ALBANY – Tony Casale, the Albany public affairs specialist based in Cooperstown who has been around the Capitol on State of the State Day for the last 45 years, was practically breathing fire Wednesday.
He had just heard Gov. Andrew Cuomo deliver the speech that traditionally begins the year’s legislative session, and really didn’t care one way or the other about the calls for cutting taxes or beefing up technology education in the state’s schools.
Casale, a former legislative staffer, assemblyman and State Liquor Authority chairman, and now government affairs guy who has worked for state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, fumed over the way it was delivered – with three screens showcasing the administration’s accomplishments – more than a little reminiscent of a political convention.
“What a dog and pony show,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a message to the Legislature and instead we get all this hoopla. It has lost the dignity of a true message to the Legislature.”
The State of the State address has come a long way since Casale first watched Gov. Nelson Rockefeller at the Assembly rostrum in 1969, or even since the Politics Column first observed Gov. Hugh L. Carey in 1979.
For sure, some of Cuomo’s changes have made the speech much more accessible, such as moving the affair to the spacious convention center in Empire State Plaza.
As a result, a whole lot more New Yorkers get to see the governor’s most important speech of the year. But it also means that the governor – not the Assembly – controls not only the message but the medium. And that’s exactly what Cuomo did on Wednesday.
The governor, with slides of various New York scenes and excerpts from his speech behind him, once again touted the accomplishments of the last three years while looking ahead to 2014 – Election Year. Nothing really has changed from the days of the first State of the State – it’s what governors do.
And for this governor, concentrating on economic development in the still-struggling upstate area remains at or near the top of his agenda. He announced a New York Genomic Medicine Network that he said would bring jobs and millions of dollars of development to Buffalo. He said he would target tax relief for upstate manufacturers, while continuing ongoing programs like his Buffalo Billion economic development program.
This governor, who lost the nine western counties in his otherwise smashing victory in 2010, has his sights on western and upstate New York in 2014. He wants – some say he obsesses over – winning upstate in a big way this year.
Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive who looks more and more like the governor’s Republican opponent, thinks he has a long way to go.
“It was a laundry list of proposals that lacked both funding and detail,” he said Wednesday. “Under Andrew Cuomo, New York has the highest taxes in the nation, the most debt and corruption, and the worst business climate. I heard nothing of substance today that would reverse that course.”
This will be what New Yorkers will hear throughout the 2014 campaign – Cuomo’s record and plans for the future with a Republican complaining that New York is the same old, same old.
And as they have since the days of Rocky and Hughie, governors will launch their campaigns in their State of the State. They will sometimes exaggerate and sometimes make promises they won’t keep, but they make their pitch.
And they succeed or fail not so much on rhetoric or fancy slide shows, but whether they have been a good governor.
New Yorkers are about to make that decision, with Cuomo putting everything he has into making his case to those still unconvinced throughout the wilds of upstate.