Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, New York, is my new hero. Not only is she an articulate, brilliant and courageous mayor, she is Andrew Cuomo’s handpicked co-chair of the New York State Democratic Party. She makes a powerful case that the cities and counties of New York are in a precarious and difficult place due to some of Cuomo’s policies. While we know that she is not alone in this position, she is singular in her taking the fight directly to Governor Cuomo. I suspect that Cuomo has learned that this is a woman not to be messed with. While Mayor Miner says that she strongly supports Cuomo, she acknowledges that she has a major policy disagreement with the governor (she doesn’t like the word “fight”) and has even taken to the pages of the New York Times to make her case. Knowing Cuomo as I do, I can assure you that he had kittens when he saw her op-ed.
The issue has to do with the cost of the employee pensions the cities and counties have to bear. Mayor Miner contends that the Legislature-mandated pensions are virtually breaking the cities. The governor’s office said she should borrow the money to pay the pensions. According to his office, the governor is working hard to hold down the cost of pensions and if the municipalities borrow money now, they will be able to back the loan once his program to bring pensions down works. Mayor Miner’s fiscal people say, “Not so,” and they are joined by the very smart New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, who agrees that the borrowing idea ain’t so hot.
Let’s face it — cities and towns have problems because of the tax cap that prevents them from raising the money necessary to pay for services their citizens need. Stephanie Miner knows better than to criticize the governor for his tax cap gimmick. On the other hand, she knows full well that if she borrows now to pay the pensions, she will be held responsible by her constituents years after she leaves office (Syracuse has term limits.) Right now, everything Mayor Miner is hearing from her constituents about her policy disagreement with the governor has been quite favorable.
The Cuomo people have tried to turn her around on this. Cuomo’s Lieutenant Governor, Bob Duffy, dispatched himself to Miner to make the requisite arguments and I am sure there were others. In her New York Times op-ed, Miner calls the Cuomo borrowing plan “an accounting gimmick.” She says that Cuomo ought to convene everyone in sight including the Legislature, the unions and the comptroller, to work this out.
Many cynics thought that Mayor Miner would be relived of her responsibilities as co-chair of the Democratic Party. Cuomo may not like to take prisoners but that would make him look like a bully and not surprisingly, it was announced that she would remain in place. Good call. As a woman mayor, Miner is in a very distinct minority. My bet is that whoever in the Cuomo machine made the call to appoint her Democratic co-chair may have taken a little heat. “But boss, you said you wanted women in your administration.”
In her op-ed, Mayor Miner says, “When Mr. Cuomo took office the state faced a budget crisis.” She acknowledges that he made some difficult but wise choices, but then goes on to say that “… he has left the cities strapped.” Good for Stephanie Miner. She speaks truth to power in spite of potential consequences. If she runs for higher office, I hope she wins. She’s just what we need. It’s a case of policy over politics.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/25/13