SARANAC LAKE - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a surprise visit to the Enterprise offices Friday where he talked about the need to create an anchor event that will draw tourists to Saranac Lake, among other things.
Cuomo said he's in the area for the next few days to get some rest and relaxation and to work on his State of the State address, which he'll deliver on Jan. 9. He said his daughters were skiing at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington today, and that his brother, ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo, had joined him on the trip.
"We're vacationing," he said. "I have my girls with me. I dropped them off at Whiteface this morning. I just came by to look around, say hello and see what's going on.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo smiles during an interview with an Enterprise reporter at the newspaper’s offices Friday in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"I did this last year too. I have the kids with me, and I get a few hours where I can actually do some work on the State of the State. It's good for me to get out of Albany and clear my head a little bit, take a deep breath and get a new perspective."
The governor stepped out of a black sport utility vehicle in front of the newspaper's Broadway offices just after 11 a.m. Wearing a black ski jacket and a black and red-checked flannel shirt, he walked to the Enterprise front desk and talked for a few minutes with advertising representative Carol Swirsky.
"I just happened to be standing there when he came in," Swirsky said. "It was exciting. He said he wanted to know how things were going here, and how business was in the town and the village. He talked about how he thought resources should be allocated to promote an anchor event in Saranac Lake, independent of Lake Placid anchor events like Ironman, to draw in more tourists."
An Enterprise reporter invited Cuomo to the newsroom, offered him a cup of coffee, which he accepted, and sat down with him for a 30-minute interview that focused on tourism promotion, hydrofracking, the state's property tax cap and several other topics.
Cuomo said one of the things his State of the State address will focus on is "better strategic marketing of the assets" of upstate New York.
"I just think we haven't told the story. We haven't done that well enough especially in some parts of upstate New York," Cuomo said. "Here, I'm a big believer but you have to get people here. There have to be events that attract people here, not just Lake Placid events and while people are in Placid they come by (Saranac Lake). What can we do in Saranac (Lake) for Saranac (Lake)? What do you have in particular that you can market and sell?
"You have Winter Carnival. That is an event. It attracts people. It has a tradition. It has a following. Great, it works for you. What events can you do like that, that you can develop using some creativity. Take an idea and go for it."
Asked what role the state can play, Cuomo suggested a regional approach to funding tourism like the one he's brought through the state's regional economic development councils rather than having individual counties compete against each other.
"You have to make a commitment of resources and marketing," Cuomo said. "Then there's the creativity. What can you do here that is fun, and will attract people and can start a tradition that people aren't doing anywhere else?"
"Someone came up with the idea of a Winter Carnival here. Someone said, 'Let's make ice castles and have snowman building competitions.' And somebody said to them, when they first said that, 'You have to be kidding me, right.' I know we can do it. We just need that kind of spark."
Cuomo didn't give any indication that he'd be talking about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in his State of the State speech. He repeated his prior statements that a decision on allowing the controversial gas-drilling process, which has been banned in New York since a study of its potential impacts began in 2008, will be based on science.
"It's an emotional issue," he said. "I understand the feelings, but let's get the information and the facts, and then let's talk about facts and data rather than just what you heard, what they said in the movies or an article you read in the newspaper, with all due respect. That's what we've been doing very methodically."
A review of potential health implications of fracking is being performed now as part of the overall environmental review, Cuomo said.
"People want an answer but what's more important is that it's done thoroughly, because I want to be able to say to the people of the state, whatever the decision is, we looked at all the facts. Some people have said we've over-analyzed it, but I'd rather over analyze than under-analyze."
Some local governments and schools are struggling to keep their budgets within the state's 2 percent property tax cap. When asked about it, Cuomo was quick to point out that it's a benchmark, not a hard cap.
"It is not a limit. It's nothing. It's whatever you want it to be," he said. "You want to raise your taxes 10 percent, God bless you.
"You want to exceed it, exceed it, but people deserve an explanation that says, 'To live within two percent I would have to do X. Here's the choice: We don't buy a new truck. We keep old busses. I don't add a new wing on the building. We cut teaching positions. We ask the principal to take a (pay)cut. We say to the union we need concessions. We need to merge school districts. We have to talk about consolidating towns. This is all the conversation. The conversation can't just be, I need more money and you have to pay."
Cuomo has been a frequent visitor to the Saranac Lake area and the Adirondacks both before and since he took office. Last year, he took his daughters skiing at Whiteface in March, returned in April for a shopping and dining trip with his girlfriend, Food Network host Sandra Lee, then Cuomo visited areas hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene in Essex County in August and September. He said Friday he planned to visit the Keene area to survey the repair work that's been done since Irene.
In August of this year, Cuomo came to Lake Placid to announce the state's plan to purchase the former Finch, Pruyn and Co. timberlands from the Nature Conservancy. He followed that up with a visit to one of the Finch tracts, Boreas Ponds near Newcomb, in early September.
Asked Friday why he continues to return to the Adirondacks so often, Cuomo said, "It's everything.
"It's the air, the trees, the clouds, the people, the energy, the ambiance, the memories, it's the ride up. It's the quiet. There's a stillness. It's pervasive quiet that you can find, which you don't get in Albany or in Westchester, where I live."
Cuomo talked fondly of fishing trips in the Adirondacks with his brother when they were younger.
"It's that tradition. It's part of what we do as a family. I want my daughters to understand that tradition. I want them to feel it and love it the same way I do."