New York State governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was resigning from office in August of 2021 and to that point, negotiations were not progressing toward a new deal with the Buffalo Bills. By the end of the year, both the new governor and the Bills were confident a deal would get done in short order. It was likely agreed to weeks or even months earlier, but the deal was announced in late March. It was a quick turnaround from crickets to construction, and one that wouldn’t have happened under Cuomo, per Tim Graham of The Athletic.
Graham has spoken with people from both the public and private sides of the coin, who painted Cuomo in a negative light regarding the negotiations, saying he had a “stubborn, entrenched attitude” regarding the deal. Cuomo was insistent on not being the politician that gift-wrapped hundreds of millions in public money to the Bills. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have eventually done it, but he would have played hardball.
“My sources are convinced Cuomo was going to insist the Pegulas threaten to move, thereby forcing them to be the bad guys, before engaging in serious talks. Why? Well, because nobody pushes Andrew Cuomo around!” wrote Graham.
Painting the Pegulas as greedy billionaires wouldn’t have been hard for Cuomo, but Graham’s reporting has also said that a group of stakeholders known as the Stadium Working Group never met as planned following the purchase of the team by the Pegulas. There was no sense of urgency from the state and Cuomo was freezing out Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. It was the change to governor Kathy Hochul that ultimately saved the project from devolving into a nasty public battle.
“Hochul’s willingness to negotiate—and not only work with Poloncarz, but also to lean on him—made all the difference in locking up the Bills for next 30 years, albeit with $850 million in public funding,” said Graham Wednesday.
The Bills now have an “ironclad” lease and will have a new stadium across the street, but what always felt like a certainty under Hochul, a Western New York native (whose husband happens to work for the concessions provider for the current stadium), was certainly far from a touchdown under the former governor.