Saturday, July 30, 2011

It's not just in his politics that Andrew Cuomo sure ain't his old man


Andrew Cuomo after being sworn in as governor of New York, with his daughter Cara at left and his parents, Mario and Matilda Cuomo, at right -- it's a shame the boy doesn't seem to be nearly as smart as his folks.

by Ken

We're not big fans here of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It's not as if he's done anything surprising. He made it pretty clear during the campaign -- what there was of a campaign once it became clear that he was running pretty much unopposed, thanks to the Republicans' nomination of far-right kook Carl Paladino -- that he intended to govern basically like a Republican, making working people pay for the excesses of their financial overlords, and while he may not be in a class with plutocrats' best friends like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and New Jersey's Crap Christie, the margin really oughtn't to be that close. Now he's shown that he may seriously overestimate his own smarts.

Last week New Yorkers were shocked by sudden news that Jay Walder, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates pretty much all buses, subways, bridges, and tunnels in the city plus the Long Island and Metro North commuter railroads and many bus lines in other state counties outside the city, was quitting to take a high-paying job in Hong Kong running its buses and commuter rail systems and apparently a whole bunch of other stuff, with a stratospheric salary and a mandate to move Hong Kong into the 22nd century. It was, according to the early reports, an offer he couldn't refuse. What was a little odd was that in taking the MTA job Walder had had built into his contract provisions designed to make him immovable from the job -- it sure seemed like he intended to stay awhile.

Now I think we've heard the other shoe drop. The NYT's Michael Grynbaum and Christine Haughney report that a major factor in Walder's receptivity to the Hong Kong job offer was being treated like dirt by the governor. (The MTA, you should understand, is a state-chartered agency.) The MTA has brutal financial problems just trying to maintain service, and not only have the governor's plans for balancing the state budget included no help, but Walder hasn't even been able to talk to him.

On the management level, this is pretty stupid. A huge number of New York State voters use MTA facilities every day, and the man responsible for keeping them running can't even get the governor's ear. (Grynbaum and Haughney start with an appalling story of Walder being snubbed on a visit to Albany, when the governor entered a meeting Walder was having with gubernatorial aides, spoke to one of his guys for a few seconds, and left.)

I don't know how great a job Walder was doing, but the fact is, he was doing it. Does the governor have any idea how complex as well as punishing the job is? Does he have any idea how hard it's going to be to fill? Here are the NYT reporters:

The governor began his term with this best-of-both-worlds situation: If Mr. Walder ran into problems, the governor could easily blame his predecessor for the appointment. And if the transportation authority thrived, Mr. Cuomo could take credit.

Now, Mr. Cuomo must find someone willing to take on the Sisyphean task of running a troubled agency at a troubled time. Transit experts say the number of qualified candidates is limited. Officials in the transportation industry said they did not fault Mr. Walder for making a reasoned decision, saying the outlook for transit and infrastructure in New York is far grimmer than its competitor cities around the world. . . .

“When Jay was working in London, Jay had the total confidence of the mayor,” said Robert E. Paaswell, a longtime friend who studies transportation at the City University of New York.

In New York, Mr. Paaswell said, “the mayor and the governor have a very complex platform, and transportation is just one of many issues; it doesn’t really stand out.”

As for Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Paaswell said transportation “hasn’t been on his radar” because of priorities like legislative fights over the budget and same-sex marriage.

Mr. Cuomo may have gotten what he wished for. At the sole debate in the governor’s race last fall, he teed off on the transportation authority, repeating a long-discredited canard about the agency’s “two sets of books” and complaining that “no one is in charge of the M.T.A.”

“Put the governor in charge,” Mr. Cuomo said at the time. “If it does not work, it should be up to the governor, and everyone should know.”


It may be worth remembering that the stepping stone to Mario Cuomo's political career was his impressive service in 1972 investigating and mediating a public battle over low-income housing planned in Queens. That required actually listening and understanding the stands and stakes of the parties to the controversy. His boy doesn't seem to be much of a listener -- except maybe to what's going on in his own head.

Maybe our Andrew really has a plan that will answer the transit needs of the huge number of New Yorkers who are captives of the MTA. Or maybe he's just a whole lot less smart than he thinks.

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