July 4, 2012

Senator DeFrancisco: I'm not saying I told you so (honest)

Google 'Destiny USA' and there are around 47,000,000 results.  Many of them will be from my hometown newspaper, the Post-Standard, and if you were to take the time to read them you'd get a pretty good sense of the economic development conversation here in Syracuse over the past couple of decades. Here's a good start if you want the short story.

Destiny USA, or what will officially become Destiny USA in August of this year, is a mall.  A really big regional mall, but certainly nothing like it could have been, or should have been, if we had gotten what we were promised over the years. It's the poster child for a host of competing issues:
  • how to repurpose and transform 'unusable' land -- an oil tank farm;
  • how to manipulate the state and local economic development systems to get tax breaks that will outlive most of the companies that helped build the mall;
  • how to manage public relations campaigns and public opinion;
  • how governments and private businesses negotiate deals;
  • and how one man's dreams will almost certainly not live up to expectations.
When all is said and done, our local economy will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue, but will not receive more millions of dollars in property taxes.  In NY, with our 2% tax cap, this is likely to hurt.

But funny thing is, there apparently are only two people who knew -- absolutely knew-- that this was going to happen. Presumably, one of them is Robert Congel, the developer, who has some great lawyers and got a really good deal, all along the way.

The other is State Senator John DeFrancisco, who represents part of (but not my part of) Onondaga County.

DeFrancisco, the 'pit bull' of the NY Senate, had a lengthy column published this past Sunday's paper in which he made it clear he knew exactly what would happen, that Congel would declare his building done at the end of the phase 1 expansion, and that would be that: he'd get a 30 year property tax exemption.

His Pit Bullness noted that he certainly was not saying "I told you so" but rather was warning us about the potential for other bad acts to happen if we didn't listen to him. Not only did  we not listen to him all these years, which he referred to "this sad part of Central New York's history" and "this long sad journey," but it's worse than that:
"(he was) uniformly criticized by the media"
"...if I said it once, I said it a hundreds of times..."
"I was repeatedly vilified in the media..."
"Again I was criticized for being a naysayer..."
"..I was vilified once again..."
"..(I) was again criticized for being an obstructionist."
But he's not saying I told you so, no siree.  He's protecting us from ourselves, and blaming the media for pushing the original mall and the expansion. That's right, it's the media's fault. Admittedly, he didn't spare the various politicians who were involved over the years, who he said were "bowled over with a vision, and a hope, and a dream" and who didn't pay attention to the deal, but they almost couldn't help being caught up in the "media frenzy that was created for this project."

So how does a giant mall in Syracuse fit into the larger picture?  How does our pit bull Senator compare with those on the national scene?  

Well, many folks believe that most elected officials don't pay attention to what their constituents (or the country or the state) want or need, but instead only listen to someone else's dream and hope and vision - a PAC, the party leadership, or whomever.

And certainly at the national level and also increasingly in state contests as well, we're bombarded with direct ads, issues ads, junk mail, and non-stop media bombardment trying to push us in one direction or another, so that's pretty familiar to us as well.

Of course, on the other hand, we're also very familiar with politicians who are extremely adept at chest-thumping and pointing the thumb's up in their own direction, and equally adept at casting blame in the other direction. 

So in that respect as well, I guess our pit bull is just like all the other dogs in the pound.

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