Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is fiercely competitive and even combative. He can be abrasive. He becomes laser-focused on goals and does not deviate from them, regardless of who gets run over. That has made him some enemies, even among fellow Democrats.
But here’s the thing: His goals are the right goals. His focus on upstate, especially Buffalo, has made a noticeable difference. He may not be the perfect governor, but based on his policies and performance, he’s the best one New York has had in memory, Democrat or Republican.
As a story by reporter Tom Precious earlier this month observed, Cuomo has rubbed many Democrats raw. The most public of those splits burst into the open when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blistered reporters’ ears about the governor’s defects.
Cuomo, he said, has worked as a secret agent for Senate Republicans at the expense of New York City’s priorities. He accused the governor of taking revenge on those who challenge him. He even questioned the Democratic bona fides of the governor who championed same-sex marriage, pushed through a strong gun control bill and ruled against hydraulic fracturing in the state.
De Blasio is not alone. Cuomo has also come into various forms of conflict with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and various Assembly and Senate Democrats. Even supporters such as Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, say Cuomo could be nicer to Democrats.
They all make valid observations, and in doing so prove once again that it is possible to be right on the facts – or at least some of the facts – and still miss the point. In a left-leaning state where even the Republican-controlled Senate joined in wrecking the upstate economy, a change in direction was critical and only a Democrat of iron will would be able to make that happen. The task required a Nixon-goes-to-China quality that no Republican could have achieved.
Thus, with Cuomo in office, New York got a property tax cap that, while not the ideal solution, takes dead aim at one of the biggest obstacles to upstate prosperity. It got four consecutive on-time budgets and one, the most recent, that was only a few hours late. It got real restraint in the rate of spending growth.
New York got programs that seek to overcome New York’s status as the nation’s highest-taxed state. StartUP NY provides a tax-free environment for businesses that open or expand in conjunction with SUNY campuses and some private ones. It got a regional economic development policy that takes advantage of different areas’ strengths to meet their needs.
In Buffalo, we got $1 billion toward economic development, and while the program’s impact is still in the fetal stage, its promise is big enough to have changed the way that Buffalo thinks about itself – and how the rest of the country thinks about it, too. Buffalo needed that kind of attention for many reasons, some of them of its own doing, but Albany’s fingerprints were all over the problem. Cuomo was the one who did something about it, and however much Democrats may gripe, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Senate Republicans.
Yes, he has been weak in some areas, sometimes disappointingly so. He has expended some effort on ethics, but not enough. He dragged his feet on fixing the state’s self-dealing system of political redistricting, and then produced a solution that didn’t go far enough. It’s disappointing, but no more so than any other governor and, on balance, he has been far and away the most useful governor upstate has had in decades.
Given the nature of politics in New York, Cuomo could not have done what he did without bruising some Democrats, most of whom never met a dollar they didn’t want to tax. He could be less abrasive, yes, but the larger point is that other Democrats – and Republicans – could be more productive. They should give it a try.