New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has consistently and petulantly undermined New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio since the mayor took office, but the feud only recently went on the record. Following an Albany legislative session in which Cuomo blatantly denied de Blasio various legislative victories — and cynically attempted to attack the more liberal mayor from “the left” — Cuomo rubbed salt in the legislative wound by delivering a brutally critical appraisal of Mayor de Blasio’s legislative acumen and political savvy. This came in the guise of a Daily News interview with “a top Cuomo administration aide.” (At least, that is what everyone believes, and what the governor has not denied.)
De Blasio, fed up, dispatched with anonymity and criticized Cuomo publicly, accusing the governor of exacting “some kind of revenge or vendetta” on those who challenge him. “I’m here in front of you on record saying what I believe,” he added, for good measure.
A week later, Cuomo has finally responded (on the record), and he has done so in as smarmy and purposefully aggravating a manner as possible. Cuomo simply repeats his previously (anonymously) stated argument that de Blasio is mad because he lost, and he lost because he, unlike Cuomo, doesn’t understand politics.
The bill signing, attended by a host of Assembly Democrats, State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and U.S House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, was a set piece designed to highlight Cuomo’s faith in his own method of government, which he repeatedly characterized Tuesday as bipartisan compromise in the spirit of “getting things done.”
“There is something that we have in Albany that you don’t have here in New York City, which is called a Republican house,” Cuomo said. “New York City, it’s basically a City Council that is overwhelmingly Democratic. So you don’t have to deal with those annoying issues of partisanship and getting two sides, two parties to agree. Albany and Washington have legislative bodies that are mixed. And you either compromise or you have gridlock.
Governor Cuomo is, as usual, omitting a rather important piece of context: New York has a Republican Senate in large part because — maybe, at this point, solely because — New York’s governor wants the Senate to be controlled by Republicans.
Voters have voted for a Democratic majority. Sources have told political reporters that Governor Cuomo played an integral role in arranging an alliance between Senate Republicans and a small cadre of Democratic senators who split from the party in order to ensure continued Republican control of the chamber. It’s something of an open secret in Albany that Governor Cuomo doesn’t campaign for Democratic challengers to incumbent Republican senators during election seasons. Governor Cuomo even signed off on a legislative redistricting plan designed to protect incumbent (Republican) senators by freezing their gerrymandered district lines for a decade. Republicans have managed to maintain their Senate majority (a majority they hold by one seat, at the moment) because of the extraordinary work Governor Cuomo has done on their behalf. They owe the Democratic governor a great deal more than they owe their feckless, corrupt party leaders.
Governor Cuomo has a few reasons for wanting to continue working with a Republican Senate. It allows him to appear bipartisan, above-the-fray, and politically savvy when he manages to pass legislation; he gets to act as though he has solved “gridlock.” It allows him to block liberal priorities without having to actually go on the record as opposing liberal priorities. A tertiary benefit is, of course, that it makes it easier for him to infuriate and punish his political enemies — and his political enemies, for the most part, are liberals.
Governor Cuomo knows that everyone who follows New York politics knows that he is responsible for keeping the Republicans in power. When he highlights the role the Republican Senate had in the process, he is telling outsiders that he isn’t to blame while, to insiders, claiming credit — doing a little victory jig, really — for torpedoing Mayor de Blasio’s agenda.
He is doing this strictly to be a dick.
“We all have our own styles and our own comportment and we all see our roles in a certain way,” Governor Cuomo went on to say. It is obviously true that the governor and the mayor see their roles in vastly different ways. But Cuomo and de Blasio don’t have conflicting visions of how politics works. They have conflicting ideas as to what the point of politics is.
Mayor de Blasio’s aim is to achieve political victories in order to advance his (liberal) preferred policy objectives, in support of a mostly coherent and internally consistent ideology and theory of governance. Governor Cuomo’s aim generally seems to be to achieve political victories for the sake of achieving political victories. (Though he is not without his own policy preferences, like the privatization of public education, he is just as likely to obscure those preferences as he is to openly campaign for them.) De Blasio is not some special snowflake politician in this regard: Ronald Reagan was more or less the same type of politician, just as Bill Clinton is much more in line with Cuomo’s governing philosophy.
Cuomo’s “style” means, to use one example, building a bridge simply for the sake of being able to say that he built a bridge, without bothering to determine what sort of bridge would be best, where and how it would make sense to build it, how it should be funded and maintained, and whether or not there might be other transit or transportation-related projects more worthy of so much economic and political capital. Nothing about the way the bridge is being built remotely resembles good government or best practices. But that doesn’t matter, because, hey, a bridge.
Meanwhile, finding money for the MTA’s capital plan — a vital necessity, because New York’s transit system needs millions of dollars of work simply to maintain it, to say nothing of expanding capacity in the face of surging ridership — is politically difficult, and the political “rewards” for doing so are diffuse and will accrue over the long term. So the governor has, breathtakingly, not even pretended to try to come up with a way to fund the maintenance of the largest mass transit system in the nation. The result will almost certainly be staggeringly higher fares, with much of the money going to debt servicing instead of repairs and upgrades, combined with worsening performance.
The Cuomo style has obvious advantages. It makes it much more difficult, for example, to “lose,” when your definition of a “win” is not reliant on advancing a policy goal you prefer. De Blasio is stuck with the definition of “winning” in which he gets what he wants. Cuomo simply wants whatever is achievable. This allows him to perform the classic Internet Trolling technique seen above: Cuomo is mocking de Blasio for caring, like a carelord, and for getting mad. Governor Cuomo is not mad, and he would like to you know that Mayor de Blasio is incapable of making him mad.
It’s a hugely immature and cynical game from a hugely immature and cynical politician. And New York City residents are going to suffer, in real, material terms, because the governor thinks the mayor doesn’t play his stupid game correctly.
Pic via Getty