ALBANY – As Republicans assume power across the branches in Washington, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday sought to grab the liberal mantle, arguing that New York State will offer the pushback to efforts that he argues are challenging “American freedom.’’
“Our progressive philosophy … it’s all being questioned, blamed and attacked,’’ Cuomo said this morning in Manhattan in the first of six State of the State speeches he will give this week.
The Democratic governor peppered his speech with references to the problems of “fear” and “anger” facing the nation, but not once in his 42-minute speech did he specifically mention President-elect Donald Trump. The governor’s speech, before a couple hundred people in the Freedom Tower on the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks, was delivered in less than half the time of his 2016 State of the State in Albany, which stretched on for 90 minutes.
The speech was the first of six State of the State speeches by Cuomo over the next three days, including a 3 p.m. address later today at the University at Buffalo. Cuomo broke with a century-old tradition of governors giving the annual speech to a joint session of the Legislature. His decision comes amid rapidly deteriorating relations between the executive and legislative branches; no legislative leaders were present for Cuomo’s morning address.
Cuomo sought to portray himself as the governor who this year will be the protector of both the poor and middle classes. He talked of “two education systems” in this state: “one for the rich and one for the poor.’’ Cuomo, whose previous State of the State addresses included sharp criticisms of a bloated and expensive K-12 public education system, said Monday he will propose what will amount to another record level of state aid to schools; he offered no specifics, which will come when he presents his 2017 budget in the next week.
While lawmakers snubbed the speech, which came as both houses were preparing for afternoon legislative sessions in Albany, he was joined by at least two Democratic leaders – state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – with whom he has been openly battling for at least the past year.
In his national-tilted themes, Cuomo talked of an American economic transformation that has made a “handful rich,’’ of record homeless people living on the streets and a judicial system too often tipped “by resources or race.’’
Of the middle class, he said they feel “abused … and they feel their government has done nothing to help.’’
“Middle-class success is not the enemy of our progressive beliefs,’’ he said.
As for specifics, Cuomo pushed back against legislators who want to rein in Cuomo’s signature economic development effort: regional councils that have helped him spend billions of dollars since becoming governor in 2011. This year, Cuomo said he will push for another $750 million for those councils, which he controls, “to keep the growth coming.’’ Cuomo said he would earmark another $650 million for a genome-related center based in New York City.
As he will do in the rest of the five speeches scattered around the state, including this afternoon in Buffalo, Cuomo scattered money plans around the five boroughs of New York, including airport improvements in Queens and toll breaks on Staten Island.
Cuomo touted his plan to give some public college students free tuition and extending after-school programs at public schools, as well as a doubling of a state child care tax credit for more than 200,000 people.
But Cuomo, again and again, sought to tap into a divide in America as Trump assumes the presidency next week. “At these stormy times of instability and confusion, let the great state of New York serve as a safe harbor for our progressive principles,’’ Cuomo said.
He went on to press for criminal justice changes, including raising the age of criminal liability from 16 years old to 18, a measure Democrats have pushed for years in Albany. And though he vetoed a bill in December mandating the state assume the counties’ costs of providing legal services for poor people, Cuomo Monday said he will push for such a system this session.
Cuomo gave shout outs to environmental causes – more off-shore wind power and closing the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County. To government watchdog groups, and many Democratic Party causes, he touted his support this year for a system of early voting in elections in New York.
His one major jab at legislators was his claim that the Senate and Assembly have blocked a deal to provide money for new homeless housing programs.
“Oh please,’’ tweeted Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said he hopes Cuomo this week backs a “real jobs plan” that will help “stop the population drain” in New York.
“The governor has chosen to roll out his agenda the way he wants to this year. However, the last thing hardworking, middle-class New Yorkers need right now are flashy press releases, lofty pronouncements, or more broken promises,’’ Flanagan said.