By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Andrew Cuomo will not be outdone or outmaneuvered, that is for sure. As Governor of the State of New York, Cuomo has stood astride State government in a manner not seen since Nelson Rockefeller back in the 1960s. He has dominated every policy at the state level and has even tried to influence the political landscape in localities, especially New York City. For him politics is a win at any cost game. He does not take kindly to defeat nor to criticism of any kind. Humility is not part of his DNA although he tries mightily to conceal an arrogance that traces back to his father’s campaigns for Governor over 30 years ago.
In 1982 he was the hard edged and hard charging manager of Mario Cuomo’s political operations. Although he never admitted to it, he is credited with having been the inspiration behind the slanderous attacks on his father’s rival for governor, namely Ed Koch. “Vote for Cuomo not the Homo” signs appeared throughout the conservative boroughs of Queens and Staten Island days before the Democratic Primary for Governor. Mario Cuomo won that campaign and went on to distinguish himself as a progressive governor for twelve years. Ed Koch continued as mayor until he was defeated in 1989 by David Dinkins.
Andrew Cuomo pursued his own political career by joining the Bill Clinton administration. In 2002 he took a premature shot at running for governor but flamed out. He made a comeback four years later and was elected attorney general, and then governor in 2010 after the Eliot Spitzer debacle.
During his time in office Cuomo seems to relish fights with most anyone who seems to be in his way. Of late his favorite targets are Mayor de Blasio and now the state legislature. Politicos fighting for primacy in government is nothing new. Governors clashing with mayors is as common as cats and dogs. What makes the Cuomo actions noteworthy is the way he has engaged his political feuds imperils the institutions and long held traditions of our state government.
Several years ago he established an “independent” commission to investigate corruption in government. He treated that body like his own personal battering ram against his foes. However when that commission started looking too closely at the activities of his own administration he abruptly shut it down. Several years later a number of his closest political associates were indicted by a federal prosecutor and are now awaiting trial for bribery and corruption.
Last year the governor approved the creation of another state commission to establish salary levels for the legislature. This was intended to be a non-political entity whose sole mission was to determine an appropriate amount of compensation for the members of the Assembly and Senate who have not had an increase in 18 years. When the legislature failed to agree to other reforms proposed by the governor, Cuomo instructed his commission appointees to block any increase in salary. Some might call this political hardball, others might call it blackmail. But the result is that the legislature will need to wait at least another two years before any adjustment to their pay may be implemented.
Last week the governor decided to turn the State Constitution and 200 years of tradition on its head by refusing to present his State of the State Address directly to the legislature on the first day of session as his predecessors have unfailingly done. Instead he opted to bypass the lawmakers and deliver a series of speeches around the state, but not to a joint session of the Senate and Assembly. There is both hubris and pettiness to the governor’s behavior.
Perhaps Mr. Cuomo needs to be reminded that he is the temporary custodian of the office of governor and not sovereign, and his executive branch is co-equal with the legislature and judiciary. Government agencies do not exist for the purpose of advancing his own political ambitions. Surely he learned that in his constitutional law classes years ago. But it sure seems as though he would benefit by a refresher course.