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Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to local press at Clarkson University Tuesday. Photo: David Sommerstein.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to local press at Clarkson University Tuesday. Photo: David Sommerstein.

For locals, Cuomo's presence in Potsdam is what matters

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Governor Cuomo broke little new ground during a stop in Potsdam yesterday. In a speech at Clarkson University, he revisited the themes of his State of the State message from last month, often word for word.

But what mattered most to local leaders is that he was there.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Clarkson employees, students, and local leaders made up most of the audience of a couple hundred people yesterday morning. Linda Petroccione, an IT programmer at Clarkson, says she came just to see what her Governor is like.

"He seems like a down to earth person and seems honest. That's sort of oxymoron in politics but he gives me that feeling."

Gov. Cuomo speaks at Clarkson Tuesday. Photo: David Sommerstein.
Gov. Cuomo speaks at Clarkson Tuesday. Photo: David Sommerstein.
Petroccione's colleague Dave Slater is a recent arrival from Pennsylvania. He wanted Cuomo to talk more about the North Country's schools, many of which say they face bankruptcy.

"The school budgets and the potential disaster that they seem to be getting set up for, so I want to see if any of that's going to get addressed."

In other parts of New York, surrogates, like Deputy Secretary of State and Gouverneur native Dede Scozzafava, have delivered regional State of the State speeches, like the one the governor delivered yesterday. Cuomo's been criticized for that. He said it was the North Country's success in regional economic development competitions, and innovation at Clarkson, in particular, that drew him north.

"You're creating a source of energy so I wanted to come up and see for myself, because I've been hearing for so long about all the great things that are going on at Clarkson."

People looking for more details to Cuomo's agenda didn't get them here. Cuomo ran through almost the same Powerpoint presentation he used at last month's State of the State and budget addresses in Albany.

It was interesting to see which items got applause. Reforming workers compensation and unemployment insurance was a big line. So was the plan to build three casinos upstate – St. Lawrence County wants one to be here.

Two longtime town supervisors, Potsdam's Marie Regan and Brasher's Jim Dawson, came to see Governor Cuomo. Photo: David Sommerstein.
Two longtime town supervisors, Potsdam's Marie Regan and Brasher's Jim Dawson, came to see Governor Cuomo. Photo: David Sommerstein.
The package of gender equity and reproductive rights bills known as the Women's Equality Act got cheers. As did $30 billion to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy.

But perhaps the biggest applause line came not from Cuomo, but from the Clayton-raised, Clarkson educated entrepreneur who introduced him, Matt Turcotte.

"I was born in the North Country. I went to school in the North Country, and I want to stay in the North Country because I know this is a place where business can grow and thrive."

Cuomo pivoted off Turcotte to tout his "Innovation Hot Spots" plan for actual buildings that are tax-free zones to draw more venture capital upstate. He said the state would provide "hot spots" with support services, "lawyers and accountants to help you grow that business. Let's invest in Matthew. Let's invest in those young entrepreneurs, let's keep them here, let's grow that state economy. That's what Innovation Hot Spots is all about."

Again, many had the North Country's struggling schools on their minds. Many districts say Cuomo's budget isn't enough to help avoid insolvency. Speaking with the press, Cuomo defended his school budget increases of 8 percent over two years.

"Government is strapped. But so are individual taxpayers and homeowners. I understand schools are saying it's not enough. But it's a lot of money."

Cuomo said the budget numbers are likely not final. But asked if holding the line was a way of making schools merge or consolidate, he said not necessarily, "but I do encourage school districts to find a way to save money. And if consolidation is an option that works for a school district, God bless."

There was a nugget of new news. Cuomo said he would sign a bill if the legislature allowed St. Lawrence County to raise its sales tax by one percent.

Local leaders said there didn't have to be anything new. Ogdensburg Mayor Bill Nelson, a Republican, said this governor gets that Upstate New York's economy matters.

"He realizes that you can have a strong New York City, which is growing, and seeing that upstate economy is not growing like it should. He realizes that the rising tide isn't raising all boats."

Labor leader and Gouverneur mayor Ron McDougall said it's Cuomo's mere presence that matters: "The main point today is he was here. He was here in northern New York and I certainly appreciate that."

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