Will Cuomo do the right thing when it comes to ethics reform?

The game of “Budget Chicken” is resolved for the moment. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been proclaimed the winner, having effectively dealt with the 10 (or is it 11?) billion dollar budget deficit in a timely manner. There was little else that could have been done. Cuomo had circumstances going for him, just as FDR had a depression and a world war going for him. The poor got hit the hardest as they always do. They are too busy making ends meet to organize, and they do not vote in large enough numbers to count.

Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver “… knew when to fold ’em,” and his members had to eat the cuts. At least one of them was so angry at the prospect of incredible cuts in human services to his constituents that he used the “S” word on the floor of the Assembly, getting him admonished for being crude. Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos looks like the cat that ate the canary. He was able to restore some of the money to his Long Island school districts where superintendents earn humongous salaries. Papa Cuomo used to do the same thing with the Long Islanders. I guess Skelos would rather have his constituents take some hits in order to keep their taxes down.

The one place where Cuomo left himself vulnerable was in taking down the existing “millionaires tax.” That may have been a miscalculation since the Cuomo line was “share the pain.” It turns out that millionaires were excluded from the sharing. If the disorganized poor ever wake from their Rip Van Winkle sleep, that could end up biting Cuomo in the posterior. I can see a future presidential run in Cuomo’s future when someone running against him says, “This is not Democrat. This is a Republican in Democratic clothing.” It certainly does appear that Andrew has been found with some strange political bedfellows. If you are a cynic you shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s the way it has always been, and that’s the way it will always be.”

In the meantime, in case you hadn’t noticed, Andrew has made an enemy of one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s numbers are falling badly and part of that is the unsightly fight over the resources he needs to run the city of New York. Bloomberg will soon be out as a politician, but he will certainly have a long memory in a country where those who have the gold rule. Also being heard from is Eliot Spitzer who has little good to say about Cuomo. At the moment, Cuomo is riding very high but with potential adversaries such as Shelly Silver, Mike Bloomberg and Spitzer waiting for their inevitable chances, this could become a potentially lethal game. Of course, many people say that Andrew can play hardball with the best of them and up to now, he certainly has.

Soon we’ll be seeing fights over redistricting and ethics reform in the Legislature. Both of these fights will tell us just how much of his political capital Cuomo is willing to spend. He already had to eat his proposal for a cap on medical malpractice awards, which is a tip of the hat to members of both parties who want to keep on making lawyer-type money but especially to Speaker Silver. If Silver won that one he may well figure that he has Andrew’s number on ethics reform in general. As we saw with the Legislature and Governor Paterson, anyone can put an ethics bill together, but the gutsy Paterson didn’t buy the last half-hearted attempt by the Legislature and vetoed it. He was right to do it. Will Andrew have the guts to do the same thing or is all just a shell game? Time will tell.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/5/11

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One Comment on “Will Cuomo do the right thing when it comes to ethics reform?”

  1. Personally, based on my experience, I hope that ethics reform does not forget ethics and public integrity at the local level. Right now, as I will argue in federal court this summer, New York State has no policy for enforcement or ethics and public integrity at the local level. Just because the state is a mess we shouldn’t forget the counties, towns and cities that are no better and maybe worse. Hopefully, the federal judge will take some small steps if the state government fails to do so. Thanks for following and explaining the logistics of passing something like this in Albany. Keep it up Alan. Thanks.

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