Machiavelli would be proud of Cuomo’s transition strategy
Is Andrew Cuomo, himself a prominent Italian American, a follower of Machiavelli? That famous Italian political philosopher is best known for his belief, loosely put, that the end justifies the means. In The Prince, Machiavelli seems to argue that you do what you must in order to grab the levers of power and use them to achieve political success. Some will argue that Machiavelli never really meant to convey that philosophy but was actually being satirical in order to avoid his own personal negative outcome.
Incoming Governor Andrew Cuomo has to devise a strategy that will allow him to take a difficult set of politicians and make them heel. Machiavelli would be proud of Andrew’s approach. Let’s just study the composition of his recently created transition committees that will theoretically help him to set up his new government.
When it was first leaked that his transition would be run by some of the top figures in his father’s administration, he caught political hell. Reverend Al Sharpton said that he was concerned that people of color were being excluded from this important group. Of course, none of it really matters. Cuomo is not going to run his government or even pick his government by transition committee. What he is doing is largely symbolic.
The thing about Andrew is that while he doesn’t panic, he does smell danger the way my dog, Murray, can smell a squirrel. That’s why he announced that former enemy-in-chief Carl McCall, with whom he once contested for power, would be the co-chair of his transition team. To put it mildly, McCall has had no use for Andrew for years and was hardly quiet about his disdain for the man who tried to ruin his own chance to be governor several years back. Now, all of a sudden, the two men are the best of friends. One can only guess how this came about or what promises or intimations were made. We’ll have to wait for the Cuomo administration to see what McCall gets but for now, old enmities have been set aside and McCall is a friend.
Cuomo has made it very clear that the unions will be targeted if they get in his way but that hasn’t stopped prominent union leaders from accepting positions on his now very large transition teams. Ditto members of the Republican Party, like the presumed incoming Majority Leader Dean Skelos, or Democrat Sheldon Silver, the man with whom Cuomo will really have to battle it out when it comes to issues like ethics reform and scaling down what state government will do for those who have the least.
In fact, one would be hard pressed to find any person of note who is not on the transition group. Cuomo makes it clear that everyone with whom he will have to do business will be asked. If they say no, it is up to them, but there really is no good reason not to accept. They are afraid of him and what has been described, fairly or not, as his mercurial temper. Agreeing to serve on the team helps them with their own people who are impressed that they’ve been asked. Would you turn down the bragging rights that go with such an appointment? In a classic Machiavellian move by Cuomo, we see thinly veiled hints that Cuomo would rather see the Republicans in control of the New York state Senate than his fellow Democrats who are much more likely to give him a hard time when it comes to reducing the size and scope of state government. Remember, the ends justify the means.
In Washington, the Republicans are trying their best to hurt Obama by denying every presidential request or policy. But in New York, it would appear that Cuomo is actually trying to help the Republicans win the state Senate by asking the courts for an expedited resolution to close state Senate elections. The way I’ve got it figured, that actually helps the Republicans who are ahead in most of these close races and hurts the Democrats who are insisting that they will sue to make sure that every single vote is counted. It also makes sense that “New Democrat” Cuomo is acting a lot like a Republican when it comes to the size of state government.
In many ways, Cuomo is Machiavelli. He will do what’s necessary to seize and maintain power. He will do what he can to make sure that his enemies are kept close and happy. That strategy, of course, has its limitations. Sooner or later the “friends” will turn and then, Machiavelli tells us, you have to treat them ruthlessly.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/23/10