Dan Hust | Democrat
NYS Lt. Governor Bob Duffy, right, reviews documents presented to him at Thursday’s gathering of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council in Loch Sheldrake. To Duffy’s right is the council’s co-chair, Dennis Murray, president of Marist College.
'No county will get lost' says NYS Lt. Governor
By Dan Hust
LOCH SHELDRAKE Governor Andrew Cuomo’s righthand man, NYS Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, is confident his boss’ Regional Development Councils will change the state for the better.
It’s not “an empty political promise,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Democrat after the Mid-Hudson Regional Council’s meeting at SUNY Sullivan on Thursday.
In fact, he deemed that very meeting a “beautiful depiction of the potential for this” a potential, he added, to erase long-held differences.
“The governor has wanted to get rid of upstate-downstate fingerpointing,” Duffy remarked. “It’s about collaboration.”
With seven counties involved Sullivan, Orange, Ulster, Rockland, Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess spanning that upstate-downstate divide is a key challenge for the Mid-Hudson Council.
Some councilmembers are dubious it can be accomplished, but Duffy is certain they’re wrong.
“Competition is secondary when you compare it to what’s going on in there,” he remarked, gesturing to the door to the meeting room. “At no other time have you had this level of leadership working together, and they’re doing it extraordinarily well.”
But what about Sullivan County? Of all seven counties, it’s the farthest from the Hudson Valley and the least-populated. Yet it also possesses one of the highest unemployment rates in the region, amidst a dismal job market.
“If the teamwork continues down the path I see it heading down now,” Duffy replied, “no county will get lost in the process.”
Heading down from Cobleskill earlier in the day, he got a chance to sample some of the county’s fall beauty.
“Sullivan County, I think, is a very important part of this region,” he observed. “I’m not saying everything can be reinvigorated ... [but Sullivan] should take a back seat to no other county in this region.”
It’s up to county officials, he added, to stay involved.
“They just need to make sure their voices are heard,” he advised.
Duffy is attending every one of the Regional Council meetings on behalf of Cuomo not just in the Mid-Hudson, but throughout the state.
Thursday’s gathering in Loch Sheldrake was his 39th since August 4.
His role, he said, is not to run the meetings but to observe and report back to the governor and his administrative team.
“It’s been a learning experience for me,” the Rochester native (and former mayor and police chief) acknowledged.
While some see these councils as part of Cuomo’s rumored positioning for a future presidential run, Duffy said the focus is squarely on ensuring the state’s struggling business climate improves.
“We want a state and we will get a state that is a magnet for jobs,” he assured. “... We welcome skeptics, but this process, I think, will show the skeptics are wrong.”
Regional EDC meeting: cooperation, challenges
By Dan Hust
LOCH SHELDRAKE New York Lt. Governor Bob Duffy promised Sullivan County won’t be forgotten.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, tasked with creating a shared economic development vision (in order to share state funding) for enormous swaths of the state, have a seemingly impossible task ahead of them.
“When you’ve got Westchester and Sullivan counties in the same council, you’ve got an issue, because there’s no way you can satisfy both,” Rockland Business Association CEO Al Samuels assessed.
Both he and Duffy were part of Thursday’s gathering of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council at SUNY Sullivan in Loch Sheldrake the first such full-board meeting within Sullivan County’s borders.
In September, the council invited the public to weigh in on the development of a five-year plan for the region, with a group of councilmembers discussing Sullivan’s future at Bethel Woods.
That meeting evidenced sometimes deep differences within the county about the preferred path Sullivan should take.
Now multiply that by six other counties, and on Thursday, the council itself illustrated the challenges such a diverse group of people faces representing not just Sullivan but Orange, Ulster, Rockland, Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.
The council will have to distill sometimes-competing visions into just a few “clusters” and strategies that, in the end, are really aimed at grabbing a share of the state’s $200 million in available economic development funding.
But whether it’s tourism, big-box retail or small business development, the nearly two dozen members of the Mid-Hudson council could only fitfully edge toward consensus on Thursday.
“The challenge is,” explained Council Co-Chair Len Schleifer, “where here are we going to write checks that will make a difference? We don’t have enough money to invest in every single [industry] cluster.”
While Sullivan County residents sit on the council Chamber of Commerce President Terri Ward, Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis and Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress CEO Jonathan Drapkin only one (Ward) gets to vote.
So there’s a concern that, being the lightest-populated county in the region, Sullivan will get lost in the mix.
Indeed, only small portions along the eastern fringe of the county are even in the geographic Mid-Hudson (most of the county’s water sources drain into the Delaware).
“I am very uncomfortable with this whole situation,” Legislator Leni Binder remarked at a county meeting earlier Thursday. “We are a very, very small child living out in the outhouse.
“... I’m afraid we’re going to lose the little we had, and I hope I’m wrong,” she concluded, referring to state funding that was already competitive when doled out on a county-by-county basis.
Lt. Gov. Duffy disagreed (see sidebar), but at the end of Thursday’s meeting, Ward the sole voting member from Sullivan County evidenced both confusion and optimism.
“We have no idea what we’re fighting for yet,” she said of the entire council.
She’s particularly interested in small business and tourism development but admitted the consensus-building process is difficult and time-consuming.
She nevertheless remained hopeful and committed to that process, evidenced by her continued presence at multiple council meetings all over the seven-county region.
“It’s going to take us a long time to get there,” Ward acknowledged, “but I think the end product will be worth it.”