De Blasio and Cuomo, via the Governor's Office
They are elected to lead millions of people, to handle billions of taxpayer dollars, and to develop effective public policy. To be as effective as possible, they must work together.
Yet, they barely speak to each other and won't even say each other's name in public.
There is simply no way that the ongoing feud between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio isn't hurting New Yorkers. The behavior of the two men - New York City's top two elected leaders - is beneath the esteem of their offices.
A leading advocate, Mary Brosnahan of Coalition for the Homeless, put it perfectly in an interview with Politico New York: "They're both very smart people, let's just lower the testosterone and ramp up the cooperation. It just kills me to see homeless New Yorkers being played like pawns in the middle of it."
Lately, it has been homeless people as pawns, but it has been all New Yorkers at some point over the past two years.
Sure, the feud can be the source of fun for observers, even for the governor and his team, it seems. But, there are legitimate policy issues, livelihoods, and lives at stake. It's well past time for Cuomo and de Blasio to work together more closely. And there are steps, beyond the recent dinner they shared, that can easily be taken - if they care enough to try.
The already toxic relationship took a turn for the worse when, in a now-infamous airing of grievances, de Blasio criticized the governor to the press at length on June 30. Remarkable for several reasons, de Blasio's words seemed to indicate he was giving up on the prospects of a strong working relationship with his former boss and longtime friend.
Still, in November, Cuomo defied what observers were seeing when he said, "The relationship is good...This is a professional relationship."
The governor added what appears to be nothing short of a lie, saying: "We coordinate the best we can."
Perhaps Cuomo's statement was true if by "can" he was implying 'given the fact that we are both more concerned with our petty feud than with working for the people of New York.'
When it has come to a series of issues: Ebola, the MTA, Legionnaires' Disease, homelessness, and more, the city and state have clearly not been coordinating "the best" they could.
Of course members of the two administrations talk with each other all the time and coordinate on a variety of public policy matters - there are major day-to-day operations that necessitate this. But, it is abundantly clear that the collaboration is not as strong as it could or should be.
Beyond beginning to speak more regularly by phone and in person, de Blasio and Cuomo could start regularly appearing at events together. Giving the semblance of a working relationship would at least instill more confidence that the two leaders have one and are not being negligent. A little bit of casual conversation, as the two had while awaiting the Pope in September, can only help repair the relationship.
Cuomo and de Blasio don't have to immediately hold joint announcements, they could simply share space when they're due to speak at the same event, something it appears they've avoided with intent.
But, they could hold joint events immediately and start to move beyond The Feud. De Blasio is set to make a minimum wage announcement Wednesday - Cuomo should be there and have a speaking role. Then, de Blasio should be similarly welcomed to Cuomo's next minimum wage rally in the city (he's been conspicuously absent from several). Also Wednesday, Cuomo is expected to announce a renovation plan for Penn Station - de Blasio should be there, not absent like he was when Cuomo announced plans for a new LaGaurdia Airport.
The two Wednesday events are, of course, scheduled for the same time: 2 p.m.
On Thursday, de Blasio is set to sign an executive order mandating paid parental leave for some city employees. Cuomo should be there, too, and he should use the occasion to praise the mayor and explain his intention to push a statewide paid family leave policy.
Though they have very different styles and somewhat different political philosophies, Cuomo and de Blasio actually agree on quite a bit and could find many ways to truly work together. The two should soon hold a joint announcement after coming to a New York/New York IV supportive housing deal.
They missed a good opportunity to show a united front when they came to an agreement on MTA capital plan funding in October after a prolonged and too-public dispute.
But, as they go down a similar road on homelessness, wouldn't it be refreshing if early in the new year Cuomo and de Blasio could coordinate policy and hold a joint press conference to explain how they are going to work together to improve shelter conditions, get people off the streets and into housing, and keep people from becoming homeless in the first place?
Like you, I am not holding my breath for such an announcement or for any of the joint appearances outlined above.
As the New York Times editorial board wrote in late November, "In a better world, the mayor and governor would be mutually supportive allies working together to ease the suffering of tens of thousands of homeless residents of the state's most important city. But in reality, the two men are stuck in a malfunctioning relationship that has turned once-routine city-state partnerships and problem-solving exercises into an unusually fraught psychodrama."
On Monday, the mayor was faced with a barrage of questions from reporters about the homelessness-related executive order the governor had issued with little warning to the de Blasio administration. It has become something of a pattern, state action without coordinating with the city, the governor showing the mayor who is in charge.
"We are very willing to work with the state," de Blasio said in response to a question about why he and his old colleague couldn't simply get together and hash out joint homelessness policy.
Being willing to work together is very different, obviously, from proactively seeking opportunities to mend fences and move forward for the good of the people of the city and state.
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette