Andrew Cuomo has been governor of New York for less than two years, and he already has achieved successes that some two-termers never managed. He has taken important steps toward a much-needed overhaul of the state’s pension and benefit systems. Budgets have been delivered ahead of time, without the usual rancor. He has ignored the demagogues in his own party by refusing to raise personal income taxes—not coincidentally, private-sector job growth is taking off (some 15,400 jobs were created in New York in June).
So give credit where it is due—Mr. Cuomo has governed effectively and has done so without the bombast and crude behavior of his colleague on the west bank of the Hudson River.
There is, however, a worrisome trend developing in Albany. Mr. Cuomo appears to be the sort of politician who prefers to govern in proverbial smoke-filled rooms (an antiquated phrase, admittedly, but the image retains a certain element of truth). Decision-making often is opaque rather than transparent. Aides communicate not via emails—which are subject to public access laws—but through untraceable messages on their Blackberry devices. Reporters and the public face frustrating delays when they file routine requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
Most recently, Cuomo aides rifled through files in the state archives and removed documents relating to Mr. Cuomo’s investigation of a state trooper scandal while he was attorney general. The governor’s office insisted that the documents were placed in the archives by mistake—that they were a “work product” not a final document.
Whether a “work document” belongs in the archive or not is a point to be debated by archivists and other information experts. Here’s the troubling part: The documents were removed after the governor’s office learned that reporters from The Times Union in Albany had examined and copied them. Then, the governor’s office accused The Times Union of trying to create a “manufactured story”—something, it should be said, that the governor’s office surely would never do.
The pattern seems clear: Mr. Cuomo wants absolute control over the flow of information from his office and even, in the case of the state archives, over institutions over which he has no formal control. He is, of course, hardly the only politician who has dreamed of attaining power over information. But those who try to make those dreams reality often come to a bad end. Richard Nixon, anybody?
There certainly is a place for secrecy in government. Do we really think the U.S. could, or should, tell us everything it is doing to neutralize Iran’s nuclear program? Is government obliged to tell us everything it is doing to protect us from terrorism at home? Should the White House have announced the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in advance? The answers are clear.
Honest discussion of policy differences in an administration also requires a certain degree of discretion, if not absolute secrecy. So only the naïve would suggest that Mr. Cuomo, or any politician, should conduct the public’s business in full view of the public.
That said, Mr. Cuomo’s penchant for secrecy—or is it simply an obsession with control?—will not serve him well as he prepares for his inevitable campaign for national office. More important, it does not serve the public well, and that’s really what matters.