Thursday, June 11, 2009

Even more turmoil at ESDC: the Chairman resigns, and a Republican businessman from Rochester will be in charge

Last week, New York City-based Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) CEO Marisa Lago resigned, at least in part because of a clash with Buffalo-based ESDC Chairman Bob Wilmers, heads M&T Bank.

Now Wilmers has resigned from the unpaid post, after one year in the job. In a statement released by Gov. David Paterson's office, Wilmers said, “The ongoing crisis in the financial sector and in the overall economy has imposed a burden of work that I did not anticipate, and I consequently feel obliged to resign the chairmanship.”

That could also mean: I'm giving up on a (take your pick) thankless job/dysfunctional agency/dysfunctional state government. Or, as Elizabeth Benjamin wonders in the Daily Politics, Is There Something In The Water At ESDC?

The Buffalo News reported:
The agency has seen its share of infighting, sources have said in recent months, with tension between the various upstate and downstate offices of the department. A source said recently that Wilmers also has expressed frustration with the musical chairs among high-ranking officials in the governor's office over the past year -- making it difficult for the agency to get adequate attention at the Capitol.

AY implications

It's unlikely that Atlantic Yards, which still must be a hot potato for the ESDC, had anything to do with Wilmers's decision. However, the turmoil at the agency doesn't exactly inspire confidence that any ESDC leader can speak with authority and understanding about the project.

It all makes the role of a volunteer in helping supervise the project that much more important.

Mullen steps up

So, who'll be in charge? ESDC Upstate President Dennis M. Mullen, who's been based in Rochester. After Lago's departure, Mullen was set to become President and CEO of the ESDC; now he'll be combined Chairman and CEO, though that requires legislative approval. (There hasn't been a Downstate President since Avi Schick left in January, after a long goodbye.)

Mullen, then President and CEO of the Greater Rochester Enterprise, a regional economic development organization supported by both private and public sector leaders, was named ESDC Upstate President last August, the same time Lago was appointed.

A gubernatorial press release at the time noted that, at GRE, Mullen had focused on marketing Rochester’s core assets: alternative energy, biotechnology, food and beverage manufacturing and optics.

He previously served a decade as the chairman, president and CEO of Birds Eye Foods and headed three other food enterprises. 

His approximately $16,000 in state political contributions in the past two years have been focused on the Rochester area and all but one (a $1000 contribution) have gone to Republicans. 

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