Cuomo’s $1.5B Upstate ‘Hunger Games’ Underway

ALBANY (AP) -

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $1.5 billion upstate economic development competition started Thursday, pitting upstate regions against each other in a battle, dubbed Cuomo’s “Hunger Games,” for one of three $500 million prizes.

Officials in the seven eligible regions have until Oct. 5 to submit their proposals for how they’d use the money to improve the local economy.

“Hunger Games” seems to be Cuomo’s nature. From the bruising ball games he once played with his dad to his bare-knuckle approach to politics, the governor relishes competition. Making others compete? Even better.

Cuomo has launched a $1 million business innovation competition in Buffalo and a $20 million clean-energy contest in the Southern Tier. He has held annual kayak races in the Adirondacks and announced a competition to redesign LaGuardia Airport.

“I believe in competition,” Cuomo said. “If I just gave you the money, you wouldn’t do all the hard things you have to do to get the money. The competition amongst yourselves brings up the performance of everybody.”

But to some lawmakers and mayors, it is a cut-throat competition.

“Do I want to take money from the city of Rochester that would benefit them? No,” said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. “If central New York wins and the Finger Lakes loses, that doesn’t give me any pleasure.”

However, Cuomo’s business allies have praised the contest.

“I call it ‘Cuomonomics,’” said Danny Wegman, CEO of Rochester-based Wegmans Food Markets. “Without competition we would not have consensus. This is not a small change. It is a game-changer.”