Andrew Cuomo thinks pols are either talkers or doers -- guess which he thinks he is
The New Yorker caption for this picture is: "At close range, the Governor is a formidable presence. His speech comes in aggressive, self-confident bursts, especially when he's sizing up the state of political play, and he is relentless." I thought this was kind of funny, because just looking at the picture, I thought of some tacky horror-movie villain.
It's about as old an argument as there is in the field of government: compromising to get stuff done vs. holding out for getting the right thing(s) done. Of course it's kind of a fake dichotomy. I think most people understand that at points in the political process, it's necessary to make compromises, and you can't just talk about "getting stuff done" without facing up to hard questions about what stuff needs to be done, and how much bad stuff you can allow to get done in order to get better stuff done.
Nevertheless, I think NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made no secret of the fact that he's a "getting stuff done" kind of guy. And as much as he revered his late father, onetime three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, and as intimately involved as he was in his father's political career, which after all blossomed pretty late for a pol, as an offshoot of his law practice and community involvement, Andrew's idea of being governor is by no means the same as his father's.
You see --
ANDREW'S MODEL FOR POLITICAL "DOING"
ISN'T HIS FATHER -- IT'S BILL CLINTON
Over the last several months, it turns out, The New Yorker's esteemed legal correspondent, Jeffrey Toobin, has been working on a profile of Andrew, which appears now in the February 16 issue, as "The Albany Chronicles: How Andrew Cuomo gets his way."
It is, as you would expect of a New Yorker profile, a very long piece. And I don't propose to get very far or deep into it. But at the start, we get some pretty sharp defining of political terms. And I thought it would be interesting just to isolate some of this.
Starting with Andrew's view of himself as a pol vs. his father.
Mario Cuomo defined his three terms as governor with oratory; Andrew Cuomo has sought to build his reputation in a different way. He made clear that his primary inspiration when it came to dealing with legislators was Bill Clinton, not his father. During Clinton’s second term, Cuomo served in his Cabinet, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “I was watching, and they were impeaching the guy, and he was still there every day, asking them how they were doing, trying to make deals,” Cuomo recalled, his voice bearing the hard consonants of Queens, where he grew up. “My job is to get to yes,” he said. “If I don’t make a deal, I get nothing done. If I get nothing done, I am a failure. If the objective is to make a nice speech, it means nothing.”
IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T GOTTEN THE POINT,
ANDREW BELIEVES IN DOING, NOT TALKING
Interestingly, Andrew thinks of Barack Obama as a talker, not a doer!
For better and for worse, Cuomo views his work as a series of transactions. He disdains rhetoric; he prizes results. He has had several accomplishments in his first four years. Against heavy odds, he pushed through a marriage-equality bill in the Legislature; he banned fracking; he tightened the state’s gun-control laws; he closed thirteen prisons; he started construction on the first major bridge in the state in fifty years, a replacement for the Tappan Zee, across the Hudson; and he passed four balanced budgets in a row, all on time. Deeds, not words—that might as well be the motto of Cuomo’s administration. In nearly every speech, and in many conversations, Cuomo dismisses the importance of political talk. As if adopting a typical voter’s view of President Obama, Cuomo told me, “Beautiful rhetoric, beautiful vision—I’m sold on the vision—and what happens? There was no product. There was no actualization of the vision. Now I’m more disillusioned than I was when we started. You brought me up with that beautiful language, and you got me excited and I thought it was possible and then it wasn’t.”
LET'S LOOK, FOR EXAMPLE, AT THE CORRUPTION
INQUIRY ANDREW STARTED, THEN SHUT DOWN
Jeffrey T provides us with background:
In the summer of 2013, Cuomo created what became known as the Moreland Commission, a bipartisan group of leading citizens, who were to spend up to eighteen months investigating public corruption in the state. The commission’s inquiries focussed in particular on whether the outside business activities of state legislators should be subject to tighter regulation. By early 2014, [Assembly Speaker Sheldon[ Silver and his colleagues had come to loathe the commission, and went to court to thwart its inquiries. Around the same time, Cuomo was seeking to pass his annual budget, and he hoped to do that on schedule. So, just nine months after Cuomo created the commission, he abruptly shut it down. Silver passed Cuomo’s budget; Cuomo rid Silver of the meddlesome commission.
ANDREW TELLS JEFFREY THAT HE
THINKS HE GOT THE THING JUST RIGHT
On the day after [Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver’s arrest, I met with Cuomo in his New York City office, on Third Avenue. I asked him about the widespread contention that the charges against Silver showed that Cuomo should have let the Moreland investigation run its course.
“They’re exactly wrong,” Cuomo said. “What happened on the Moreland Commission is they subpoenaed the outside info of the Senate and the Assembly, in a fairly aggressive way. The Senate and the Assembly join together, the Republicans and the Democrats, in a motion to quash the subpoenas. And they are successful in the lower court. And we’re stuck for, like, four months.”
Closing down Moreland, in Cuomo’s view, broke the logjam. After the shutdown, the Legislature passed modest ethics reform, which increased penalties for bribery and established a pilot program for public financing in the next state comptroller’s race. Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney in Manhattan, demanded the Moreland files and used them to make the case against Silver and, perhaps, others. “We get the legislation I wanted in the first place,” Cuomo told me. “Moreland takes the same cases and the same subpoenas and hands them to local D.A.s and to Preet.” Cuomo disclaims any responsibility for Silver’s possible misdeeds. “If Anthony Weiner shows his private parts, do you blame Obama? These are criminal acts of individual legislators. What would you have me do?”
AND YET ON THE OTHER HAND --
Each step in Cuomo’s analysis makes a kind of tactical sense. But he shut down the investigation even though the Legislature failed to make significant political reforms. Bharara and the other prosecutors obtained the commission’s files only because Bharara publicly expressed his outrage at Cuomo’s action. * Cuomo’s explanation ignored the symbolism: How could there ever be a legitimate reason, in a state long beset with corruption in its Legislature, for the governor to short-circuit his own marquee attempt to clean it up?
I DON'T MEAN TO COME TO ANY GRAND CONCLUSION
I just thought these very old issues of governance are framed pretty interestingly here.