Opinion: What’s on the governor’s plate?

The winning design

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

There was an election last week. Cuomo lost.

Being governor of New York State with its nearly 20 million population and world important venues is a really big job. To govern successfully requires great intelligence, leadership skills and a focus on what matters most.

Andrew Cuomo has had this job for the past nine years. But one must wonder if he momentarily lost his attention on what is really important. Of all his significant policy initiatives during his first two terms, Cuomo’s preoccupation with issuing new license plates for motorists is a head scratcher. Of course, the change is estimated to raise upwards of $100 million for the state coffers, whether the replacement is necessary or not.

It will tax each car owner up to $45 to replace their current plates, once in circulation, for ten years. Governor Cuomo says that is needed because EZ pass terminals are having a hard time reading the existing plates. Since when?

And then there is the matter of the election competition he set up to choose a design for the new plates. Five options were offered to the public in an online vote. Of those choices, three had the Statue of Liberty in the background in different variations, including one with a small depiction of the lower NYC skyline and Niagara Falls. One was only numerals and letters and one had a bridge in the background.

No Freedom Tower or Empire State Building option. No Adirondack mountain range. A bridge… but which one? Was it the mighty George Washington Bridge? Or the venerable Brooklyn Bridge? Or perhaps the expansive modern Verrazano Bridge? No. The one Andrew Cuomo included was the much more obscure, newly-reconstructed Tappan Zee Bridge, renamed the “Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.”

Just a coincidence? Perhaps. To be clear, I have nothing against naming a public place after our great three-term governor, Mario Cuomo. I think he was one of the best and most gifted public servants of recent times. The younger Cuomo has good reason to be proud of his father. But all these machinations to honor “pop” with a license plate seemed really contrived.

As for the public competition, Andrew Cuomo the shrewd politician that he is may have calculated that those who favored the Statute of Liberty as the backdrop on the new plates with three separate designs to choose from might split the Lady Liberty vote and result in the Mario Cuomo Bridge as the winner.

Too Machiavellian, you think? Maybe or maybe not. With Andrew Cuomo, very little is ever done without some political consideration. In the end, the voters chose the skyline design, perhaps upending the governor’s hopes for a different outcome, one that paid homage to Mario Cuomo.

Since Andrew Cuomo passed up his much desired national ambitions, deferring to Vice President Joe Biden, he has redirected his attention and soothed his frustration by focusing on the myriad but mundane local matters on his plate. In this case, your license plate.

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