Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a broad and far-reaching State of the State address this month that had many in Albany pondering whether his ambitions pointed toward another capital six hours to the south.
Calling New York the “progressive capital of the nation,” Cuomo used the word progressive five times throughout his 78-minute address.
Despite the rhetorical emphasis, the substance of his speech was more Clintonian in nature, with the governor staking out center-left positions and proposing a grab bag of policy measures generally popular with his base.
Gun control: check. Raising the minimum wage: check. Equal pay and reproductive rights for women: check. Public financing of campaigns: check. Decriminalizing marijuana: check.
“Every move Andrew makes now is seen through a presidential lens, but, in truth … he was always very progressive,” political consultant George Arzt said. “Does it help in the Democratic primary to stake out progressive stances? Sure, but the number one vehicle to get him elected president is to be an effective operational governor. In politics, the past is prologue.”
While Cuomo’s speech was chock-full of well-seasoned red meat for left-leaning voters nationally, it was also carefully directed at ensuring Cuomo’s re-election.
“He learned the lesson well when he got beaten for governor [in 2002], which is that substance is more important than anything else,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant. “When you’re in office, you only get promoted to the next level [by succeeding]. He’s looking at 2014. That’s why he’s raising the money he’s raising, and he’s coming up with an agenda that people [who are] center right and center left would support.”
Cuomo began the speech acknowledging the crises New York has faced over the past two years, citing two devastating hurricanes and several episodes of gun violence. But he also emphasized that government worked in the state’s time of need, a key theme of his speech, before returning to his overarching approach to governance—making the dysfunctional and bureaucratic state government run more smoothly.
Speaking in front of a graphic with the title “New York Rising,” Cuomo riffed on the famous Clintonian metaphor of building a bridge between centuries in touting the progress made on his plan for a new Tappan Zee Bridge.
“Our state Capitol is restored to its original majesty in many, many ways,” Cuomo said. “We set out two years ago to bridge the divide. We needed to bridge a divide from yesterday to tomorrow; from what was to what can be; from dysfunction to performance; from cynicism to trust; from gridlock to cooperation to make the government work. And we are, literally and metaphorically.”
Then it was on to business.
The governor laid out his legislative agenda—boiled down from a 312-page policy volume—with the aid of a surprisingly brisk PowerPoint presentation. The highlights of his agenda included a ban on assault weapons and additional restrictions on the purchasing of firearms, a resolution to raise the minimum wage to $8.75, the second passage of a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling to allow several casinos to be built upstate, increased investments in the technology sector to spur job growth, the protection of a woman’s right to choose and a comprehensive Women’s Equality Act.
Cuomo earned an extended standing ovation from the crowd when he addressed women’s rights. His remarks on the subject were prefaced by the screening of a short campaign-style commercial that enumerated the inequalities in the projected quality of life between an infant boy and girl born beside each other in a New York State hospital.
He heightened his call for the act by referencing his three daughters and dedicating the proposed legislation, in part, to them.
“Maybe it’s a man’s world, but it is not a man’s world in New York, not any more,” he said. “We are going to pass this Women’s Equality Act. We are going to change the lives for my daughters and your daughters and your sisters and your nieces and your wife and your significant other and every person in this room. Every person in this room. And we’re going to do it this year.”
Despite enumerating so many initiatives that a credit scroll was employed at the end of the speech to drive home how much he had proposed, Cuomo left out several significant agenda items from his remarks, including the rising cost of health care, immigration reform and hydrofracking.
Environmentalists, many of whom were demonstrating outside the convention center where Cuomo gave his speech, were leery of the omission of hydrofracking.
“New York should seize this chance to protect our water and our climate by banning fracking before irrevocable damage is done,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “This dangerous form of oil and gas extraction results in massive greenhouse gas pollution that could tip us over the edge into catastrophic global warming. Banning fracking is critical to reducing our nation’s growing risk of extreme weather and other climate-related problems.”
And some downstate legislators, who appreciated Cuomo’s emphasis on rebuilding coastal neighborhoods that flooded during Superstorm Sandy, felt the governor missed an opportunity by declining to turn New York City’s only racino, Resorts World New York in Queens, into a full-service casino with blackjack and poker tables.
“Does that mean that the number one racino in the state is going to be ignored?” asked state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. “That’s ignoring thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in revenue from one site.”
So far the legislative session has started with a bang. Responding to Cuomo’s call, the Legislature took instant action, passing some of the toughest gun control restrictions in the nation a mere six days after the address.
Critics accused Cuomo of harboring political ambitions in fast-tracking the gun bill, but other observers believe Cuomo is simply helping the state get to a better place so he will win overwhelmingly in 2014.
“We are moving forward, and that’s not a bad place to be,” Sheinkopf said. “Even though New Yorkers don’t like to think of themselves as Americans, they are. And Americans like to think they’re moving forward. When they feel like things are static, they tend to respond negatively to people who are elected.”
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, Bill Clinton, campaign finance reform, George Arzt, Gun Control, Hank Sheinkopf, Jo Addabbo, Kassie Siegel, marijuana decriminalization, minimum wage, New York Rising, progressive, State of the State, third-term, Women’s Equality Act, women’s rights