It’s just the nature of political parties, we suppose, that is driving New York Democrats to distraction. They are fuming as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo fills influential positions with staffers who previously served in senior posts for Senate Republicans. Count us among the untroubled.
Cuomo, of course, is a Democrat and, in many ways, just what that entails in the early 21st century. He pushed through a program of free college tuition for students of the state university. He was behind the effort to grant driver's licenses to unauthorized immigrants and to codify abortion rights in New York. He has used the state’s power in an effort to change the economic dynamics of Buffalo. He is a pointed critic of President Trump.
But Cuomo breaks away from the mold frequently enough to show that something else is going on in his approach to government. He advocated – and secured – a property tax cap, recognizing that local taxes are the main culprit for New York’s high-tax reputation. He also pushed hard for teacher evaluations, knowing that some fair system of assessment is a necessary to any ability to measure improvement.
To achieve these valuable goals, Cuomo needed the help of Republicans who, until this year, controlled the State Senate. He was able to secure it, in part, because he recognizes that ideas about good government aren’t limited to his party’s Big Thinkers. That, alone, makes him a different character from most government leaders of either party, here and across the country.
So, it’s hardly surprising – and even less concerning – that since Republicans lost their longtime Senate majority in last year’s elections, Cuomo has reached into the ranks of Republican professionals to stock his own administration. It’s governmentally useful and politically astute.
Among those the governor has brought into his fold are Budget Director Robert Mujica, the former fiscal adviser to three Senate Republican Majority Leaders; Elizabeth Garvey, former top counsel to Senate Republicans and now Cuomo’s special counsel in charge of his budget, legislative and policy priorities; and Kelly Cummings, former communications director for Senate Republicans, now Cuomo’s director of state operations and infrastructure.
All are enormously influential positions and Democrats, not unsurprisingly, are vexed. “Are there not enough Democrats in New York to get these jobs?” asked one lawmaker, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity. After all, New York is a deep blue state where Democrats now control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, and show no signs of losing their grip.
One might also ask the opposite question: Why are all these Republican bureaucrats suddenly making common cause with Democrats? How are they all mixing so well? After all, isn’t this supposed to be, in the overheated rhetoric of the day, the socialists vs. the fascists?
Happily, no. There are many shades of blue and red in the state and the country, and it’s hardly surprising that a Democratic governor who believes in a property tax cap might attract the interest of Republicans who believe that government has an important role to play in life of the state.
Republicans, of course, can also read the tea leaves. For better and for worse, the state has gone blue: Democrats hold both legislative chambers and all statewide offices. It is in those precincts that the most attractive and influential career opportunities now lie.
Cuomo, for his part, can benefit if voters here – and around the country – see him as a chief executive whose approach is unrestricted by pointless political blinders. Some version of realpolitik may be at play here, as well.
Voters benefit, too. One-party control of government is always dangerous, whether it is in Congress, state government or City Hall. Cuomo’s willingness to bring Republican experts into his administration blunts that risk and reaches out to voters who might otherwise feel cast aside.
In a country as divided as this one has become, Cuomo’s hiring offers a path to healing. Where is the downside?