Would-be gov’s success depends on ability to navigate Legislature
Andrew Cuomo is positioning himself to be president of the United States. His chances of getting there will be infinitely increased if he is able to turn Albany into a calmer, less venal, more reflective and genuinely representative place.
Cuomo must win the Legislature’s confidence and at the same time convince the people that he really is going to clean things up. He’ll need to be perceived as being “good” and “likeable” as opposed to “tough guy Andy.” His friends at the radical right wing New York Post know that and they’re spreading around his picture, with his kids and his girlfriend and an atypical smile on his face. Old man Hearst would be proud.
To succeed, Cuomo has to reserve all the perks of being a strong executive. The more power he cedes to the Legislature, the weaker he becomes. He has to toughen the ethics rules. The less double-dealing and inside trading the legislative leaders can get away with and the more truly transparent the process is, the more powerful Cuomo will be. That’s why David Paterson vetoed the quarter-of-a-loaf ethics law that the Legislature was able to dupe the so-called “good government groups” into endorsing. That’s why Cuomo is opposed to allowing the Regents (owned by the Assembly, which is owned by the teachers union) to have the sole say as to who gets a charter school. He appoints the members of the SUNY Board of Trustees and he is not about to relinquish that influence to the legislative chieftains.
Of course, the members of the Legislature know full well that they need Cuomo at the top of the ticket, otherwise they will lose their marginal members. On the other hand, Cuomo knows that he can’t be perceived as being in bed with them. That means a diminution of power for the leaders and their associated lobbyists. He is telling anyone who wants to run on his coattails that they will have to pledge to support reform. Interestingly, he is painting himself not only as a candidate of reform, but as a candidate of bi-partisan reform. He is signaling to those Democrats who want to preserve the old order that he is not above making deals with their mutually exclusive Republican enemies in order to achieve reform.
Andrew has come a long way and he holds great promise. If he wants to go all the way to the White House and to uphold his anointed title as “son of Mario,” he will have to insist that apportionment be done fairly and that gerrymandering be relegated to the past. He will have to put a dent in the power of the institutionalized lobbyists. He will have to do more than the commendable talk his father was famous for, and translate his platform into actions. If I were Shelly Silver, I’d give up a lot to make Cuomo comfortable. Three-quarters of a loaf is better than none should be Silver’s thinking—otherwise he may just end up with none.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.