Andrew Cuomo has accomplished some remarkable things during his time in office. As for me, number one on his leadership list is the SAFE Act that he remarkably managed to push through the Republican-dominated Senate after the terrible, terrible Sandy Hook school massacre in which young children were slaughtered as a result of the gun culture in America. His championing of the right of gay people to marry was another great moment in his political career thus far. Both fundamentally identified New York as a place that could lead the nation in the best tradition of the Empire State.
Then there is a different Andrew who did some great things but only after having had his hand held to the fire. These are cases in which he deserves real credit in the best democratic tradition. There was a lingering suspicion that if he had acted earlier, as he did with guns and gay rights, the political outcome could have been much greater; in other words, more people would have been grateful and willing to support him the future, especially now when his attempted election to a third term draws nearer.
One example of this is his approach to the education of the state’s children. In his first term, he mounted a huge campaign that to the outside observer would be seen as aimed at disciplining the state’s teachers. As they saw it, Cuomo was demanding increased student testing to heighten teacher accountability. This was coupled with some not so veiled suggestions that some teachers would lose their jobs. That did not sit well with the teachers. They frankly hated him for it and, as a result, voted against him in massive numbers in his second run for the state’s top job. He received a million fewer votes during his second run for office than he did the first time around. He didn’t stop there — he also argued in the most vigorous way that charter schools were the way to go. This too created animus among the New York State public school teaching community. Now he has changed his mind on his education policy and you would think that he never, ever said anything about teacher accountability and testing and precious little about charters.
A second example was the issue of hydrofracking. Instead of leading the charge against this unwise process that is so threatening to the environment, Cuomo waited and waited, giving the impression that he was in favor of fracking. Finally, due to a true coalescence of the environmental community, Cuomo announced a moratorium on fracking. That came after massive lobbying campaigns by superstars including Mark Ruffalo and Natalie Merchant and a primary campaign launched by the little known law school professor Zephyr Teachout. Teachout cleaned the governor’s clock in most upstate communities and he was saved only by those Democratic voters in New York City, the nearby suburbs, and Long Island. I think that scared Cuomo straight.
The teachers I know will never forgive Cuomo. Their unions who have to do business with the governor may appear to forgive but the rank and file people I talk to never, ever will. So what lessons should Andrew have learned? He should have learned to do the right thing in the first place. Instead, he waited.
Now, he is doing the same thing in terms of helping the Democrats retake the state Senate so that blue state New York has a Democratic majority in the Senate as well as the Assembly. Instead of just doing it, the man is playing games. He says that he’s for it, but he has taken precious few steps to make it happen. The point is that if he wants to be popular he should get there first before the people force him to do what he should have done in the first place.