At the Somos el Futuro legislative conference in Albany this weekend, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli could be seen hugging Senator Charles Schumer-not because he was feeling particularly affectionate, but because Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, chairman of the conference, which gathers top Democratic officials to discuss issues of concern to Hispanic New Yorkers, had urged attendees to “embrace the person that is sitting next to you.” Mr. Schumer gamely hugged him back, to cheers from the crowd. Across the table, New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand laughed and applauded; New York’s lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy, smiled with his mouth open. Sitting between Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Duffy was Governor Andrew Cuomo.
No one hugged Mr. Cuomo.
Noting the action-or non-action-at the table, Mr. Ortiz, speaking into the microphone at the podium, said, “Nobody wants to embrace the governor.” Everyone laughed, and Mr. Ortiz pleaded, “Somebody has to embrace the governor.” Ms. Gillibrand, who earlier had given the governor a brief peck on the check, did so again, and the room applauded.
Ms. Gillibrand notwith-standing, the reticence is understandable. Embracing the governor isn’t appealing these days, especially if you’re Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mr. Cuomo just announced a $132.5 billion budget that cut about $1.5 billion from city school funding, according to critics.
The day of the Somos dinner, The New York Times used phrases like “unnecessary pain” and “inhumane and financially backward” to describe the budget, and several Democratic lawmakers spent the weekend muttering about adding new taxes and restoring cuts they were forced to accept.
Getting Mr. Cuomo’s budget through the Legislature on time was no easy task. Mr. Cuomo’s office allowed legislators to circumvent the three-day waiting period required before voting on legislation, making the circular argument that “the facts necessitating an immediate vote on the bills are as follows: the bill is necessary to enact the 2011-2012 State budget.” The Buffalo News‘ veteran Albany man, Tom Precious, noted that the exact figures outlining how much money each school district was getting were made public around 9 p.m.; legislators finished voting on the budget hours later, at 1 a.m. Times reporter Thomas Kaplan wrote, “At times, legislators did not seem entirely sure about what they were voting on.”
Mr. Cuomo, who was chased down by reporters as he left the Somos dinner, confidently defended himself, once again, using the same argument about spending that has been used in recent weeks and months by conservative governors like Chris Christie: “I disagree with the concept that the only way to get better services is ‘more money, more money, more money.’ We’ve been spending a lot more money; we’re not getting better services. We spend more money than any state in the nation on education; we’re number 34 in terms of results.”
“So,” Mr. Cuomo added, “it’s not as simple as ‘shovel more money to these groups and maybe something will happen.’ We need to stress performance and achievement in these programs and make the programs work.”
“Bullshit!” said the City Council’s education chairman, Robert Jackson.
He was standing in the Crowne Plaza Hotel earlier that day, handing out copies of the Times editorial criticizing Mr. Cuomo’s budget.
“And I say bullshit-I’m sorry, they tell me not to curse anymore,” he said. “The bottom line is, we’re losing a billion dollars because of this state budget. A billion, O.K.?”
Mr. Jackson is somewhat ahead of the curve. Many Democrats-particularly city Democrats-have either maintained a bashful silence about a state budget that sends far less money to the city than prior budgets, or are only now getting around to raising concerns about the on-time state budget agreement the governor triumphantly announced last week.
It’s not just the fact that the governor pushed the budget through the Legislature quickly, threatening to pass take-it-or-leave-it “extender bills” in the absence of a punctual consensus by the Legislature, though there was that. The governor is very popular at the moment, and resistance is, politically, not all that easy. It is not a coincidence that at a time when even the famously immovable Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, hasn’t seen fit to pick a fight with Mr. Cuomo over the budget, most Democratic officials in New York have chosen to accept it all with a smile.