This is no time to be playing the blame game

Now that some time has passed, we can look back at the great storm Sandy and review the political aftermath she left behind. If you were Governor Chris Christie or Governor Andrew Cuomo or Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, you would know some fundamental truths of politics. When your constituents are sitting in their homes with water up to their waists, grandmas shivering and children wailing, you are going to want to pin the blame somewhere. That’s just human nature. As governor, do you play it straight and cooperate with the authorities and make sure that FEMA, the power companies, and the state authorities all get along, or do you play the “blame game?”

The other day there was a little leak in one of the papers that had a federal functionary praising Governor Chris Christie and noting his cooperative approach to problem solving. The official also allowed that the New York government was far more difficult when it came to sharing responsibility with the feds. According to this unnamed official, Cuomo’s functionaries apparently brooked little interference from the federal agencies while Republican Christie went all out to show cooperation at one of the most difficult times the Northeastern states have ever seen.

Because of his cooperation, Governor Christie may have won the election for the president. I have always believed that great leaders are defined by what they do when all hell is breaking loose around them. General Eisenhower smoked a lot but he stood tall as D-Day was taking place. JFK took personal responsibility after the failed Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion even though his own CIA and defense establishment had let him down. Dan Malloy in Connecticut went about his business in trying to get the job done and restore order. Michael Bloomberg came out every day and let people know what he knew. When he had to go the painful step of rationing gas, he did so with grace and style. Certainly, in the beginning Governor Cuomo did likewise. Then things apparently changed.

As governor, you know that people will find targets for their unhappiness. Obviously, you do not want to be the target. So you hold a press conference and let the power companies have it. The power companies are the perfect target. None of us likes to pay exorbitant electric or gas bills. I’m reminded of former Tax Commissioner Rodney Chu whose grandfather once said, “Rodney, you can’t take that job. Everyone hates the tax collector.”

It may well turn out that power companies and the agencies that regulate them were not as prepared as they should have been. The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) has several vacancies and a holdover political appointee running it. I suspect Cuomo knows that he could have done better in his oversight of LIPA. I am sure he will learn from this and try his best in the future. We all have to start thinking about how the government protects the people. Do we need some kind of sea walls or dikes or water pumps? Hey, the people of New Orleans made some changes after Katrina and they fared much better in the next storm.

We have lots of things to worry about. Our subways and beaches, tunnels and bridges are run by government. Government agencies run the Port Authority and the MTA. Right now, we all have to pull together. This is no time to be playing the blame game.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/26/12

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