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Andrew’s greatest speech

January 12, 2015

At former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s funeral, Andrew Cuomo gave the speech of his life as he eulogized his late father. The speech received very high marks from everyone I spoke with. There was a real sense of good will emanating from this eulogy, softening Andrew’s edges and humanizing his personality. Andrew should seize this moment.

The younger Cuomo has not always been known as a man who plays well with others. This is an ideal time for a behavior adjustment. It isn’t as if he doesn’t know about this. Upon the publication of his book, Andrew, announced that he was no longer the old “get even, get angry” Andrew who never closed the book on old feuds. If one listened carefully to the eulogy that Andrew gave for his father, there were similar words. On the other hand, no matter what anyone thinks or says, the two men are very different. It is hard to find anyone, other than a few inside Albany power brokers, who have a bad word to say about the old man. By the same token, it is equally hard to find anyone who has worked with him or for him who has a good word to say about Andrew.

Nothing was more important to Mario Cuomo than his children, especially the combative Andrew who, to be fair, did much of the senior Cuomo’s dirty work. Men like the late Mayor Ed Koch could never forgive Andrew Cuomo, who he believed was responsible for the “Vote For Cuomo, Not the Homo” signs that appeared during the Koch vs. Cuomo election feud. There was no faster way of getting on the old man’s bad list than by saying something critical about any of his children. That’s something any father can respect, since most of us feel the same way. Of course, some of our kids behave better than others and Andrew’s eulogy made it clear that father and son were not always on the same page. I get that. It’s one thing for a father and a son to fight with each other — it’s another thing entirely for an outsider to attack either of them. I was quite close to Mario, but when I criticized his son, watch out. Mario exercised the nuclear option.

Andrew’s eulogy for his father was moving but it also had some self- serving political elements to it. That was a little troubling in this setting. For example, Andrew called for peace between those people who believe the police have been overly aggressive and the police, themselves. This occurred just as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was facing what might only be called a police revolt as officers turned their backs on the executive authority. By suggesting that the two sides had to get together, Cuomo was once again pulling the rug out from under the mayor.

Sigmund Freud suggested that our characters are set by the time we are about four years old. So even if Andrew wanted to change his political persona, one questions whether or not he could. Many people admire the man because “he gets things done.” While others think that he’s made many mistakes, he still easily won reelection as governor, even though he lost many votes that he might have gotten had people liked him more. And so, what we might call “likeability” is crucial to Andrew’s political success. If he tries, he could build on that Mario eulogy to gain some likeability traction. Whether he does that or not is up to him. You may remember that Jiminy Cricket stayed on Pinocchio’s shoulder and whistled, “Always let your conscience be your guide.” If Cuomo is smart, he will turn this opportunity into a new beginning. If he isn’t, he could find himself in trouble in the old Andrew way.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/12/15

Mario Cuomo an unapologetic social liberal

January 12, 2015

Mario Cuomo has passed, we all knew it was coming.

He was a huge part of my life. It started after I had written a column during the gubernatorial primary between him and Ed Koch. The headline was, “Meet Governor Koch.” For years Cuomo told me that he kept it in his top drawer just to torture me.

It seemed impossible that this obscure Queens lawyer could beat the ballistic, bombastic Koch, who was Mr. New York and who had beaten Cuomo in a previous primary for mayor of New York.

Well there I was, a youngish professor, running a series of public radio stations feeling sorry for myself. Cuomo would never talk to me, I thought, because I had picked the wrong horse. Well, one day I got a call from a Cuomo press secretary, Steve Morello, that he wanted to talk to me so I went down to the capitol, hat in hand, and met with Morello.

The phone rang and Steve said, “Guess who’s here with me, Alan Chartock,” and he told me it was the governor on the phone and he wanted to see me. So I went down to his office and there he was.

Within moments he was asking whether he could be on my radio show. “Anytime” I said. “No,” he said, “I mean every week.” And so it began on virtually every public radio station in the state. Twelve years together, arguing, having fun, with the single brightest, funniest, clever man in the world. Yes, I mean that; in the world.

I ended up writing a book about that relationship, “Me and Mario Cuomo.” It was a history of our adventures. First there were the 12 years when he was governor and then several more years when he was just Mario.

He could do any dialect, he could tell stories like the one about the Blue Spruce where his father exhorted the boys to get shovels and rope when a giant lightning burst felled the tree in front of the family’s new home in Queens. Imitating his father’s Italian accent, Cuomo intoned, “Come oona boys, we’re a-gonna pus her up.”

Years later the grandest blue spruce in the world was in front of that house. Needless to say, we all cried as the can-do story ended. Then there was the one about Ginger the dog. “Ginger is dying,” he read from his diary on the radio. He should have treated Ginger better and every animal owner’s heart melted.

When had a governor ever showed a heart like that of Mario Cuomo? Simple answer: never. It sure wasn’t his predecessor the dour Hugh Carey or his successor, the plastic George Pataki. Nope, Mario was one of a kind, an unreconstructed Rooseveltian social liberal who believed that everyone had to have a fair shot in life.

He may have polled but let me tell you when it came to things he really believed in like his refusal to embrace a death penalty or his fight for a woman’s control over her own body he didn’t give an inch. He stood up to his own church and to the cleric whose words on the front page of a New York tabloid threatened that he would “Burn in hell.”

He once asked me whether I believed in the concept of hell.

“Yes sir,” I responded. “Where is it?” he asked.

“Right here Governor,” I answered.

He allowed that I might make a good Catholic.

One time he called me a “putz” on the radio.” I told him that was a dirty word but undeterred, he said it three more times, “Putz, putz, putz.”

When I told him the word meant penis he assured me that the correct Yiddish word was schmuck. I told him that was true but “putz” was worse. Shortly after the show was over he called and said that we had to do the show over again.

So after all those years on the radio together I mourn for my friend Mario. He was a huge part of my life. I will be forever grateful.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/9/15

Fearless predictions for 2015

December 29, 2014

Here are my fearless predictions for 2015. First, though, a quick refresher on the rules. Some of these predictions are made so that something I am afraid might happen will not happen because I predicted it would happen and thereby put the double whammy on it. Don’t you see?

In other cases, I predict that something will happen because I want to see it happen so I predict it will happen to make it happen. Finally, there are some things I predict will happen because I really think that they will happen. It is up to you, dear reader, to figure out which is which. Here goes:

I predict that outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick will secretly agree to repeated entreaties from Hillary Clinton to be her vice presidential running mate. Patrick genuinely doesn’t want to do it. He wants back in the private sector but he is committed to a progressive government and does not want to see the Republicans gain the last branch of government that they don’t already control. Patrick adds balance to his ticket. His presence will offer encouragement to people of color to get out and vote. He will prove crucial to the ticket.

I predict that Gov. Charlie Baker will follow the script of his Republican predecessors and become best friends with the incoming Senate President, Stan Rosenberg. He’ll understand that he can’t do anything without a friend in high places. He will have some major resistance from the lower house. Maybe coincidentally, maybe not, two state reps will be indicted.

Educational politics in Great Barrington will heat up big time. Emboldened by their anti-tax initiative, the pushers of that group will demand to be included in a power-sharing arrangement with the School Committee and the Selectmen. They will be rebuffed and the leader of the rebel group will be unceremoniously thrown off the town Finance Committee with two of her colleagues.

There will be yet another major attempt to combine the Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire districts. This time the move may actually pass.

The Berkshire County District Attorney will announce that he will be seeking an indictment in the up to now unsolved Dugway Road murder in Stockbridge.

Williams College will announce that its professors will only teach one course every other semester and that they will get a full year’s sabbatical every other year. One alumnus will gripe, “Enough is enough.” The MCLA faculty and the Berkshire Community College faculty will suggest that Williams is giving all hard-working faculty a bad name.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, will announce a major grant for the Berkshires. Even people on Great Barrington’s Hill who voted for a left wing alternative will say, “Boy, were we wrong!”

The Wassaic stop on the railroad will have a spanking new restroom! One wag will be heard to say, “What in the world took them so long? Now maybe we’ll have a chance to get a hamburger and a cup of coffee. Maybe they’ll give the Four Brothers a chance for a franchise. Hey, if you can get food in Grand Central, why not here?”

A bad person will try to buy the Berkshire Eagle. If he succeeds, I’m gone.

The federal government will investigate a well-known speed trap in Egremont.

The Berkshire baby boom will continue unabated.

Housatonic will continue on a roll along with Hudson, N.Y. They’ll both compete for the title, “The New Brooklyn.”

Cafe Adam will host a past U.S. president.

You, dear readers, will have a happy and healthy New Year.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/27/14

Iredale an asset, role model to the town

December 22, 2014

Jane Iredale is just something else again. She has done more for Great Barrington than anyone else around. While everyone is talking about jobs, she has become a one-woman anti-recession agency.

When people talk environment, she walks the walk and leads the way. Her love of animals puts shame on any who would abuse them. Her sense of taste and design is unparalleled. She and her partner, Bob Montgomery, have not only provided employment for so many of our friends and neighbors but they have done so in a thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing way. She is concerned about the environment, the animals, and the rest of her neighbors.

It took several years to convert the former Searles school into the international headquarters for Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, but upon its completion, it became an immediate monument to the school attended by so many of Great Barrington’s residents.

Now, they’re open for business and many of these same former students are part of the Iredale team. Jane has designed a line of cosmetics that has led the way, despite so many would-be competitors. She has made a real success of her business and we have a good deal of real estate and business in Great Barrington to prove it.

I can only say that her generosity with so many of our crucial nonprofits is off the charts. Her work with the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center has been exemplary and she has rightfully been honored for it. She and Bob are like the Energizer Bunnies — they just keep on giving.

I’ve known Jane for a long, long time. She had more than one career before her present one. She was a well-known casting director in New York. Many of the actors who became “somebodys” later on appeared in the commercials she casted. She and a partner, Bill Perry, wrote successful musicals and television productions. She was an early proponent of public television and left an indelible print on the maturation of that product.

But it was her conviction that women were actually hurting themselves with the makeup they wore that convinced her to create products that would actually help. They contain the basic minerals that the skin needs. In doing so, she pioneered a new industry and many others have unashamedly imitated her products.

She has traveled the world and set up sales teams on just about every continent. She was a recipient of an award from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and one who actually made that program look good by her phenomenal success.

When you get a chance to tour the new headquarters your mouth will fall open. Everything in the building, of course, is up to code. Employees have a beautiful place to prepare and eat their food. They have a comfortable place to relax outside. A spacious elevator has been installed outside the building making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The exterior of the building is breathtaking.

Jane is the kind of person who has always been there for the people upon whom she relied as she was developing her business. Her treatment of her former partner, Bill Perry, is exemplary but her respect and love for her own mother, now 101 years old is really something to behold.

Her mother wants to be part of the operation and every day she comes to work and helps assemble Iredale products. It’s a great lesson for any of us who want to be valued as we grow older. Jane and Bob live in a beautiful home, not in one of the rural communities but right in downtown Great Barrington where all of her work is done. Plus, Jane’s mother’s home is right there, too, and Jane and Bob can keep an eye out.

All I can say is that we are very lucky to have Jane Iredale looking out for us, too.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/20/14

In the closing days of session, something might give

December 17, 2014
Look, legislators want a pay raise. They haven’t had one in a long time. If everything were on the up and up, they might even deserve one. We all deserve a pay raise. We professors get them, the employees of the public radio stations I run get them. But people hate the idea that our legislators can vote themselves a raise so we put certain protections in place. We have established a legal/constitutional fiction that legislators cannot raise their own pay in the current session. Therefore, in the waning days of every session there is a huge push — not to raise their own pay but that of the next legislature. It’s utter nonsense since gerrymander-inspired incumbency is largely complete.

Many of these folks really do live on what they earn as legislators but many do not. Their legislative offices allow them to make oodles of money on the outside. Why not bring your legal or insurance or consultant business to a legislator who has that extra clout? Like chicken soup, it couldn’t hurt. Yes, there are some limitations but they leak like a sieve.

Enter the governor into this mix. Since he has to sign the bill that would authorize the pay raise, it’s a perfect opportunity for him to trade legislators for something political that he really wants. In the case of former governor and now presidential candidate George Pataki, the trade was easy. Pataki wanted charter schools and the legislators wanted a raise. The teachers unions did not want charters and the Assembly Democrats are usually aligned with them. Ordinarily, that would be enough to stop something cold, but the legislators were so anxious to get the pay raise that their politics fell aside and they took the deal.

This time, Governor Cuomo is really out for blood. It’s pretty simple to understand. Cuomo probably won’t run for a third term. If he is to run for president, he must meet his pledge to bring real ethical reform to Albany. So, he offers to cut a deal. They agree to real limits on outside income with absolute disclosure, he gives the green light on the pay raise. This is where things get interesting. Many of these legislators and legislative leaders make so much money on the outside that they will certainly not agree to curb their own incomes. This is particularly true for some of the top legislative leaders like Speaker Sheldon Silver and his counterpart in the Republican Senate, Dean Skelos. This, of course, will cause some in the Assembly who don’t cash in the same way, to resent the leaders’ failure to cut a deal.

For his part, Cuomo risks losing some cooperation in his legislative efforts but his voters will support him in these negotiations. Because Cuomo’s past efforts on legislative reform, including his disastrous Moreland Act Commission and his second-rate efforts at redistricting reform, have failed so miserably, he has to go for the real thing this time and the legislative leaders simply won’t have it.

If you were raking in millions of dollars, would you give it up? Nope, we do business in New York the old fashioned way and every time we get close to really cleaning things up, key legislators, often representing the wishes of their troops, get their backs up. Cuomo is a very shrewd man. He has nothing to lose. He holds the keys to the kingdom. Unlike some of his previous efforts at reform, this strikes at the heart of the matter. If he got his way he would have made a real difference in Albany the way governors Franklin Roosevelt and his cousin Teddy did. In the end, however, the deal was just too expensive for the legislature and they weren’t all that happy about it. But you know, in the closing days of this session, something might give.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/15/14

Warren appealing to Dems, but Clinton a better bet

December 17, 2014

I get it. Liberals are afraid of a Hillary Clinton presidency. The Clintons are very smart. They know what it takes to win elections in this country. It is important to remember why Bill Clinton won — not once but twice — and retired as one of the most popular presidents in history. This, after being impeached (Yes, he was. The House impeaches and the Senate tries) and after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Bill was incredibly popular because he read the electorate correctly. This is a fairly conservative country for all the reasons I have laid out in the past. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” Clinton knew that people like fiscal conservatives while at the same time he, for the most part, adhered to a populist social philosophy. It worked like a charm.

So who would I rather see in the presidency, Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton? I’ll bet you can figure that out. I have immense admiration for Warren but I completely understand why she keeps telling everyone in no uncertain terms that she is not running. My operating assumption is that she knows she could give Hillary a run for her money. Primaries are won by activist Democrats and for the same reasons as Hillary lost to Obama, Warren might be able to pull off a win. My guess, however, is that Warren knows that she can’t win. Because Hillary takes positions like her pro-fracking stance (ugh) and she is tough on foreign policy, she cuts into the independent and Republican vote. To put it differently, Warren could win a primary but she couldn’t win the presidency.

This leaves us asking whether voters would rather have a right wing Republican in the White House or a moderate Hilary Clinton. Clinton would certainly have a good chance of winning so big that she could conceivably bring Democratic majorities to both houses of Congress. Of course, it is possible that the MoveOn.org folks who are pushing the Warren candidacy are doing so in order to fire a warning shot over Hillary’s head.

Finally, it would be great to have a woman president. She’s tough, for sure, but that’s what this country seems to want.

The newly released Senate report makes it clear that this country does use torture. It also makes a compelling case that torture does not work. My take is that the Bushes wanted the world to know that if anyone messed with this country, they would be punished, albeit without trial. Many of us are appalled by these findings. We’ve done it before. We put Japanese citizens in camps. We slaughtered the Native Americans. We have suspended Habeas Corpus. Apparently, the FBI wouldn’t go along. We hear that then Secretary of State Colin Powell was not even told because he would have “blown his top.” Of course, Dick Cheney called the people who did this awful stuff “patriots.”

The Senate Democrats released the report before the Republicans took over. I think that they were very courageous to do so. This country is really at a crossroads. Are we going to operate under the rule of law or are have we come to a place where we ignore the rights of foreign nationals and, inevitably, of our own citizens?

Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, is on the correct side of this one. He knows that if we employ torture, there will be a sign on the American door that our enemies can do the same thing. Before you write back that they’ll do it anyway, I would caution that we want the world on our side, not theirs.

It’s just wrong to torture.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle 12/14/14

What does Pataki have to lose?

December 9, 2014
When George Pataki ran for governor in New York and won, we were all astounded. His win was largely due to kingmaker Alfonse D’Amato, who planned and executed the victory. Also, it was 1994, a Republican year much like the one we have just experienced, and New Yorkers were in a bad mood. So Pataki beat Mario Cuomo and because the Democrats didn’t know what to do to win back the governor’s mansion, he was re-elected twice. Like so many other governors of New York, Pataki harbored thoughts of the presidency. I remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday. The arrogance of his administration was astounding. But then, it’s a heady position and it has eaten up some very good men who suffered from the same arrogance that consumed Pataki then. It appears things haven’t changed and, incredibly, he is still reaching for the nation’s top job. Yes, you heard me right; the guy wants to be president.

Sticks and stones won’t hurt him. He won’t stop. Some will say he’s nuts but it’s not easy to tell a man who was elected governor three times against overwhelming odds that he couldn’t be president. It just isn’t going to happen. But all of a sudden, Pataki is out on the political hustings trying to recreate his miracle win in 1994.

How can a moderate Republican who is on the progressive side of social issues like women’s reproductive rights win in a mean-spirited Republican primary? Answer: he can’t. But there he is, making the required visits to the early political battleground states. His toe is in the water and in a state like New York, which is short on comic relief these days, the Pataki for President Initiative is providing more than a few yucks. So why is he doing it?

There is a thing called the fickle finger of fame. Some people get “Peter Principled” to their level of natural incompetence. Once that fickle finger touches you, there is that eternal nagging question, “Could I have been a contender?” Maybe lightning will strike twice. Maybe I can recreate the magic that brought me to the top once before. Maybe the unseemly group of Republican contenders will cancel each other out. Maybe I’ll be the last man standing. No one gives him any chance, but no expert, including me, thought he had a shot when he ran for governor. Some called him a nebbish, some called him a “nobody,” and the most insulting of all, a classic “who-he?”

Because it is so unlikely that he can win the presidency, maybe he is looking for something else. Some think that he might like to be vice president, one heartbeat away from the presidency. In that scenario, a radical right candidate picks a moderate George Pataki as his running mate to reassure the Republican bankers and all the voters who think that the radical right is just too nutsy. New Yorker George Pataki just might bring some political balance to the ticket. But George hasn’t been a person of significance for a long time. He’s been basically forgotten. When the world changed on September 11, the present governor, Andrew Cuomo, in his most famous utterance to date, said that Pataki was just there to hold Rudolph Giuliani’s coat. People snickered.

Maybe Pataki wants more public recognition. People have suggested that he wants a permanent spot on Fox as a commentator. Perhaps the man just wants back in the game and is simply rolling the dice. I’m sure that his former team is encouraging him and helping. What do they have to lose? George Pataki is not going to be president but he must be having fun and he is assuring that we will, too.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/8/14

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