News10NBC Investigates: NYS governor no longer recused from Seneca Nation compact negotiations

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It appears a casino in Monroe County is off-the-table as negotiations between the State of New York and the Seneca Nation continue on a new compact.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who had previously recused herself, is now involved in the negotiations after her husband retired from a company that might have posed a conflict of interest.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Governor tells News10NBC:

“On August 15, Governor Hochul’s recusal memo was updated to reflect that she does not have a direct or indirect financial interest that could lead to a conflict of interest. The Governor is no longer recused from negotiations with the Seneca Nation.  Administration staff is working with the Seneca Nation of Indians to make sure we have an agreement that is fair, serves the interests of all parties, and addresses the needs of key stakeholders and we look forward to continuing to work toward an agreement.”

The previous negotiations sparked outrage among local leaders when it was discovered a team appointed by the Governor had been quietly negotiating plans for a casino in downtown Rochester without consulting any local leaders. 

It appears now the negotiations have moved further west. It is believed at this point, by the Rochester delegation of NYS lawmakers, that a casino in Rochester is off-the-table. 

“I think there’s a lot of room for negotiation in other places. We have some of the lowest revenue sharing in the country. I think there’s room to maneuver, and I think the governor’s more recent involvement —now that she’s been un-recused — will help move these conversations forward in a more productive way,” says Assembly member Jen Lunsford. 

NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was in Rochester on Wednesday and discussed the negotiations with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke. 

Jennifer Lewke, News10NBC: “How active will you be in these discussions?”

Speaker Heastie, NYS Assembly: “I do believe the Senecas deserve a fair deal, but I also want to make sure that the local community is okay and happy. I am not directly involved in the negotiations. I know the executive has been in communication with the area members. It’s really whatever makes them happy, I’m okay with.” 

Jennifer Lewke: “I think there was a lot of outrage about sort of how it was handled before this. All of the members locally told us they had no idea what was going on. I think when people hear that, they say, ‘I don’t want that to be how business is run in Albany.’ Does that bother you — how this all played out?

Speaker Heastie: “I think sometimes when you do have sensitive negotiations, you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. But I do think something like this, you can’t just drop things on a community.”