliance. I miss his Sunday gravy. I miss the herd of rescue dogs who ruled his house. I miss his beautiful and kind wife Nydia, my big sister,” Caputo said. “Most of all, I will miss the United States of America, because the Stone prosecution is more proof that our country has found her end”

He said he’s raised $12Stone-Caputo5,000 for Stone’s defense and will continue to raise more. Stone is not permitted to talk about the ongoing litigation during his visit to Buffalo.

43North Moving To Buffalo’s Tallest Building

Buffalo-based 43North is moving its headquarters to the city’s tallest building.

The state funded start-up competition also provides incubator space to winners year round. It is receiving a $1.5 million grant to move to Seneca One Tower as part of the new tech hub developer Doug Jemal is building there.

43North said the move will give its companies the opportunity to scale their businesses in a “vibrant, active environment” where there is significant tech talent thanks to M&T banks plans to move more than 1,000 jobs to the hub. Those companies include Z80 Labs and Techstars Buffalo as well as 43North staff.

“Each new class of 43North portfolio companies has raised the bar, whether you consider the caliber of their teams, the volume of capital they’ve raised, or the amount of traction they’ve achieved. It’s 43North’s responsibility to continually up our game, as well, to ensure that we provide out companies with every opportunity to scale their businesses and establish long-term roots in Buffalo,” 43North President Alex Gress said. “43North’s new headquarters in Seneca One will be an important asset in attracting additional world-class startups to Western New York. It will also serve as a strong selling point for our companies, as they recruit talent to grow their businesses.”

The competition awards up to $5 million total to companies every year, with stipulations about locating the CEO and more than half of the staff in Buffalo for a year. 43North said it will release more details about the move in the coming weeks.

Buffalo Council Candidate Gets Endorsement From National LBGTQ PAC

From the Morning Memo:

A major national political action committee dedicated to electing public officials from the LGBTQ community had endorsed a Buffalo Common Council candidate.

Democrat Mitch Nowakowski announced the endorsement from the Victory Fund this week. Nowakowski won a multi-candidate primary for the city’s Fillmore District in June.

“I am incredibly honored to have received the endorsement of the Victory Fund,” he said.

“It is not only a significant recognition of my campaign, but of Buffalo’s unique and thriving LGBTQ community. Often times, Buffalo’s LGBTQ community feels overshadowed at the state and national level. Today, our region received the recognition we have worked so hard for. We’re Talkin’ (Out) & Proud, Buffalo!”

Nowakowski’s campaign said he will be the first out gay man elected to any office in Erie County. Barbra Kavanaugh, an open lesbian, previously served as a Common Council member, as well.

“No level of government impacts the daily lives of residents more than local government – with responsibilities ranging from trash collection to easing traffic congestion to civil rights enforcement,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said. “We have historic opportunities to elect LBGTQ mayors and city council candidates across the country this cycles. When we elect them, their voices will change the conversation from being about us, to being with us – and that is how equality advances.”

Nowakowski will be a strong favorite in his race as he is running against third party challengers and all of the current members are Democrats. The 27-year-old has worked as a council staffer for five years.

State Panelists In Buffalo For Skyway Reimagining Competition

From the Morning Memo:

Submissions for a reimagined Buffalo Skyway are due on Friday.

The governor announced the “Aim For The Sky” competition earlier this year as the state looks to transform the elevated highway along Buffalo’s waterfront.

“Western New York has gotten such international attention – last year, the New York Times, Washington Post, the Times of London. (Monday), People Magazine identified Buffalo as one of the best things about the United States in 2019 and so this is a real opportune time to talk about what’s next,” Cuomo Senior Advisor John Maggiore said.

The panelist began arriving in Western New York this week. Maggiore said some of them, for instance Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, are already familiar with the city and the oft-criticized structure, but others are just getting acquainted.

He said a number of submissions have already been submitted, but was hesitant to give a number because he has not yet reviewed them and didn’t know how many are “serious.”

“I would imagine most of the serious submissions are going to come in at the wire. If I was working on one, which I’m not, I would take every moment that I can to put together a quality submission,” Maggiore said.

Governor Cuomo has demonstrated significant interest in the project, which will like cost a significant amount of public money. He even suggested during one trip to Buffalo, the Skyway could be an elevated park like the New York City highway.

Maggiore cautioned though, the governor wasn’t saying that has to be the idea.

“I was afraid that people would try to read between the lines,” he said. “That’s not intentional in any way. The intent of that was try to stimulate diverse thinking about what can be done but absolutely the governor doesn’t have a dog in the race about the final outcome.”

The state gave guidelines but in many ways was intentionally vague an attempt to bring in a variety of different ideas. The winners will be selected in September but Maggiore said before any shovels hit the ground there will have to be an environmental impact study which will take a few more years.


Senate Passes Legislation To Change Date Of Buffalo School Board Election

Update (3:56 p.m.) The Assembly has passed the amended bill.

The state Senate has passed legislation to move Buffalo Public School Board elections from May to November.

A coalition of parents, community leaders, clergy and business owners in the city have been pushing for the measure for years. They believe  holding the election on the same day as the general election will save the local board of elections money and increase what has historically been low voter turnout.

State Senate sponsor Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said school board is perhaps the most important election for the community.

“The voter turnout in May has been abysmal, embarrassing. This year with unprecedented attention being paid to the Buffalo School Board, 16 people running for Buffalo School Board, at-large seats giving everybody a reason to come out to vote, 6.6 percent of the electorate decided to take part,” Kennedy said during his floor remarks. “That is unfortunate. That needs to change.”

The Assembly has already passed the measure but due to a technical amendment will need to vote again. Language was clarified to make clear current board members will be able to serve out their terms.

The Buffalo Teachers Federation and NYSUT opposed the bill, arguing it unfairly targets the city and that even though turnout is low in May, it is passionate and educated people who come out to vote. Both Syracuse and Rochester hold their elections in November.

If the Assembly does pass the bill again, the governor still needs to sign it.

43North Competition Launches Year 6

From the Morning Memo:

The sixth year of the state-sponsored 43North business competition is underway.

The competition is now accepting applications from start-ups across the world, which can win cash, incubator space, and support to grow their respective companies – provided they locate them largely in Buffalo, (more on this in a moment). Winners could receive as much as $1 million from a $5 million pot.

“Over the last five years, the 43North competition has successfully driven high-quality startups to Buffalo where they can grow their businesses,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “Through this unique competition, we will continue to bring world-class talent and cutting edge businesses to this region to contribute and collaborate with the growing entrepreneurial economy.”

Winners are also allowed to operate tax-free for 10 years in the state under the Start-Up NY program. However, companies are only required to locate their CEO and half of their employees in Buffalo for a year, and the competition has faced criticism as some participants have decided to leave once that commitment was fulfilled.

The state said that over the first five years, the competition has created more than 400 jobs in Buffalo, and many companies have partnered with local institutions for continued growth. They also agree to give 43North a 5 percent equity stake.

“43North continues to be an important piece of the puzzle in attracting new businesses and talent to the region to help boost our local economy,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat said.

“The $5 million startup competition supported by the governor and Empire State Development has also been key to giving minority and women entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas and get the critical funding they need to get their businesses off the ground. I can’t wait to hear what new and innovative businesses and talent this latest round will bring the region.”

The competition said 27 percent of its winners have had female founders, and 20 percent have been founders of color. Startups have until July 8 to submit their applications.