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Here’s Your Effing Steamroller

by David King on March 3, 2011

Have you angered Gov. Andrew Cuomo lately? Not sure? Here is one easy way to find out: Check the New York Post’s editorials. If you’ve done something to earn his displeasure, the Post will almost certainly have taken a swipe at you. True, the editorial won’t read, “You pissed off our guy, now you pay,” but that’s basically the gist of it. A list of prominent folks the Post recently has editorialized against includes the Who’s Who of politicos and lobbyists who have irked Cuomo in some way. New York Public Interest Research Group’s Blair Horner said the business-backed group (The Committee to Save New York) that has run many ads backing Cuomo’s fiscal agenda should register as a lobbyist. Soon after, the group did register, and just as quickly the Post blasted Horner and good government groups for being phony and self-interested. Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman didn’t hand in a budget with the amount of cuts Cuomo had demanded, and he was fiercely editorialized against.

“Lippman essentially stuck his thumb in Gov. Cuomo’s eye—budgetarily speaking,” the editorial read. “The new governor asked for restraint, and the jurist said, ‘Maybe for thee but certainly not for me.’” Poor Andy. Hope the Post dabbed his boo-boo.

Billy Easton of Advocates of Quality Education has been making a nuisance of himself, as he does year after year, demanding the state make good on its court-mandated increases in school aid to the poorest districts, and has been making a particularly loud noise this year because of Cuomo’s billion-dollar education cuts. Lo and behold, the Post lambasted him in an editorial called “Pigs in Saints Clothing.”

The Post wasn’t terribly concerned that the Committee to Save New York was not registered as a lobbyist, and attacked Horner for pointing it out. But they got real interested when they learned one of their enemies was not registered.

“Walk just about any capitol corridor in Albany, and odds are you’ll trip over lobbyist-without-portfolio Billy Easton, of the fraudulently mislabeled Alliance for Quality Education,” reads the editorial.

“We say without portfolio because, while rare is the legislator whom Billy hasn’t buttonholed lately, he has yet to register as a lobbyist this year.”

It goes on to slam Easton and AQE for being a front for the teachers’ lobby.

But forget about the Post’s involvement for a minute. Clearly, the tabloid does little if anything to hide its bias, so this is no real surprise. What is truly interesting is what this says about Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo enjoys approval ratings in the 70-percent range, he’s working with a Legislature whose approval has been in the tank for quite some time, and he has no discernible foil—at least publicly. As soon as the seed of disagreement pops up, he squashes it with a quick tongue lashing from the press. Or if you are annoying enough, he hops on talk radio and lets you have it. Cuomo is the new steamroller, and there is no Joe Bruno around.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was expected to be Cuomo’s nemesis, may be working against Cuomo behind the scenes, but even that isn’t very clear. Silver was expected to introduce his own independent redistricting bill, but Cuomo beat him to it, and instead of pushing a weaker bill that he is said to prefer, he quietly introduced Cuomo’s bill into committee late last week.

And then there is the curious case of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried. Gottfried sat on Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team. Last Thursday, the design team met to review staff recommendations and quickly voted to recommend the plan to the governor. Gottfried and three others abstained from the vote. Not soon after, Gottfried went on Capital Tonight with Liz Benjamin and made it clear that he thought the vote was rushed, that there would be more time to comment and make additions, and that the savings the governor was looking for weren’t really attainable in the package. The team was packed with labor and medical industry representatives who are known to be friends of Cuomo.

Cuomo’s team reacted quickly to Gottfried’s disobedience. Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto blasted Gottfried, calling him the “protector of Albany status quo and special interests.” The next day Cuomo went on Post columnist Fred Dicker’s radio show and took a shot at Gottfried, echoing Vlasto. “Dick Gottfried sat there year after year after year designing this program, and [we’re] reforming the program that he designed.”

By Friday afternoon, Silver and Gottfried had released a joint statement supporting the Medicaid Redesign Team’s plan.

Cuomo made another interesting statement while on talk radio last week—basically confirming what I have said in this column previously—asserting that the governor intends to ram his budget through in the extenders that keep the state running if the Legislature fails to agree on a budget by April 1. Gov. David Paterson used the technique last year, and now Cuomo feels he has total control. He told Dicker that he would use “a different mechanism without an agreement.”

Cuomo went on to explain, “The new governor told the people of the state that he would return the government to the people of the state, that I would get them a budget that represents them, not that I would work it out with the Legislature by any date.”

“It’s the end product that counts, that I’ll get them a budget that works for this state one way or another.’

This, my friends, is the real steamroller. Or, as Curtis Sliwa likes to call him, King Cuomo.

Cuomo must have been feeling charitable last week, because some amendments were made to his budget proposal. Careful readers were surprised to find that the language of his budget gave the governor oversight of the financial industry—oversight that had been in the attorney general’s purview for years. He caught a bit of flak for that; this week his staff walked it back, ever so quietly.