Renters in New York have had good reason to be skeptical of anything that gets said by Andrew Cuomo.
Last year, as corruption scandals erupted around him involving two house leaders, he only chirped briefly about ethics reform but didn’t elaborate on what this meant he would do. Additionally, as rent regulations were up for renewal, he implied this was a job for the two chambers, rather than the state’s top elected official, to handle, and acted as if simply passing them as they were was being pro-tenant. He changed his tune a couple of times, at first saying there was too much chaos in Albany for him to focus on the rent laws, then later said he would strengthen them. Ultimately, the laws were slightly strengthened in a legislative package dubbed the “Big Ugly” by tenant advocates.
But in this New Year, New Yorkers got to see a more compassionate side to the governor in his State of the State address. Along with calling for long-awaited ethics reforms in the state capitol, including closure of the LLC Loophole, Cuomo discussed the importance of things like paid family leave and spending time with loved ones before it’s too late.
He recalled how when his father Mario’s health was declining before his death a year ago, the “indignity of his bodily failures” was difficult for his father to handle. Cuomo said he kept trying to motivate him by giving him reasons he was needed, but ultimately the younger Cuomo chose not to take more time off to spend with his father during that period.
“It’s a mistake I blame myself for every day,” said Cuomo, before making a case for passing family leave. “A lot of people don’t have a choice” on taking time off, he added.
He also discussed his girlfriend Sandra Lee’s struggle with breast cancer, before proposing $90 million in “aggressive” screenings, longer hours for clinics, more mobile clinics and other tools aimed at breast cancer prevention and detection.
He then went on to propose tax cuts for small businesses, and defended $15 as an appropriate minimum wage, saying inflation hasn’t caught up to what a minimum salary used to be able to buy. He proposed more use of solar and an elimination of coal in New York by 2020.
He also argued that the best social program of all was a job, saying, “We are quicker to find a 16-year-old a jail cell than a job interview.” He then said there needed to be more early intervention for at-risk youths. “It starts in the classroom,” the pro-charter pol said, adding that the focus should be on poorer communities. “We must find alternatives to the street corner.”
On the growing problem of homelessness, he proposed $20 billion over five years to combat the issue.
“This is New York and we should not allow people to dwell in the gutter like garbage,” he said. The current system he derided as “unacceptable,” due to appalling conditions in some shelters and said City Comptroller Scott Stringer would be in charge of a review and inspections.
Cuomo still managed to demonstrate that he was a tough guy as needed when he effectively shut down an Assembly member who was heckling him by raising his already booming voice to drown him out.
When told “You are wrong!” along with other comments on financial issues that couldn’t be heard on the live stream of the event, Cuomo continued, “We are New Yorkers first and we are going to kick the extremists to the side. Just because you yell it doesn’t mean that you’re right and just because you stand doesn’t mean you’re correct.”
All in all, impressive lip service, though we don’t think the address was perfect.
For one thing, we don’t agree with his outlandish statement on how New York stands “stronger than at any point in recent history.” How does that even make sense considering the two corruption trials last year, resulting in convictions that the governor barely acknowledged, other than to say 2015 was an “ugly” year? This omission may have been an attempt to deflect attention from his own benefitting from the LLC Loophole. But if that’s the case, omit the bragging, too.
Additionally, as has been widely reported since last week, the proposals have also included cuts to CUNY and Medicaid. Interestingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t bashed the plans. In an official statement, de Blasio simply said both the city and state have an interest in “preserving the quality of our public higher education and our Medicaid systems.”
On the mayor’s measured response, it may be that he’s trying to start 2016 off right by choosing his battles with his old adversary Cuomo. This, we believe, is the right thing to do and we hope this new softer side of the governor will extend to de Blasio, whom Cuomo has so far never missed an opportunity to provoke. If the governor needs some convincing on why leaving the mayor alone already is the right thing to do, we’d like to point out that cleaning up Albany and restoring its credibility as a place for leadership starts with him.
At any rate so far we’ve only heard talk. Time will tell as to whether this new conscience of the governor’s will stick around.