No Clear Sailing for Cuomo
July 14th, 2011

Vicky Plestis filed this post.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should feel comfortable, but not too comfortable a panel of experts on a panel at Baruch College agreed yesterday. While the 2011 legislative session, exceptionally productive by Albany standards, was lauded as “historic,” John Cahill, a former secretary to Gov. George Pataki, warned, “Power changes, interests change over time.”

The panel identified the Marriage Equality Act as Cuomo’s bigest success. “He cemented his own personal legacy really in six months,” said Cahill. Other achievements for Cuomo included an on-time budget agreement, a cap on proprty taxes and an ethics reform bill — all on the governor’s agenda.

But Cuomo’s success, according to the panel, is larger than the sum of these individual achievements.

“We’ve had a historic last couple of months because we have had a governor who’s been able to bring leaders together,” said Charles O’Byrne, a former secretary to Gov. David Paterson. “I think it presages a really important cultural shift, which brings us back to a way where government works.”

Cuomo, who is fiscally conservative, has been able to negotiate with a Republican dominated senate, in particular Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Republicans, said Abe Lackman, a former advisor to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, are “totally delighted with their relationship with Gov. Cuomo. For the first time in years they actually can have someone listen to them.”

But Lackman cautioned that whether this productivity and cooperation will continue is “an open question.” Historically, from Hugh Carey in 1975 to David Paterson in 2008, a promising first few months has not guaranteed much in New York.

The panel emphasized three potential roadblocks for the governor, the first being, as OByrne put, “jobs, jobs, jobs.” With the economic climate a vital factor in any political leader’s popularity, employment “is [Cuomo’s] next test” and will be a “major agenda item” for the governor next session, said O’Byrne.

But perhaps an even bigger issue will be redistricting. “In my mind that’s the ugliest issue you can face,” said Ken Shapiro, a former counsel to thre different Assembly speakers. Unlike past governors, Cuomo has entered the fray and taken a vocal stance on redistricting, calling for the creation of an independent, non-partisan entity to redraw district lines rather than the legislature.

Given New York’s current demographics, the panel predicted such a move would make it difficult to for the GOP to mainitain their slim Senate majority “disemboweling the Republican Party,” as Cahill put it, and threatening the current collaboration in Albany.

When that issue surfaces I think all the love between Gov. Cuomo and the senate majority leader will totally dissipate,” said Shapiro.
It could also stymie Cuomo fiscally conservative politices. “To achieve that agenda he’s going need the Republicans in the Senate, said Cahill, asserting that, at least for Albany, “best is divided government.”

Finally, while the legislature and governor reached a budget agreement in June, Cuomo still is not out of the woods. “The fact is that there are so many uncertainties on this budget,” said Cahill, citing Medicaid cuts, New York’s projected tax revenues and the debt cap crisis in Washington. “If there’s one cloud I would focus on it’d be whether the budget holds for the remainder of the year,” he said.
In general, the experts viewed Cuomo’s future with tepid optimism. Sure, he’s had a productive first six months, but Albany always offers up unexpected obstacles. For now, said David Nocenti, a former counsel to Govs. Eliot Spitzer and Paterson, “it’s really too early to judge his success.”

By on July 14, 2011, 4:00 pm
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