University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and Assemblyman Joe Morelle are probably sitting back and saying, “I told you so.”
The pair was concerned about SUNY Polytechnic wielding too much power over the Rochester photonics initiative. Yes, it’s a federal program, but the state is kicking in $250 million and is a major stakeholder. Seligman and Morelle unsuccessfully fought SUNY Polytechnic and its powerful leader, Alain Kaloyeros, over where the headquarters would be located. The governor clearly sided with Kaloyeros, who enlisted Bob Duffy’s help in the fight. ( I explained the dynamic of this power struggle here, one that was mischaracterized by local media as local leaders infighting. It was always Rochester v. Albany.) The dispute may have cost Seligman his co-chairmanship of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council.
Now there are new questions about whether SUNY Polytechnic should control photonics.
That’s because SUNY Polytechnic may have done shady things in its stewardship of the Buffalo Billion project. The program is under federal investigation for bid-rigging and conflicts of interest among lobbyists and others involved in the project. SUNY Polytechnic used nonprofits to issue contracts and these contracts were not open to public scrutiny. For months, reporters had been questioning the total lack of transparency involved in Buffalo Billion.
I asked the governor last week if Kaloyeros and SUNY Polytechnic should remain in charge. He said there’s no proof anyone did anything wrong. But Danny Wegman said the investigation is slowing things down.
There’s a simple solution. Don’t allow SUNY Polytechnic to run photonics, or at least allow the entity to structure deals in the same manner. Even if the probe finds nothing criminal, it’s clear the state erred in the way it manages some of these large economic development contracts. Too much power is in the hands of too few people, who operate behind closed doors. Seligman, Morelle and other local leaders should renew their call for more local control. They should also demand more transparency moving forward.