Nobody is yet aiming the guns of those retired Navy ships in Buffalo Harbor toward Fort Erie.
And none of the War of 1812 re-enactments under way this summer is suddenly turning real.
But relations between the United States and Canada – more specifically New York State and Canada – may be at their lowest point in nearly 200 years.
What makes this sensitive topic appropriate for the Politics Column this Sunday lies in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aggressive approach toward developing the Buffalo side of the Peace Bridge. Through local representative Sam Hoyt, Cuomo is making the case for dramatic action.
Every press release, every public pronouncement by Hoyt or other Cuomo allies emphasizes words like “paralysis,” “impede” or “obstacle” to describe years of inaction at the bridge. The Cuomo forces then describe their plan as “moving forward,” “clears the path” and “real progress” that is “long overdue.”
“For generations, people in Western New York have waited for improvements on the U.S. side, and Gov. Cuomo wants to see immediate results,” said Hoyt, Peace Bridge Authority vice chairman and a top Cuomo representative in Western New York.
The governor knows a thing or two about politics. He recognizes that no single element of Western New York infrastructure better represents stagnation and dysfunction than the Peace Bridge. More than two decades of unsuccessful efforts to build a new span over the Niagara River will do that.
And he has not forgotten that the nine western counties of New York voted for the other guy in his 2010 race for governor. Even if Cuomo doesn’t run for president in 2016, it’s only natural he wants to reclaim Western New York by highlighting construction cranes at the bridge in 2014 – election year.
The governor’s “vision” is exactly on that track for a new Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, say lieutenants like Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Milstein.
Cuomo, Milstein told Crain’s New York Business, leveraged his “political capital” to fast-track what could prove the state’s biggest construction project in a generation.
You get the picture.
Nevertheless, the governor’s approach has generated something close to an international incident that sources say has reached high levels in Ottawa and Washington. The fast track on the Peace Bridge, says a determined Canadian contingent to the authority, needs more scrutiny. Frankly, they don’t give a rip about Cuomo’s agenda – or his politics.
“They say they can do all this just like the Tappan Zee; they say ‘we have Cuomo,’ ” said Anthony Annunziata, authority chairman and head of the Canadian delegation. He also vows he will no longer deal with the New York delegation as long as Hoyt represents the governor.
“To me, it’s completely irresponsible what’s going on in Western New York; it’s an opportunity for headlines and spin stories,” he added. “There’s something wrong … and its not the Canadian board causing the problem.”
The irony of all this remains that the governor’s aggressive approach to accomplish something is achieving the opposite effect. A seemingly intractable 5-to-5 stalemate now rules the Peace Bridge Authority. Short of what sources say is a state-favored plan to blow up the authority and create something new (inherent with its own set of problems), nothing will get done.
“It all does no good. It stops everything,” said one New Yorker familiar with the situation. “They’ve got to understand they don’t control this the way they control all their other authorities in the state.”
So Cuomo, who some say would someday like to deal with Vladimir Putin, is encountering – as the diplomats would say – “frank discussions” in his first international fracas. Still, he appears committed to his agenda for action.
The Canadian reply: “Protocol, eh?”
Every 200 years or so, maybe an international dustup is part of the deal around here.