Bob Duffy says he just wanted to come home.
Rochester's former mayor and New York's former lieutenant governor is back in the Flower City, heading up the Rochester Business Alliance. Rumors of a rift with Governor Andrew Cuomo are off-target, Duffy says; he loved being New York's No. 2. But Rochester beckoned.
"I loved the job, and I loved my job as mayor of Rochester," he says. "But the big difference was at the end of the day, I could go home. As lieutenant governor, I could be in Albany, New York City, or somewhere else."
Duffy landing at the RBA is hardly a surprise; rumors of his interest in the job began swirling about a year ago. His predecessor, Sandra Parker — who helped redefine and sharpen the role of the RBA during her tenure — had been fairly candid about her support for Duffy as her replacement.
"I'm going to listen and I'm going to learn," Duffy says. "I want to get to know the [RBA] board members, and most importantly, our customers, some 2,000 businesses in a nine-county region."
In one of his first official appearances in his new job, Duffy will kick off the Tuesday Topics winter series at the Central Library on Tuesday, January 13. The series, which is organized by the Friends and Foundation of the Rochester Public Library, is held at the Central Library, 115 South Avenue, from 12:12 p.m. to 12:52 p.m.
Duffy, who is the event's guest speaker, will talk about his time in Albany and his economic outlook for New York State and the Rochester region.
The economic outlook for Rochester is favorable, he says.
"Since 2008, we went through a difficult recession, but this community has done much better than most," Duffy says.
He says that much of the credit for that stability should go to a group of people who often go unrecognized: former Kodak employees.
"We tended to focus on who has left and the downsizing, but most of the people who have left — engineers, scientists, researchers, and highly skilled manufacturing folks — have really gone out and kept this economy going," he says. "Everywhere I would go [as lieutenant governor], I would find these startup businesses, and inevitably from the top right through the entire organization were former Kodak employees who brought their skills to these new situations."
Being a college town has helped Rochester, too, he says, because it assures a steady pool of talent for the region.
A third factor that will contribute to the area's economic future, Duffy says, is the Eastman Business Park. The site is often described as an "innovative ecosystem" where facilities are available for pioneering work in films, coatings, imaging, and chemical technologies.
Duffy says that the park — possibly the largest industrial park of its kind in the country — is a major asset to the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
He says that he understands the sensitivity about all of the attention and investment that Cuomo has directed to Buffalo, but he expects that the governor will pay more attention to Rochester in his second term.
"He has put a lot of money into the Buffalo area, a lot of investment and capital, though not quite $1 billion, and he has changed the psyche and morale for that entire community," Duffy says. "His next step will be looking at what worked and what didn't and probably Rochester is next in line."
But Duffy says that Rochester's future is also hugely dependent on improving the performance of the city school district. As mayor, Duffy was the major force pushing for mayoral control of city schools.
Lovely Warren, Rochester's current mayor, will have to decide for herself whether mayoral control is right for Rochester, Duffy says.
"It's a very heavy lift, and it certainly is not without its controversy," he says. "The thing we have to ask ourselves is, 'Have things improved so that we're seeing the...results we want?' And I don't think anybody would tell you yes. I don't think anyone from the superintendent to the school board would tell you that."