But when the topic turned to the continuing Peace Bridge controversy, his ebullient mood dissolved. In fact, he seemed downright disgusted that he must invest so much time, effort and political capital into a situation that he says has changed little over two decades.
“The Peace Bridge is a metaphor to me for an overall failure of economic development for the region,” he said. “You can't allow projects like this to linger for 20 years.
“It would have great potential for the entire region, and that potential has been squandered,” he continued. “It's really remarkable, when you think about it.”
And remarkable, too, the extent to which the governor is attacking this situation. Make no mistake about it – Cuomo is marshaling all of his considerable political strength to accomplish at the bridge in the immediate future what has eluded every other local and statewide pol for 20 years.
Already, his troops are taking their positions.
Perhaps most notably, Tony Masiello joins the New York contingent to the Peace Bridge Authority. Now an Albany lobbyist, the former mayor remains a close Cuomo ally in Western New York.
Recall that when Cuomo insiders pronounced the Erie County Democratic Party in disarray last year, he first turned to Masiello to replace outgoing Chairman Len Lenihan.
For a while, Masiello resurrected his old campaign skills and sought the job. For a host of reasons, however, it did not happen. Still, he embarked down that path at the strong “request” of the governor, and it's a sure bet Cuomo's team used the same persuasive tactics this time.
Other signs include recent letters to the editor about the Peace Bridge. Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy took aim at a story in The Buffalo News about the governor's tactics and lauded the efforts of his boss. Then Paul Ciminelli – a board member of Cuomo's Empire State Development Corp. – praised his efforts to “move this process forward swiftly and fairly.”
On the legislative side, Cuomo found sympathy from two friendly Republican senators – George Maziarz of Newfane and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo. They called for the binational authority to be abolished and absorbed by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. They were joined by Democrat Sean Ryan, successor to Cuomo guy Sam Hoyt in the Assembly.
Meanwhile, Howard Zemsky – Cuomo's economic development point man in Western New York – told Channel 2 News that the NFTA he heads is poised to take on bridge functions should the Peace Bridge Authority be dissolved as Cuomo supporters propose.
Empire State Development even has hired former Channel 2 reporter Pete Gallivan to handle Peace Bridge and other public affairs matters in Western New York. And let no one forget that Hoyt – the chief New York representative to the Peace Bridge Authority – has proven one of Cuomo's most loyal supporters in Western New York for many years.
When Cuomo speaks, his supporters snap to attention.
Just about any Western New Yorker who has followed the Peace Bridge saga for the past quarter-century may very well agree with the governor's view of the span as a symbol of dysfunction – even if the authority has noted much progress in its own way.
But no matter how mightily his local troops rally, Cuomo's message still has not resonated across the Niagara River. Canadians, who comprise half of the Peace Bridge Authority and whose votes are needed for anything to happen, remain not only unimpressed, but insulted.
“These efforts are all done in exchange for a headline,” authority Chairman Anthony Annunziata – a Canadian – said after Cuomo's visit to Buffalo last week. “All he wants is to be able to say he did it.”
That's where the dispute now lies. And for the near future, that's where it appears it will stay.