After Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the latest stop on his first-ever traveling State of the State roadshow, New York State GOP chairman asserted the governor chose to reveal his budget priorities via a statewide tour because he wants to run president—and to get away from an increasingly hostile State Legislature.
Speaking outside of One World Trade Center following Cuomo’s speech—his first on a three-day, six-region junket this week—Edward Cox, the head of the New York State Republican Committee, told the Observer that he believes a large part of Cuomo’s decision to deliver the State of the State in installments is about positioning himself to make a 2020 try at the White House. Since the days of Al Smith, New York governors have revealed their vision for the coming year in a speech to the State Senate and Assembly in Albany.
“The governor just delivered a speech,” Cox told reporters, noting the audience consisted mostly of friendly Democratic officials. “It sounded more like a presidential address, but it was only to an audience of people who were chosen by him as opposed to what the State of the State should be: you address to the legislature.”
Cuomo first ran in 2010 as a fiscal conservative, but has been laying out increasingly grand spending plans, most recently making tuition free at public colleges and remodeling John F. Kennedy Airport. In today’s expansive speech, key proposals included a new pilot after-school program to extend school hours to provide mentoring and tutoring, revamping the state’s bail system, raising the age of criminal liability from 16 to 18, recording police interrogations, closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant and a $20 billion affordable housing plan.
So far, the governor has been sparse with specifics about how the proposals will be paid for and who will be responsible for paying for them. The Port Authority passed a draft budget last week that allocated $1 billion of the $10 billion needed for the JFK project.
Attendees included Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other Council and Assembly members. Absent were Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who are responsible for shaping the budget with the governor each year, and who have announced they do not intend to attend any of Cuomo’s speeches.
The pair clashed bitterly with Cuomo late last year, as they sought to get their members their first pay hike in 17 years. Cuomo refused to cooperate unless they agreed to a number of reforms that would weaken the legislative branch relative to the executive, such as imposing term limits on lawmakers.
Cox said Cuomo’s definitely “running from the legislature,” saying that he tried to bully the State Senate and Assembly into passing a “hodgepodge of uncooked legislation” to make himself look good but that they refused to accept his bullying.
“He is afraid and there’s—including in the Democratic Assembly—there are Democratic members of the Assembly who’ve said, ‘We can’t be bribed by him’ and there is talk of a walkout, that people have walked out on him,” Cox continued. “He can’t face criticism and when you can’t face criticism, you’re bound to run into problems and that’s why a lot of his projects are mired in corruption.”
De Blasio was probably the only hostile figure who attended today’s event. A number of the proposals the governor presented echoed mayor’s ideas, including his $650 million life sciences initiative, voting reforms such as early voting and same-day registration, adopting salary history blind hiring practices and requiring state contracts to disclose data on gender, race and ethnicity of employees.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference this afternoon. “I’m happy when anyone sees the light.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., a close ally of Cuomo, said there’s a long tradition of the governor addressing both houses so he doesn’t “see why that shouldn’t continue”—but argued touring the state could ease the apprehension people feel over President-elect Donald Trump winning the election.
“I also believe that it’s a good idea to be able to take the show on the road, especially when you’re letting people know that during these times where we are full of anxiety,” Diaz, a former assemblyman, told the Observer. “Where there’s been all this divisiveness after the presidential election and post-presidential election, that you have a governor who’s willing to go out there and hit on all the pertinent issues and strike the right tone to make sure that we unite the state of New York.”
But when the Observer asked him again whether or not he thought the governor made the right decision in choosing to hold a statewide tour, he said that he would “leave that call up to the governor” and again reiterated that he understood both sides’ points of view.
“I know what it’s like as a legislator to want the governor to come and speak before you,” Diaz continued. “The fact is that they’re gonna have many months moving ahead to continue that conversation. I don’t know exactly why the decision was made but I also think it’s a good thing to take this message out in different parts of the state.”
Quinn, now the CEO of nonprofit Women in Need, which runs shelters for homeless women and children, said she’d like to see Cuomo’s housing plan passed.
“I wish it had gotten done last year but we have to get it done this year,” Quinn told the Observer. There’s no question and I don’t know how anybody in any elected office can turn a blind eye to the 4,700 people who stayed with us at WIN last night, mothers and children—70 percent of the people in shelter are families with children.”
The governor’s office maintained it was more important to bring its agenda to the public rather than to fellow politicians.
”Through bills, the budget and countless hours of debate, there will be plenty of communication with the legislature regarding this year’s priorities. Our goal has always been to bring the issues to the people, to develop the public support, and then have it communicated to the elected representatives,” said spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer. “By definition, these regional addressees are designed to communicate directly with the citizens of New York, not legislators.”
A Quinnipiac University poll last month found New Yorkers generally like Cuomo and loathe Trump—but don’t believe their governor would make a very good presidential candidate.
Updated to include comment from Cuomo’s office.