Cuomo sets stage with brilliant inauguration speech

Andrew Cuomo gave the speech of his life at his inauguration. He was gracious but stern; humorous but determined; warm and sincere yet somehow dark. He offered his hand to the Legislature and to the people, and you had the feeling you’d better take that hand lest there be trouble ahead. Andrew, as he is known to those in the game, put out a call to the people of New York state, a siren-type song that said, “I am offering you hope through sacrifice. If you follow me, you can have can have more efficient government, you can have more accessible government, you can have less corrupt government. Your complacency has caused this mess; your lack of interest has put you where you are. Come with me, help me, lean on your legislators and fight the good fight with me and we’ll have less government, smarter government, more transparent government, more accessible government.” Not his exact words, of course, but this is what he meant.

I never thought that Andrew could reach the rhetorical standards set by his father, but as a lifelong Mario Cuomo watcher, I can say that Andrew’s speech soared to a place I frankly thought he could never go. He set a standard for himself and for the people of New York that will be hard to live up to. He promised new politics and a new, ethical government. In conducting his speech outside the Legislature, he seemed to be suggesting that the legislative arena — bought and paid for with lobbyist money in the form of campaign contributions and old boy politics — was the old stadium and a new one was being built. Mario was standing behind him. When Andrew hugged him and then, as an afterthought, kissed him, the old man lovingly and symbolically waved him off as if to say, “You’re on your own now.”

Much of what Andrew said in his speech rang true. Of course, there were some rhetorical flourishes; his reference to his father as the best governor and lieutenant governor New York had ever seen was loving, but wrong. New York is the state of both Roosevelts and Al Smith, to name just a few.

Andrew has been blessed with something that Papa Cuomo never had — he has the opportunity to really make some changes. The wheel is broken, the spokes are damaged and you can’t be great without the opportunity to make things better. He does have that 10-billion-dollar problem. In a way, that deficit is a gift from the gods of politics. He has to do something. He has no choice. Everyone on the field knows it. The unions, the members of the Legislature, they all get it. The unions are a shell of their once mighty selves. They can say the right things, but in the end they know that the hands they have drawn won’t win the pot this time.

Andrew has borrowed the best and brightest people from his father’s administration, from Spitzer’s administration and even from Paterson’s administration. He has made a pact with Rupert Murdoch and some of his most feared henchmen. He is determined not to be caught up in the personal politics that have destroyed so many others on their way to grab the golden ring.

In one of the most brilliant strokes of all, Cuomo issued an executive order taking down the barricades that surround the state Capitol. He has opened up the people’s building to the people. Not since Andrew Jackson has such an invitation been offered to the citizenry. Let’s not forget that it was George Pataki, the man who beat his father, who installed those cement blocks around the Capitol, not unlike the kings of old who built moats around the castle to keep people out. Said Andrew, “Come on in, citizens.” To the press he said, “You can come back up to the second floor like you did when my pop was here.”

So the stage is set. The young governor gave a brilliant speech. His father said that it couldn’t have been better and he was right. The old Cuomo was a great speech maker and a great philosopher but he didn’t have opportunity and he couldn’t make it work. Andrew has the potential. Now everyone is waiting to see the follow through. If he governs as well as he speaks, we may well see him in the White House. If he doesn’t, he’ll be just another mouth. We can all wish him well.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/3/11

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One Comment on “Cuomo sets stage with brilliant inauguration speech”

  1. Gary M Says:

    Professor,
    I think you’re right about the opportunity. However, the fix will be painful. Who will the voters blame? They won’t blame David Paterson, or George Pataki, or Mario Cuomo. They have short memories. Many will blame Andrew, which is unfair, but realistic.


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