Cuomo is playing his cards close to his chest
If you think Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius, you would not be far wrong. One of the ways in which he evaluates himself is by considering what his daughters will think of him when they are adults. To him, the two great achievements of his two year tenure are the passage of a gay rights bill and tougher gun legislation in New York. Both of these were made possible because Cuomo has engineered a hat trick of epic proportions: he runs both houses of the Legislature.
But he has a problem. A few years back, the Senate was briefly taken over by the Democrats who proved that they just weren’t fit to rule. They formed a circular firing squad and proceeded to make fools of themselves. Of course, there were good regular Democrats like Manhattan’s Liz Krueger, Albany’s Neil Breslin and Michael Gianaris of Queens. But several Democrats were out and out crooks. Nobody knew more about this than Cuomo, the then Attorney General who had to investigate many of them.
Cuomo was in the process of reinventing himself as a fiscal conservative with the help of Rupert Murdoch and his Albany henchmen. The last thing he needed was a bunch of unfettered liberal Democrats, some with very dubious credentials, running the Senate. On the other hand, as a potential Presidential candidate, Cuomo was playing footsie with Republican Dean Skelos, now the Republican Temporary President and Majority Leader of the New York State Senate. The Republican Party is a dangerous place to be when you are trying to convince the national Democratic Party that you should be their standard bearer.
As all this was going on, a group of white Democratic senators declared that they would break away from the regular Democrats and enter into a coalition with the Republicans. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) and his fellow “traitors” were the ones Cuomo needed to put across his liberal agenda items like abortion rights, campaign finance, gay rights and gun controls. Things are different than they were in the old days when Papa Cuomo went head to head with the Republicans. If the Republicans didn’t like something, they just wouldn’t put it up for a vote. Now they have to, because if they want to get reelected, the traitor group has to convince their voters that they are real Democrats even though they are playing with the Republicans.
So Skelos, the Republican leader, tells most of his troops that they are free to vote against things like sensible gun legislation but then tells a few of his members that they have been chosen to give Cuomo what he wants. Some of them will face defeat in a Republican primary at the hands of the reactionary Tea Party types but they are expendable if Skelos is to stay in the majority which he desperately wants to do.
Cuomo can really have anything he wants from Skelos and the Republicans. If he wants to, he can always bring all the regular Democrats and the traitor Democrats into a room and tell them that it’s time to learn how to play well with others. Clearly he doesn’t want to do that since the Democrats will then push him to do liberal things like pre-K (kindergarten) for everyone and more money for schools and more welfare money. It’s a real poker “bluff.” Skelos knows that by not passing items like gay marriage and gun control, he would be consigned to minority hell, so he goes along. But if he was to believe that Cuomo would never give control back to the regular Democrats, he could tell Cuomo that he won’t go along. That’s why Cuomo, the master tactician, has to play his cards very close to his chest. So far, he’s done just that and somewhere in or around Sutton Place, Papa Cuomo is walking around with a smile on his face, proudly saying, “That’s my boy.”
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/11/13