The Peace Bridge Authority convenes today for the first time since discord erupted between its Canadian and American delegations in April, and every indication suggests that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s fresh comments on the situation have only sharpened the international dispute.
Authority Chairman Anthony M. Annunziata, a Canadian, on Thursday labeled as “incredibly arrogant and insulting” Cuomo’s characterization of the Peace Bridge as a “metaphor for dysfunction” over the last two decades.
“The governor had a chance yesterday to resolve this,” Annunziata said of Cuomo’s comments to The Buffalo News on Wednesday. “But the governor did what he does best – try to get a headline.”
Anthony M. Masiello, who will attend his first meeting of the authority board today as the governor’s newest appointee, said that he fully supports Cuomo’s agenda and recognizes his mission as a “tough fight,” adding that “it’s worth fighting for.”
“I’ve been involved in enough situations like this to know we should let them vent and then get back to what we’re charged to do – improving what’s there,” said Masiello, a close Cuomo ally.
Cuomo “is the governor, and there’s a lot at stake here,” the former Buffalo mayor added.
Masiello said Canadian members of the authority should recognize that “droves” of Ontario residents also regularly cross the Peace Bridge for business, shopping, entertainment and sporting events and would benefit from an improved Buffalo plaza.
“They should be thinking about their people, too,” Masiello said.
In a prepared statement released through the governor’s regional office, Masiello also said:
“Mr Annunziata’s personal attacks on the governor, and his (Annuziata’s) demeaning of female professional staff, deflect from the real issue; two decades of Western New York frustration with the inability of the Peace Bridge Authority to make any meaningful progress in developing Peace Bridge plaza on the Buffalo side. Residents and commuters deserve better, and Governor Cuomo is committed to making real improvements in real time.”
Annunziata, who has taken the offensive in expressing Canadian disapproval over Cuomo’s tactics for speeding up economic development on the Buffalo plaza, pointed to significant milestones over the last 20 years. They include 100 million vehicle crossings, $1 trillion in trade and a new plaza in Fort Erie, Ont., that features tollbooths relocated from the U.S. side.
Cuomo’s remarks insulted all those who have worked at the bridge and on its projects over the years, as well as past authority members, Annunziata said. “I’m not very happy with the governor’s arrogance,” he said.
Cuomo, in a meeting with editors and reporters of The News, said he is making every effort to expedite expansion of the Buffalo bridge plaza as a way of improving traffic flow and encouraging cross-border commerce.
But he also said he was committed to aggressively moving forward on the project, even though the five Canadian members of the authority have expressed concern over his methods and can block any move advanced by the New York delegation.
Today’s meeting is the second since the New York delegation boycotted the conferences for four months. The state delegation is headed by Sam Hoyt, a close Cuomo ally and regional president of Empire State Development Corp. Hoyt declined to comment Thursday on Annunziata’s remarks to The News.
Hoyt and his delegation in April demanded the dismissal of Ron Reinas, the Canadian general manager of the agency, contending that he was insubordinate and guilty of other offenses. Canadians, in turn, responded with a strong defense of Reinas and vowed that they would no longer work with Hoyt as Cuomo’s representative. After the governor reiterated his support for Hoyt on Wednesday, Annunziata said the dispute remains very much alive.
“Sam Hoyt has been a destructive and disruptive force on the board,” he said, “and continues to become a very significant problem in moving forward. I will not work with him.”
Annunziata also said Cuomo’s refusal to replace Hoyt will mean that the authority, for at least the immediate future, will “not be terribly functional.”
“He can appoint whomever he wants,” Annunziata said. “But if an individual is not effective in that role, someone should probably look at that individual.”
While Cuomo indicated Wednesday that he hopes outreach efforts to Canadian officials by Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy will help ease the tensions, Annunziata said Thursday that he is not aware of any such efforts.