Cuomo positions himself as the anti-Trump

Photo by Mike Groll / Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2018 State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

Cuomo positions himself as the anti-Trump

Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State sets him up as the anti-Donald Trump
January 3, 2018

Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t mention Donald Trump by name until the final minute of his State of the State address, but it was a shot that was hard to miss.

A photo of the empty Oval Office with an American flag flashed on the screen next to the governor as he spoke.

“Out of many, one,” Cuomo said in his remarks. “Those words are on the flag that is hung in the Oval Office every day, right behind Trump’s desk. To find a way forward, the president only needs to turn around.”

Cuomo was calling on the president and Congress to embrace unity. But Cuomo, like Trump in Washington, is spoiling for a fight.

And his underlying message, like Trump’s on the campaign trail, is “I alone can fix it.”

RELATED: Four big takeaways from Cuomo's State of the State

Throughout his speech, which seemed equally designed to appeal to a Democratic presidential caucus-goer in Des Moines as much as the average voter in Elmira, Cuomo subtweeted Trump. Cuomo excoriated the Trump’s major legislative achievement thus far – a tax law that he says will adversely impact New York by limiting deductions for state and local taxpayers, and promised to sue the federal government to block it. He inveighed against “division” and variations on that word 11 times and he promised to stand firm against sexism and religious or racial discrimination.

Cuomo didn’t have to mention Trump for everyone to know who he was talking about. And the governor clearly intended to portray himself as an avatar of New York’s diversity and tolerance – he used the word “progressive” 10 times in the speech and also in its title – that stands in opposition to Trump’s politics.

Cuomo’s eight State of the State also had the usual nods to the state’s local regions and key constituencies, of course.

The Southern Tier’s industrial hemp industry was promised support. The National Comedy Center in Jamestown got a shoutout. Lyme and tick-borne disease is getting a control plan. Red Hook might get a subway line.

Cuomo cheered the playoff-starved Buffalo Bills –  a team Trump nearly bought in 2014 –  within the first few minutes of his speech. In the middle, he praised the New York Islanders and its owners who reached a deal with the state to build a new rink at Belmont Park. And near the end of his 90-minute stemwinder, as heads sagged in the audience, Cuomo recognized he Mets, whose delegation included owner Jeff Wilpon, General Manager Sandy Alderson, and an infielder who wasn’t David Wright.

But the president hovered like a malevolent specter. Cuomo chided Congress and the White House for “robbing the blue states to pay for the red states” which could cause residents to flee New York and discourage businesses from coming here.

“It is crass, ugly, divisive, and partisan,” Cuomo thundered. “It is an economic civil war.”

He noted the rise in anti-semitism, religious animosity, and racially-based attacks in the past year and he chastised Trump for “governing by dividing” and “always pitting one group against the other.”

Cuomo seemed to be using Trump as a foil for both his reelection this year and a possible run for president.

Unlike Trump, whose sole legislative achievement last year was overhauling taxes, Cuomo touted a bevy of accomplishments including raising the minimum wage, establishing paid family leave, and passing seven on-time budgets that he reached with bipartisan support.

And while Trump has talked about rebuilding infrastructure without actually doing so thus far, Cuomo emphasized his tangible construction projects he ticked off a drumbeat of billion-dollar investments –  redeveloping airports and train stations, building new hospitals, and erecting new bridges.

Washington’s swamps seep with partisan squabbling and foaming hatred, said Cuomo, but he knows how to get Republicans and Democrats work together in Albany’s hills.

“They understand that government is about doing good things for people, and moving the state forward,” Cuomo said. “And they have the professionalism to remember that we may be Democrats, we may be Republicans, but we are New Yorkers first and that's how we act. We find common ground and we move forward.” The message was clear –  Cuomo knows how to build things, pass laws, and bring people together instead of tearing them apart.

And Cuomo would protect New Yorkers from a bullying federal government that seeks to increase their tax burden while dismantling their rights.

RELATED: Muted support for ethics, voting reforms in State of the State

While Trump’s Justice Department encourages prosecutors to pursue harsher sentences for criminals, Cuomo would waive cash bail for minor crimes.

While the Environmental Protection Agency undwinds regulations for polluting businesses, Cuomo would compel General Electric to clean up the Hudson River.

While the Supreme Court could dismantle  public sector labor unions, Cuomo vowed to protect the state’s union workers and their rights to organize.

While the Department of Transportation refuses to pay for a rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, Cuomo is ensuring the state invests in new rail lines in Long Island, renovates Penn Station, and fixes the subway system.

And when the president’s Twitter tirades grip a tired and anxious nation, Cuomo will reassure the state’s residents to remain calm.

“Anxiety is at a fever pitch,” he said. “You feel it up around your neck. And now there's a negative synergy, a sense that we are out of control, and that breeds a fear, and that fear breeds an anger, and that anger breeds a division, and that division makes us smaller and weaker.”

It’s going to be okay, Cuomo says. Cuomo is in control.

Aaron Short
is a New York-based political reporter.