Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday gave Niagara Falls exactly what it wanted: an $89 million check to officially end the four-year casino revenue dispute.
But the governor also dished out some tough love to a city that has struggled for years to turn itself around.
“There is no legitimate explanation for why this city, why this state, is not prospering,” Cuomo told a crowd of hundreds packed into the Seneca Niagara Events Center. “Here in Niagara Falls, God could not have given you more assets than he has given you.”
Few would doubt that statement or the reality that this former honeymoon capital is a shell of its former self.
But while city leaders have had a long record of dysfunction and corruption, residents here have said for years that the state hasn’t helped the situation.
That’s why it was remarkable Wednesday to hear Cuomo do what countless others have done at dinner tables around Niagara Falls: bash the things the state has done, or hasn’t done, to make Niagara Falls situation better.
“I don’t think it’s been a great partnership with the state,” Cuomo said. “The state government, historically, was not as helpful as it could be. Some would argue the dysfunctional state government made a bad situation worse.”
Cuomo didn’t announce the state would rip out its parking lots around the falls, allow the city to keep its hydropower or fund the immediate removal of the Robert Moses Parkway – all fantasy scenarios residents have dreamed about for years.
But he did describe Wednesday’s announcement that the state would receive its casino cash as a “symbol of a new partnership and a new energy.”
“I just think we haven’t had a government that is as good as the people of Niagara Falls and Western New York,” he said.
The comments about Niagara Falls were Cuomo’s most extensive about the struggling city since taking office.
Earlier this year he was accused by some residents of ignoring major problems like the casino dispute and the acres of vacant downtown land owned by Cuomo appointee Howard P. Milstein.
But on Wednesday, he said the state was focused on the city – and the entire region – more than ever.
He pointed to the state’s Buffalo billion initiative as proof that he’s committed to Western New York, and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster even called Cuomo a “Western New York governor.”
All those efforts – as well as downtown projects led by the USA Niagara Development Corp. – seem to be aimed at achieving one goal – and answering one confounding question.
“Is there any reason why Niagara Falls should not be doing well?” Cuomo asked. “No.”