Cuomo Takes The Helm Of A Troubled Ship Of State
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I am writing this as Andrew Cuomo prepares to takes the oath of office as New York State’s 56th governor. We anticipate calls for reform, budget restraint, no new taxes and an attack on the multiple levels of mini governments throughout the state.
And while, like most such speeches, we expect few specifics, we do expect the ambitious and driven Governor to make reforming the dysfunctional State Government a priority. Naturally, he will offer to do so in partnership with a Legislature which is responsible for a continuous decline since Andrew first lived in the Executive Mansion with his father, Governor Mario.
Corruption, uncontrolled spending, off-the-books debt, personal and patronage excess, member item abuses and catering to special interests have been the shibboleths by which the legislature has functioned. Cuomo now has the near-impossible task of governing with the same legislature that has brought New York to the brink of bankruptcy while catering to its own needs and those of the special interests which support them.
He is not the first to be elected with the pledge and mission of reforming State Government. Only four years ago, Eliot Spitzer came charging in on a white stallion with an overwhelming mandate to reform State Government. Well, the Spitzer steamroller ran into the Bruno buzz saw and it did not take long for the uncompromising Sherriff of Wall Street to be isolated as the a man who could not work with others. And as soon as his first misstep occurred, the powers that be pounced upon his personal (and legal) indiscretion and Client 9 was forced from office.
He was followed by a reform-minded David Paterson, who in spite of years of legislative leadership, proved inept at achieving meaningful reform.
Sheldon Silver’s Assembly and now Dean Skelos’ Senate have been created on a diet of serving themselves. Insuring their reelection, delivering the bacon to their supporters at home, legislating to the wishes of the special interests which support and fund them are patterns that seem impossible to break.
You see, the people have tolerated it. In spite of the general acceptance that New York State’s Legislature is the most dysfunctional in the nation, the voters rarely if ever blame their local legislators for the problem. And year after year, the hordes of go-along-to-get-along legislators are returned to office to continue the patterns of dysfunction.
Andrew Cuomo must bring change. Cuomo has a state to run. A state buried in debt, mired in dysfunction and so ethically challenged that indictments are more commonplace than heroics among public servants. We site for examples several that made us take note: Alan Hevesi, Pedro Espada, Tony Seminario, Joe Bruno, Brian McLaughlin.
Cuomo also has the legislature to work with. And that will be the challenge.
He has the mandate for reform but needs the votes to achieve it.
He can work with the legislature or challenge them. The double edged option is likely to wound even the most skilled politician.
The tests will not be in this weekend’s speeches but in the early months to come in 2011.
We look first to the budget process. Will cutbacks be real? Will fiscal prudence trump special interests? Will member items be severely curtailed, with larger grants awarded competitively and monitored ethically? Will off-the books authorities be brought under control and their debts be acknowledged by the State? Will a truly balanced budget be approved and still allow for effective governance? Will the budget be on time?
Test number two will come when the redistricting process is defined. Cuomo and a majority of the legislators have committed themselves to a non-partisan, independent redistricting process. Commitment aside, we find it difficult to believe that the legislature that has disappointed us so frequently in the past will live up to the commitment they have made. It is just too easy for Skelos’ Republicans to draw the Senate lines while Silver’s Dems draw the Assembly lines, insuring ten more years of comfort for the incumbents and a best case scenario for their parties.
A gubernatorial veto – or perhaps the threat of one – could force the legislature to do the right thing or throw the entire process to a court-appointed master. Unless there is truly independent and non-partisan redistricting, Andrew Cuomo will never earn his stripes as a good government reformer.
Should he produce an on-time, effective balanced budget and achieve independent redistricting, Andrew will quickly become the most talked-about Democrat on the national scene.
And become our hero.
Bloomberg Beleaguered By Medley of Mishaps
By HENRY STERN
The flood of personal criticism leveled at Mayor Bloomberg because of the city’s poor response to the blizzard is somewhat over the top.
Many factors contributed to the city’s failure to clean the streets, and there is likely to be at least one investigation to explore the sequence of events and offer proposals to prevent or mitigate a recurrence. Actually, the last two major snowfalls had been well- handled, which led to the public’s expectation that this storm would be dealt with promptly and professionally.
The Mayor attracted criticism because of his initial attitude toward the storm, treating it as a nuisance rather than as a serious blow to others, whose homes could not be reached by ambulances or were unable to get to work. As the crisis continued, the Mayor changed his stance and took the situation much more seriously.
Actually, the MTA response to the storm appears to have been far worse than the Department of Sanitation’s, judging from the length of time that lines were out of service. We have not previously associated the unpopular MTA with failure to respond to snowstorms which blocked the tracks, but they sure messed up this time.
With all the city’s faults, we believe that the concentration of blame on Mayor Bloomberg is unjustified. It seems to us as if the media and the people finally have found a plausible reason to express their dissatisfaction at a number of unpopular decisions made by the Mayor over the last few years.
First, and most important, was the 2008 reversal of his long-held public position on his own tenure, when he decided to seek re-election by using his puppets on the City Council to rush through a law extending eligibility from two to three terms. The unfairness of changing the rules in the middle of a conflict runs up against people’s ideas of fair play.
A number of other matters have chewed at the Mayor’s reputation. The repeated indications of pre-Presidential activities, travels and speeches, and the formation of nation-wide organizations and coalitions for various good causes, coupled with the same denials Bloomberg made repeatedly when he was asked whether he would run for a third term, tug a bit at the credibility of the non-candidate. Of course he is not running today, but if circumstances warrant a change of heart, there is no reason why he should not run.
It was once seen as possible that he would be a more moderate and effective President than either Mr. Obama or Ms. Palin, assuming they were to be the major parties nominees.
On Nov. 9, Mayor Bloomberg suddenly announced the appointment of Cathie Black as Schools Chancellor. Ms. Black had absolutely no experience in education, but is an engaging and attractive member of the mayor’s circle of acquaintances. She required a waiver of State legal requirements, which was obligingly granted by the State Education Commissioner.
Then, on Dec. 12, the Mayor confessed on NBCs Meet the Press that he wants to go out having a reputation as a very good, maybe the greatest, mayor ever. Although the context of the statement may have been a denial of Presidential ambitions, the words were criticized as overly self-referential.
As luck would have it, on Dec. 15, the first (and hopefully the last) major scandal of the administration broke, with $80 million reported stolen and uncounted millions wasted in a computer fraud. Although the Mayor was obviously unaware of the thievery going on, and expressed zero tolerance for such behavior, the question at once arises as to who, under him, was in charge of the CityTime project.
We hope that the curse of the third term worked itself out this year, and that the remaining three years will be happy and peaceful ones for the city and for its Mayor. The problem is that substantial budget cuts lie ahead, which will lead to reduced services and increased unemployment.
These are hard times for anyone who governs. Mayor Bloomberg knew that. In fact, he said on Oct. 2, 2008 at the press conference announcing his intention to seek a third term, that handling this financial crisis while strengthening the essential services such as education and public safety is a challenge he wants to take on for the people of New York.
As the year 2010 comes to a merciful end, we hope that 2011 will be as good as it can be under the circumstances. Rough times lie ahead for all governments, but out of the three sovereignties: federal, state and local, it is the City of New York that has been most financially responsible for the last decade.
We have a decent, honorable and intelligent mayor. His personality appeals to some, and not to others.
A problem he will face in his tenth year in office is that after a while the people get tired of you. It happened to LaGuardia, Wagner and Koch, all now highly regarded mayors.
The Mayor should try to do as much good as he can in a climate of reduced sustenance for the City and lowering clouds for himself. We particularly recommend that he “be kind to man and beast.”
We wish all of you good health and good will in the new year.StarQuest@NYCivic.org