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Politics
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced early in his term that he'd be creating a set of "regional economic councils" to build plans for funding economic development across New York, from the ground up.In the summer of 2011 he finally announced some of the details of the program, to be led by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy. The ten councils each have dozens of members, and are charged with gathering input from the public and business leaders, and creating a plan by November 14. Those plans will be pitted against each other for a pot of $1 billion in grants, incentives, and tax relief from various state agencies. The winners will get more funding, the losers will get less.But other details - like whether funding will be available past the initial term, and who will serve on the board that decides who wins and who loses - have not been released.The Innovation Trail is looking for your feedback about what your regional economic priorities are, and what you want your community to look like once the councils have completed their task.

Western New York economic council: Who's in charge

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
Members of the western New York regional council, with Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy at podium.

The Innovation Trail is taking a look at the members of the governor's regional economic development councils.  Here's what we found.

Methodology

Our reporters brought back short biographies of the folks behind the councils, including campaign contributions in the 2010 gubernatorial election (courtesy of public filings at the State Board of Elections).

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), at our request, retrieved data about the state lobbying expenditures of council members' employers from a database that they created using Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) information.  The also retrieved the party enrollment of council members, where available, from a database that they compiled based on FOIL'ed information (that's accurate as of October of 2010). Bill Mahoney of NYPIRG was instrumental in pulling this information together.

See an error, or want to add more?  Let us know.

And without further ado, here's who's who in Western New York.

Regional Co-Chairs

Satish K. Tripathi is the president of University at Buffalo, the largest school in the SUNY system. Previously he served as provost under former UB President John Simpson. Together they crafted UB 2020, a legislative package looking for cash and more flexibility in a rigid SUNY system in order to better position UB as one of the premier research universities in the east. That measure was repeatedly defeated in Albany, leading Tripathi, almost immediately upon taking office, to scale it back. In public, he eagerly accepted the terms of NY SUNY 2020, a dramatically shrunken version of UB 2020 that will jumpstart the school’s downtown medical campus. Tripathi’s pragmatism in convincing Albany to provide its research universities with tens of millions of dollars in tough economic times may have earned him the stripes necessary to lead one of Governor Cuomo’s regional councils. After all, has was just a candidate for UB's president position at the time of Cuomo’s swearing in.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Total lobbying dollars spent in New York State by UB in 2010: $276,785
  • Registered Independence party member

Howard A. Zemsky is a managing partner at Larkin Development Group. As a real estate magnate, Zemsky has been celebrated around Buffalo for his ability to rehabilitate aging building into functional gems. For example, he spearheaded the transformation of the Larkin Building from an abandoned eyesore to a beacon of best practices. He is as well connected as they come - here’s a snippet of his past work: past president of the  Binational Tourism Alliance (where he was succeeded by fellow council member Duncan Ross), the director of Buffalo Place, a vice chair at Buffalo State College, vice chairman of the HH Richardson Center Corporation, and commissioner of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA).

  • 2010 gubernatorial contributions: $12,500 - Cuomo 
  • Registered Democrat

General Members

Robert Gioia is president of the Oishei Foundation. As head of one of the largest and most generous foundations in western New York, Gioia has been intimately involved in improvements and investments around Buffalo for decades. Gioia shares many connections with his peers on the council, including heading the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) from for the better part of the 1990s. Zemsky, for example, has been a commissioner of the NFTA. Gioia is also credited with helping usher in a $120 million renovation to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. He was also named “Executive of the Year” by the University at Buffalo School of Management.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

David Porter is plant manager of Cummins, Inc. Cummins is one of the largest engine manufacturers in the world. The Fortune 500 company runs an engine plant in Jamestown, N.Y. where Porter coordinates the facility's 1,000 employees. This selection is a nod to the Southern Tier portion of the WNY council, as well as the manufacturing sector. Porter holds an MBA from Harvard.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Unable to determine voter registration

Robert T. Brady is chairman and CEO of Moog. The Harvard connection continues, as Brady also received his MBA from the esteemed university in the mid-1960s. Shortly after, he joined Moog (a manufacturer of precision parts and systems, not the other Moog, which makes synthesizers) in its infancy and has stayed with the company as it’s grown to one of the largest in western New York. Forbes lists his total compensation near $2 million a year from Moog. He also serves are various boards, including National Fuel (the natural gas provider for the area and investor in hydraulic fracking sites in Pennsylvania), from which he’s recently pocketed more than $100,000 a year.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

Connie Vari is executive vice president and COO of Kaleida Health. Vari has a slew of degrees from the University at Buffalo. She’s worked her entire career with Kaleida, one of the area’s largest health care corporations that has forged an increasing number of relationships with her alma mater, including joint construction on the $300 million Global Heart and Vascular Institute in downtown Buffalo.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Total lobbying dollars spent in New York State by Kaleida in 2010: $275,723
  • Unable to determine voter registration

Dr. Rosa Gonzalez is the owner of RGonzalez Consulting, Inc. and is an assistant professor and chair of the Emergency Management Program at Erie Community College. Gonzalez heads her namesake company that, according to its website, specializes in consulting for nuclear energy operations. Her company’s certification as a Minority-Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) on this council is also significant.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Republican

Dr. Raul Vazquez is founder and CEO of Urban Family Practice. P.C. The medical practice run by Vazquez has been recognized for its dedication to the residents of the west side of Buffalo, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. He’s known as an advocate for Buffalo’s sizable Latin American population. According to his CV, Vazquez serves as on the board of HEALTHeLINK, a multi-million dollar venture involving Kaleida Health to digitize medical records. Over the past decade Vazquez has also been a paid spokesman advocating the use of medicines manufactured by large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Merck. In the interest of full disclosure, he’s been a board member at WNED - and a graduate of UB.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Unable to determine voter registration

Jennifer J. Parker is CEO of Jackson Parker Communications, LLC. A graduate of UB Law. The website of Jackson Parker Communications is a blank page with a graphic watermark. Earlier this decade, Parker served as a creative services account executive at UB. Parker is one of the few persons of color on the council. She is also chair of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo advisory council.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Unable to determine voter registration

Pamela R. Henderson is managing partner at Henderson-Woods, LLC. Henderson’s company is a certified women-owned business (MBE/ WBE) and specializes in workforce training, conflict resolution, and concocting labor-management agreements. Former clients include the NFTA and National Grid.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Unable to determine voter registration

Paul Brown is president of the Buffalo Building & Construction Trades. After his appointment to the council, Brown told media he is the body’s only representative from union and labor. He heads the Buffalo Building Trades Council, a coalition of nearly 20 unions that serve roughly 10,000 construction workers regionally. In October 2010, Brown wrote a lengthy endorsement of Cuomo in the Buffalo News that championed the candidate’s promise to assist in the passage of UB 2020.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Unable to determine voter registration

Jeff Belt is the CEO of SolEpoxy. Headquartered in Olean, SolEpoxy is a manufacturer of thermoset, epoxy-based mold compounds and functional coatings. Hailing from Cattaraugus County, Belt is one of the Southern Tier’s only voices on the WNY regional council. According to a 2000 article from ArtVoice, Belt was heavily involved in efforts to build a new Peace Bridge. He received a master’s degree from UB in the late 1980s.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

Brenda W. McDuffie is president & CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, Inc. (BUL). McDuffie has held her position with the Urban League for 13 years. She serves on the board of the Great Lakes Health System (a coalition of medical organizations including UB, ECMC and Kaleida), which is chaired by fellow council member and Oshei Founder President Robert Gioia and Kaleida CEO James Kaskie. According to a biography published on the BUL’s website, “McDuffie serves on several boards including Buffalo State College, the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau and is on the Trustee Council for Kaleida Health Systems. She is current secretary for the Independent Health Association and is a recent past President of Leadership Buffalo.” She’s a UB graduate.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

Aaron Bartley is executive director of PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) Buffalo. Bartley is one of Buffalo’s most celebrated community leaders. He has dedicated the efforts to his flagship organization to the city’s west side, a culturally-rich neighborhood wrought with poverty and poor housing stock. A graduate of Harvard Law, Bartley used his training to venture into the world of public policy in order to procure funding for various programs in job training, housing rehab and environmentally-conscious projects. He is almost universally well-respected in a city with sharp political divisions. Bartley worked with former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt to secure funding for a handful of projects. Hoyt now serves in a high level position with Empire State Development (ESD), the largest economic development agency in the state. ESD will likely play a large role in coordinating the council’s recommendations.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

John R. Koelmel is president and CEO of First Niagara Financial Group, Inc. Koelmel’s First Niagara Bank calls the Larkin Building home, a rehab project that’s brought esteem to council co-chair Howard Zemsky. Recently, First Niagara bought the western New York branches of HSBC Bank. Even before that, First Niagara has grown to one of the country’s largest banks with more than $30 billion in assets after a series of high profile acquisitions over the past few years. He also serves on the board of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and Kaleida Health. It’s worth noting that Koelmel has appeared on CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Kramer.

  • 2010 gubernatorial contributions: $2,000 - Cuomo
  • No party affiliation

Dr. Charles Edmondson is president of Alfred University. Edmonson has served as president of Alfred, a 2,000 student private school in Allegheny County, for more than a decade. The school is known for its engineering and arts programs. 

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Total lobbying dollars spent in New York State by Alfred University in 2010:$64,541
  • Registered Democrat

Thomas A. Kucharski is president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. Kucharski has helmed the BNE since the turn of the century. In that decade, he has been credited with beefing up a chamber of commerce-type organization. By the BNE’s calculation, the outfit has attracted nearly $4 billion in investment to the region at created or retained nearly 40,000 jobs. Kucharski has strong ties in local government and business. For instance, he has served as director of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and on Economic Development Transition Team after Chris Collins was elected Erie County Executive in 2007. A UB graduate.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

Andrew J. Rudnick is president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP). Rudnick has held his current position at BNP since its founding in 1993. He is one most of the most recognizable personalities in economic development in the region, and is arguably one of the most influential economic figures in upstate New York. His Rolodex has no boundaries and was an obvious choice for the WNY regional council. Rudnick also has a sharp fashion sense and is well known for his employment of the bow tie as an accessory. Yet another graduate of Harvard on the council.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Total lobbying dollars spent in New York State by BNP in 2010: $89,723
  • No party affiliation

Deanna Alterio Brennen is president and CEO of Niagara USA Chamber. Brennan is one of the few figures on the council calling Niagara County home. As the head of the chamber, she’s involved in trying to re-build the depressed county’s economic base while maintaining its current level of manufacturing.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat

Colleen C. DiPirro is president  and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. As CEO of the Amherst Chamber, DiPirro has worked with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership to coordinate efforts to establish communication and participation among area economic development organizations. She is also a former district coordinator for the Erie County Legislature. A graduate of Alfred University.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Republican

Duncan Ross is president of  Arrowhead Spring Vineyards. One of the most recognizable local wine brands, Arrowhead has emerged as the epitome of the rise of the Niagara Escarpment, a grape growing region that’s infused the beleaguered Niagara County with tourists and tax dollars. In 2008, Ross replaced council co-chair Howard Zemsky as the president of the Binational Tourism Alliance, an advocacy group focusing on raising the region’s profile to attract visitors. Ross has run a small technology consulting firm in Lockport for more than 15 years. It’s in this author’s humble opinion that the vineyard’s 2009 Riesling was delicious, especially paired with steamed perch.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Republican

Elected Officials

The regional council also includes a number of local elected officials. The “electeds” serve in an ex-officio capacity and are considered non-voting members of the council.

They are:

Erie County Executive Chris Collins. Collins (in)famously pledges to run government like a business. He won handily in 2007 on a platform of smaller county government, fewer taxes, and the quasi-religious business gospel of Six Sigma, which preaches efficiency. Before his election, Collins successfully invested in manufacturing companies and is an overall private sector maven. While he enthusiastically supported the Carl  Paladino campaign for governor in 2010, Collins has had kind words for Governor Cuomo. Collins faces a bruising re-election bid in 2011 against personal rival (Democratic) Mark Poloncarz.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Republican*

Chair of Niagara County Legislature William Ross. Ross served as a teacher, coach and administrator in the Niagara Wheatfield School District for nearly 50 years. He is currently in his seventh term as an Erie County legislator, as well as a board member of Niagara County Community College. A Buffalo State alum.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Conservative*

Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards. As you may remember, Edwards ended up as the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino in 2010, but he was also nominated for the lieutenant governor post for Rick Lazio's failed bid. He hails from Jamestown, N.Y. and worked as a dairy farmer prior to his election in 2005.  

  • 2010 gubernatorial contributions: $3,059.94 - own campaign for lieutenant governor
  • Registered Republican*

Chair of Cattaraugus County Legislature Michael O’Brien. A Republican in this second term at the post. He faces re-election in 2011, along with all other 20 legislators in Cattaraugus County.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Republican*

Chair of Allegany County Legislature Curtis Crandall.  Crandall lives in tiny Caneadea and is a registered Republican.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Republican*

Mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown. Brown is a strong and vocal supporter of Cuomo. A former state legislator and Buffalo City Councilman, Brown is in his second term as mayor of New York’s second biggest city. A Buffalo State grad.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat*

Mayor of Niagara Falls Paul Dyster. Dyster is currently serving his first term as mayor of Niagara Falls. He’s running for re-election in 2011 as a Democrat. He entered politics first in 2000 as an appointee to a council seat. A UB grad.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat*

Mayor of Jamestown Samuel Teresi. When the governor toured the state delivering different versions of his “State of the State” speech earlier this year, Teresi was beaming when Cuomo chose Jamestown as his the stop. Teresi was also named to a task force by Cuomo to examine Medicaid reforms and review ways to slash the number of state-imposed mandates. A UB grad. Elected as a Democrat three times, Teresi first sought the post in 1999. He has spent his entire career in Jamestown in economic development and government.

  • 2010 gubernatorial campaign contributions: $0
  • Registered Democrat*

For the membership of the other councils in the Innovation Trail's coverage area, check here.

*Data retrieved from open sources by Innovation Trail, not NYPIRG database

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