Second term fears

So what can we expect during Andrew Cuomo’s second term? First of all, there will certainly be a wholesale changing of the guard. Cuomo is a demanding boss and working for him for four years couldn’t be easy. He is a tough guy and is known to “ping” people at all hours of the day or night. He gets ideas and he wants his people to react to them. There is some evidence that, like many powerful rulers, he doesn’t want the reaction to those ideas to be adversarial. It is tough to have a boss who doesn’t really want to hear from those around him when he has what he considers a good idea. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had what I thought was a good idea, only to hear from my colleagues why the idea stinks.

Cuomo’s finest moment came when he instigated and argued for the New York SAFE Act. That came after the terrible tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut when all those beautiful children were massacred. Cuomo had the courage to do what he thought was right, for which he received terrible criticism, particularly among some upstate gun owners. Using his famous no-holds-barred negotiating techniques, Cuomo spent some of his political capital to get several upstate Republican legislators to go along with his gun control bill. They later suffered the consequences for having done so but Cuomo buttressed his reputation for “getting things done.” Perhaps because of his aggressiveness and his penchant for reacting to events, he ended up with an election victory that was way behind his electoral margin in his first election for governor. Almost certainly, there were people around him who knew what the SAFE Act would cost him but when you are dealing with Andrew and his tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners Chief of Staff, Larry Schwartz, it is best to be circumspect.

As my Aunt Ruth, a respected political scientist used to say, “Everyone should have a tour in government.” What she meant by that was that to really understand the way in which government works, you should spend some time in the trenches. When you are done, you can use the knowledge you gained to either help you in the classroom, teaching, or, as we now say, “monetizing” the connections you made in government to help you later, be it in a law practice or as a lobbyist.

The problem, of course, is that if you are exhausted after, let’s say, four years, and want to get out from under an autocratic and demanding boss, you have to do so with the guy’s blessing. Anyone hiring someone leaving the second floor where the governor sits will surely check the status of that individual. If he or she gets less than a clean bill of health, what’s the advantage to be gained by making the hire?

Knowing this, who among his staff would have the courage to tell the governor what he doesn’t want to hear? Take the ill-fated Moreland Act Commission. It was a millstone around Cuomo’s neck. Is it really possible that nobody on his staff had the foresight to see what was coming? If you set up a crime fighting commission and then put a stop to its work just when it is getting somewhere, you have got to know that there will be terrible consequences. Someone should have seen that locomotive coming down the track and warned him. Or take the clear decision by the governor to help keep the Republicans in control of the Senate when he pledged to do the opposite. Someone on the second floor surely knew that people would not be that stupid and would understand what he was up to. Some reader will probably say, “Well, he won a second term, didn’t he?” The answer, of course, is yes. Richard Nixon won a second term, too.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/10/14
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