Will Cuomo Tread Lightly?
From the Capital Tonight morning memo, which you can subscribe to by entering your email in the field where it says “Sign up for our e-blasts.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, political animal that he is, says he’s not interested in the internal politics of the Senate.
Cuomo, responding to news that Sen. Jeff Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference would form some sort of coalition government in the chamber, told reporters in the Utica area that he cares more about the policies lawmakers support (especially if they line up with him), not the political maneuvering it takes to gain control.
And yet more than a few readers of the blog yesterday sent emails speculating on the governor’s level of involvement in the state Senate leadership battle.
Several noted that Cuomo’s post-partisan pleas line up nicely with Klein’s own rhetoric on independent governing.
Both want a functioning Senate, both insist they care more about policy outcomes rather than political machinations.
But just because their (rather vague) exultations of functioning government are aligned doesn’t necessarily mean the two are in cahoots.
We should pause for a moment and recognize that no deal or joint operating agreement has actually been struck. Two Senate races remain unresolved and both Klein and Majority Leader Dean Skelos are negotiating over what positions they’ll actually hold in this brave new world of coalition government.
The situation is very fluid, even if Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous calls Klein’s proposal a bold one.
Cuomo, however, is going to be caught in the middle if this leadership battle blows up.
On one side are the progressive activists on the national level who are angry at Cuomo for not backing a full Democratic takeover of the chamber in the first place. They have refined their arguments in recent days, saying that it’s not about the Democratic Party, but about getting a whole raft of liberal-friendly items accomplished, such as stop-and-frisk reform, the public financing of campaigns and a minimum wage increase.
On the other side are the lessons of recent history, and it’s a story that I’m assuming Cuomo is more inclined to heed.
Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer may be an extreme example of how to be really awful at the art of governing, but he’s certainly the most pertinent in this case.
Spitzer injected himself into the Legislature almost immediately.
With the prosecutorial zeal left over from his attorney general days, Spitzer unsuccessfully pushed the Democratic-led Assembly to back one of his own candidates for comptroller, not then-Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli in the wake of Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s resignation.
At the time, Spitzer believed this was the type of backroom cronyism the public had elected him to stop.
But Spitzer picked a strange windmill to attack and even traveled to the districts of back bench Democratic lawmakers to slam them for their votes.
Over in the Senate, Spitzer decided immediately that he could not deal with Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who he considered to be a crook. So he decided to push for a flip of the chamber to the Democratic side, appointing GOP lawmakers to his cabinet in an effort to elect members of his own party in special elections.
Naturally, both ham-fisted projects soured the legislative leaders on Spitzer and little was accomplished. Ironically, the effort to overtake the Republicans in the chamber was only achieved until after he resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal.
The other danger of getting involved as governor in the Legislature is appearing powerless.
During the leadership coup of 2009, David Paterson would hold his daily “angry man” news conferences that after a period only showed he had little power to move the needle, until he pushed through his own lieutenant governor appointment, Richard Ravitch in order to break a 31-31 tie (ultimately that move proved moot since one of the Democrats in the coup rejoined before the LG case was decided).
Now Cuomo faces a Senate that is once again as complex as the plot of “Lost”: four independent Democrats want to conference separately, one Democrat from the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn is siding with the Republicans and a clear leader within the Legislature is yet to emerge.
Over the last two years, Cuomo’s efforts to influence the Legislature are really based on legislation: Tier Six, same-sex marriage, the property tax cap and two on-time spending plans that were largely the documents he had initially proposed.
Cuomo opened the doors of the governor’s mansion to lawmakers to cajole and lobby and arm twist. That is politics, certainly, but it was always with the goal of getting, in his words, his policies through.
Ultimately, Cuomo’s best interest is a Legislature that doesn’t produce embarrassing headlines.
As his former top aide Steve Cohen told Fred Dicker yesterday, the last thing Cuomo wants to be seen as doing is manipulating the legislative process.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Nick Reisman on November 29, 2012 at 10:50 am, and is filed under Andrew Cuomo. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|