Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Cuomo Challenge

Andrew Cuomo, having already demonstrated a degree of ideological flexibility that was mostly avoided by his father, is poised on the verge of national stardom-sweeping into office riding upstream against the national Republican wave. He did so, as we have pointed out, by adopting many of the prudent fiscal messages of the Right-and now he must find a way to implement these principles in an Albany political climate that is not only fractious, but also largely hostile to any kind of austerity plan.

At the same time, as Greg David outlines in Crain's, Cuomo also faces a compelling challenge to change the ethical climate in the state capitol: "Andrew Cuomo's Agenda for New York plan has two overriding priorities: ethics reform in Albany and a budget overhaul to bring spending in line with revenues without any tax increases. In the wake of his overwhelming victory, the question he must answer is whether he can do both or whether he needs to make one the top priority."

The way David presents it, the governor-elect is faced with a choice-and the either/or nature is seen as a dilemma: "I've debated the issue with keen observers the last few days, and knowledgeable people are sharply divided on Mr. Cuomo's options. The ethics-first group says that a powerful consensus exists for the first time for ethics reform--rules on disclosure of income, campaign finance restrictions, ethics rules for legislators and nonpartisan redistricting--and now is the time to pressure the Legislature to act. Tom Robbins of the Village Voice, who outlined this view on a NY1 panel we participated in last night--noted that this is a victory Mr. Cuomo would win. Presumably, it would also give the new governor momentum for the next fight."

David sees it differently-aligning himself with the budget first group: "The budget-first group says the state's financial problems are so great--Gov. David Paterson yesterday raised the estimated deficit for next year to more than $9 billion--that Mr. Cuomo must attack this problem above all others. Politically, he will want to make as many painful decisions as possible this year, when his popularity is at its peak and long before he runs for reelection or national office."

We agree with the budget first view, but see no reason why the governor can't proceed to operate on two levels at once-and we believe that reducing the size and scope of government is the first order of business (and this should begin with a radical downsizing of the multiplicity of agencies and authorities). Cuomo's national profile will be burnished if he is perceived in at least some way as a Democrat who gets the more sober mood of the country, but who wants to move in a more sensible centrist direction without all of the hyperbole of some on the Right. In essence, Clinton after 1994.

If he does this, Cuomo will be crafting a countervailing position to that of President Obama who, we believe, is a committed progressive ideologue-as his presser yesterday underscored. Conservative Victor Davis Hanson points this out "President Obama came close, but he still just cannot admit that his radical policies and their effects on the economy are the cause of his devastating political rebuke. For most of his press conference, an oddly depressed Obama voted present, as he all but said that the problems are mostly ours, not his — or at least not his agenda but perhaps an occasional inadequate communication."

So, we may be in for an interesting study in contrasts between the new governor of New York and a president recovering from a "shellacking." In our view, we hope that Andrew Cuomo is able to begin to articulate a Democrat governing philosophy that is, while not complementary to the Tea Party fervor, is contrapuntal to it. If he does, he may live up to the hopes that his father has for him.

As the NY Post tells us: "Meanwhile, with the confetti barely cleaned up from election-night celebrations, Cuomo's famous father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, said he won't be surprised to hear his son's name mentioned as a contender for the White House. "If Andrew with his bright mind comes up with good ideas and is able to implement them, then of course he ought to be considered for a higher place," the elder Cuomo said in an interview with William O'Shaughnessy on Westchester's WVOX radio. But, he said, "it should depend upon what he produces." He also predicts his son will be "smarter than his old man."

We agree with Mario. Now let's see how Cuomo the Younger navigates the Albany shoals-if he can make it there, he can make it anywhere.