On Election Night 2010, Andrew Cuomo gazed at the map of New York State and pronounced it good.
He claimed 51 counties for the Cuomo column over most of the state. But nine counties, way out there in the far western reaches, landed elsewhere. They voted for Republican Carl Paladino of Buffalo, despite his -- shall we say -- "unorthodox" campaign.
That's why Western New York remains a puzzle to be solved for Cuomo. His 2010 election proved convincing -- even overwhelming. But in the region dominated by America's third-poorest city -- a place that seemingly should embrace his reform message -- he realizes he has more work to do.
During a visit to The Buffalo News last week, the governor reflected on the election and the fact that only Western New York failed to climb aboard the Cuomo bandwagon.
He did not dwell on his erstwhile opponent, barely mentioning him (just as in the campaign). But he is well aware that over the years, Paladino had morphed into a major political force in Buffalo, speaking out on its deteriorating condition and backing it all up with money.
"I very much believe in regional identification," Cuomo said, pointing to other areas that often feel left out of the statewide loop -- especially the North Country. But the governor also hit on a political fact of life that transcended Paladino's native son appeal. It's what shaded those nine western counties for Paladino 14 months ago and not for Cuomo -- even in overwhelmingly Democratic Erie County.
"I think the regional attraction of a candidate in Western New York should not be underestimated at all," he said. "Western New York feels it has not yet attracted the attention it deserves. It does not surprise me at all."
Others hailing from New York City but with a statewide perspective see the same phenomenon. Former Gov. David A. Paterson recognized Paladino's western success during an "exit interview" with The News in December, 2010. He called it "legitimate anger."
Voters flock to "flawed candidates," he said then, because they emphasize important topics or because they feel powerless.
"That's the problem with this country right now; we're embracing the extremes in order to get our message across," Paterson said, "because nobody is listening to us.
"So when a Paladino is screaming from one end, there are a lot of people who know he shouldn't be governor, they know the place isn't going to get any better if he's there, and know that he probably doesn't have the stability to run the government," he added, "but at the same time kind of know he isn't going to win and they want to send a message."
The Paladino vote in Western New York, Paterson said them, offers a "sobering suggestion."
"You don't discount those votes," he said. "These are real New Yorkers who are taxpayers, and we have to do all we can to restore their confidence so they don't have to go to extremes the next time."
There are some cynics in the political world (shocking!) who suggest that Cuomo's $1 billion economic development program for Buffalo smacks of politics. What better way, they ask, than to drop lots of bucks on the one area he failed to win.
Could be. But Cuomo also seems to read and understand the "legitimate anger" cited by his predecessor. Though he is getting clobbered in other struggling cities for singling out Buffalo with $1 billion, the governor recognizes a frustration with Albany that uniquely manifests itself in Western New York.
The 2010 vote seemed to say nobody was paying attention. Approve or disapprove, $1 billion is now a lot of attention.