The State of the State, according to our illustrious governor, is “rising.” That was the theme of his 78-minute address to New York’s most powerful audience on Wednesday, and it fits. A new bridge will begin to rise across the Hudson, education officials hope that student test scores begin to climb, and the state’s debt is also poised to go up thanks to massive borrowing. Cuomo’s own political ambition is rising too as his speech signaled a campaign pitch with a nationwide scope. And then there were the supporting characters, whose own fortunes were rising and falling like tides on the riverbanks of power. This is their story, the winners and losers.
Chris Collins – The only New York Republican to knock out an incumbent Democratic member of Congress last year was Chris Collins, and this week House Speaker John Boehner demonstrated his appreciation. The former Erie County Executive was given the rare honor for a freshman congressman of chairing a subcommittee. Collins, a critic of the Affordable Care Act, will chair the Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology, the committee that will, as Collins puts it, “determine the impact ObamaCare is having on small businesses.” The plum assignment is a clear message that the GOP is ready to pull out all the stops to defend Collins when he has to run for reelection in two years in a swing district that he only narrowly wrested from the popular Kathy Hochul.
Andrew Cuomo – The governor got high marks for his sprawling (and lengthy) State of the State address this week, especially for appeasing his liberal supporters who were beginning to grow disillusioned with what they saw as a wavering commitment to progressive policymaking. Cuomo’s speech was quite the production—replete with PowerPoint slides to illustrate his points—and hit on the highs and lows of the past year, with Hurricane Sandy and gun control standing out as the emotional centerpieces. He even provided a bit of levity at the expense of Shelly Silver, Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein with images of them in an Adirondack whitewater rafting competition—with Skelos and Klein in the same raft, but paddling in different directions. Cuomo received some criticism for proposing many bold initiatives that would require some real budget gymnastics, but starting the conversation is a good first step and he gave New Yorkers and the Legislature plenty of food for thought as Albany moves into session.
Joe Morelle – The longtime Monroe County assemblyman got a nice promotion this week when Speaker Sheldon Silver announced Morelle as his new majority leader. Long Island’s Bob Sweeney was reportedly also a finalist for the job, but in the end the Speaker opted for geographic parity by replacing the retired Ron Canestrari with another upstater. It’s clearly a good time to be Joe Morelle, so much so that even having the name “Joe Morelle” is a plus. Earlier this month, the Irondequoit Democratic Committee voted to replace new state Senator Ted O’Brien in the Monroe County Legislature with Joe Morelle Jr., the assemblyman’s 24-year-old son. As a result, Morelle (Sr.) says, he was duty bound as chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party to abide by the committee’s wishes and recommend his son to fill the vacancy. Morelle Jr.’s chances of getting the job look good—traditionally the legislature’s president rubber stamps the party chair’s choice and the Democrat & Chronicle reports that there were no other candidates for the position.
Sheldon Silver – Despite being the butt of one of the governor’s jokes during the State of the State address, the “avid outdoorsman” scored a huge political victory with a commitment from Cuomo to raise the state’s minimum wage. The governor decided against taking up Silver’s bill last year that would have increased the minimum wage to $8.50 and index it for inflation, conceding that it would have been a difficult lift to pass through the Republican-controlled Senate. But with Cuomo saying that the legislation should have been passed last year, and with some daylight in the form of the newly bipartisan coalition leadership in the Senate, there’s a chance that Silver might finally get his day in the sun on one of his pet issues. Not a bad consolation prize for Shelly after not getting a chance to speak during the State of the State.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins – “It’s about time!” Stewart-Cousins said on the floor of the state Senate during Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony. Stewart-Cousins, the first woman to lead a conference in either legislative body, thanked her parents and her colleagues for the opportunity to serve as Senate minority leader. She has quickly earned the respect of members on both sides of the aisle and should play a key role in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s progressive agenda, which includes a Women’s Equality Act and pro-choice legislation. And if the power-sharing agreement between Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference implodes, she could find herself as the first woman to serve as Senate majority leader too.
KT Lim – A year ago Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a massive convention center to be built at Genting’s new Resorts World casino, and it seemed the governor’s partnership with Lim and his casino empire might put the popular Queens racino on the inside track to become a full-fledged casino if the state legalized gambling. But the convention center deal crumbled, and at this year’s State of the State the governor said he wants no casinos in New York City – at least for now. While Kim’s Resorts World has raked in the cash and boosted education funding, Lim will have to wait a while longer for a shot at expanding it.
Michael Long – The chairman of the Conservative Party didn’t hear much that he liked in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech this week, which was widely seen as a chance to position himself for a presidential run or at least to renew his relationship with progressive voters in the state. Long, who has sided with Cuomo on issues like the property tax cap but battled against him on same-sex marriage, can expect more clashes ahead on debates ranging from abortion rights to public financing of campaigns to gun control.
Long Island Power Authority – We’re making the entire Long Island Power Authority a loser this week, since not many people know who’s in charge there ever since Michael Hervey stepped down as acting CEO last year. For that matter, many of LIPA’s customers would say that it’s been unclear who’s really been in charge for years, which makes it an easy target for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bash when it suits his needs. Of course, the governor waited until a crisis to pay much attention to the problems at LIPA, and it’s entirely unclear whether a private company will have any interest in the debt-ridden authority.
David Paterson – In what was perhaps the most bizarre admission of the week, the former governor went on Fred Dicker’s radio show and revealed that he signed off on a deal to award the Aqueduct racino contract to the embattled organization Aqueduct Entertainment Group, whose board members had been in scrapes with the law. The revelation comes on the heels of a federal inquiry into suspected bid-rigging by state Sens. John Sampson and Malcolm Smith in relation to the racino deal, and certainly doesn’t help Sampson’s case, as Paterson admitted that he approved AEG’s bid to help Sampson’s tenuous hold on power as then-majority leader. It’s unclear if Paterson’s statements are a case of him not taking the federal investigation seriously or if he felt it was a seemingly innocuous thing to say, but unfortunately for him it does nothing to help his legacy as a politician whose ethical problems torpedoed his tenure as governor.
Larry Seabrook – This bagel is toast! The Bronx’s favorite punching bag is headed to prison after a federal judge sentenced Seabrook to five years for directing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to friends and family members between 2002 and 2009. Seabrook brazenly diverted more than $2 million to nonprofit groups he controlled, allegedly scammed thank-you payments from a boiler company which he helped get a contract with Yankee Stadium, and once doctored a reimbursement for a bagel sandwich and a Snapple that he claimed cost $177. But it was the conspiracy and fraud scheme that tripped the former councilman and state legislator up and landed him in the slammer. Albany stalwarts could only shake their heads at his sad, self-destructive end.