Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Hours before President Barack Obama uttered a word to the assembled at the NanoTech Complex at SUNY-Albany on Tuesday, the state’s GOP chairman and former Republican governor took the president to task his economic record, using the example of the site of Obama’s speech. Cox and Pataki noted on a 9 a.m. conference call with reporters that the plant was “development 10 years ago by a Republican governor and based on Republican principles” (Cox), which was done in a way that was “opposite pretty much of what president Obama has done” (Pataki) since taking office.
Cox doubled down on his push for recognition of the roots of the Albany facility in Republican economic orthodoxy in a New York Post op-ed on Wednesday.
“[S]tate government got this one right,” Cox wrote. “But it’s important to understand just what it got right.”
Cox went on to note Pataki’s mention of the creation of a tech complex at the state school in Albany in his 2001 state of the state address, launching the facility with a $150 million investment from IBM and the state.
“The state money built the buildings, bought equipment and provided tax support for a basic research facility manned by IBM scientists. SUNY’s infrastructure allowed the center to avoid stifling civil-service rules and bureaucracies…,” Cox wrote.
These arguments led Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver to send out a note on Tuesday countering Pataki and Cox’s claims around the Albany-area tech boom.
“What began 15 years ago with a proposal by Dr. Alain Kaloyeros and a $5 million commitment from the Assembly, the first commitment of state funds, has transformed the University at Albany into a global leader in nanotechnology education, job training, research, development and commercialization,” Silver said in the statement. “That President Obama chose the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) as the venue for his remarks on economic development attests to the enormous success of our vision and our efforts.”
(For what it's worth, during the call in which he and Cox took credit for Republican-based principles and decisions that led to Obama's visit this week, Pataki said, "Arguing over credit is something for small-minded people who get bogged down in the political headlines of the day.")
All these statements stand in contrast to the images of Governor Andrew Cuomo touring the facility with Obama on Tuesday. They also stand in contrast to the version of events presented by the Cuomo administration.
Back in September, Cuomo’s office announced $4.4 billion in investment to help a number of tech companies develop the next generation of computer microchip in upstate New York. One of the primary recipients of the investment was the Albany NanoTech Center, which would receive $400 million in state investment in the deal.
"This unprecedented private investment in New York's economy will create thousands of jobs and make the state the epicenter for the next generation of computer chip technology," Cuomo said in a statement announcing the deal.
When the announcement of the Cuomo-brokered deal sited the genesis of SUNY-Albany’s transformation into a tech powerhouse, the current governor drew a direct link between himself and the first Cuomo administration.
“New York State's investments in the semiconductor industry began in 1988 with the establishment of the advanced semiconductor program at SUNY Albany under the SUNY Graduate Research Initiative created by Governor Mario Cuomo and was cemented in 1993 with the establishment of the Center for Advanced Technology at SUNY Albany by Governor Mario Cuomo, which later became the basis for the College of Nanoscale Engineering,” the September statement noted.
At any point in his column on Wednesday, Cox could have taken Cuomo to task for both his interpretation of the upstate tech origins, or for the fact the current governor reaping the benefits of a policy that Cox and Pataki feel are owed to them. But in both the conference call and in the follow-up op-ed, if Cuomo was mentioned it was only in a cursory and positive way.
In fact, when asked directly by a reporter if he felt, given his sense of ownership over the nanotech success story, if he should be the one on stage with Obama, Pataki demurred, saying, "This isn't about me. This is about the future of America...I think my record speaks for itself."
But the only record being discussed on Tuesday in Albany was that of the current governor.
In the end, Pataki and Cox’s messaging around Obama’s Albany-area visit may be more of a testament to where the state’s Republican Party stands in relation to the popular Andrew Cuomo and how adept he has been in co-opting its economic message. On the conference call on Tuesday, Cox spoke about the “contrast” between Obama’s (Democratic) economic model and the Republican model exemplified by the NanoTech Center. But when it comes to Cuomo, the contrast is only in how well the governor has been able to coopt the economic message of—and remain untouchable to—New York State Republicans.