Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Supporting Cuomo

The NY Times has an interesting story on the Save NY Coalition-and it's putative ties to the governor: "When television advertisements criticizing state government began to appear across New York last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seemed anything but displeased. After all, the group paying for the advertisements, known as the Committee to Save New York, shared many of the governor’s broad goals, like reining in runaway spending and capping local property taxes, and its Web site even included a link to video of his recent State of the State address."

The group even has the governor's blessing-unsurprising since their aims appear to be meshing: "I encourage people to join that group,” Mr. Cuomo said Thursday, after speaking to an audience in Jamestown, N.Y., about his plans for the year. “I encourage people today to speak up.” But he has more than a passing familiarity with the committee. It was organized at his urging, after a series of meetings last spring and summer at which the then-candidate pressed business leaders to take a more aggressive role in Albany."

At the same time, there still remains an inherent weakness in this collaboration-and in some ways, the governor's close ties to the group can be both a strength and a weakness. It obviously helps to have the governor's back-especially one who is currently cruising with a 70% approval rating. At the same time, it creates a degree of incestuousness that can-if not remedied-dilute the SNY coalition's effectiveness.

The reason that the ties to Cuomo can be a drawback, lies with the perception that there is a lack of true civic spirit and independence-and gives opponents the opportunity to attack the coalition, made up initially by well heeled real estate interests, as the apotheosis of the special interests. In turn, the ability of the opposition to do this, hurts the governor as well.

And right on cue, the opposition comes out firing: "Those skeptical of Mr. Cuomo’s agenda, however, chafe at the implication that they — and not the governor’s well-financed allies — should be branded “special interests.”  “When did the real estate industry and Wall Street become the people who are going to save New York?” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, which supports higher spending on schools. “I don’t think that anybody who’s a voter in New York is going to buy into the idea that these guys are going to spend $10 million because they’re worried about what’s going to happen to average New Yorkers.”

The problem here lies with branding-and the need to educate New Yorkers that in the case of Albany, the special interests are those forces that have been the foundation for the growth of an uncontrolled expansion of government; with a concomitant rise in taxes and restrictive regulations. But not only that-it also needs to be forcefully dramatized that this government expansion has been at the expense of economic growth in NY State.

For this effort to gain traction, SNY needs to expand its own base and scope of action-and its board should be more reflective of a wider range of business and community interests. If this happens, than SNY can become transcendent-and truly reflective of the real working families of New York.

According to the Times, SNY's head Kathy Wylde has been trying to create an effective state wide business lobbying force-and this is a long over due phenomenon: "We have been working with economic development and business groups across the state for the past three years to try and forge a statewide strategy for economic growth,” said Ms. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of financial, real estate and other senior business leaders in the city."

We applaud the effort and hope that it can be an effective counterbalance to the public sector unions on tax and spending issues. That being said, absent the grass roots diversity we talked about above, SNY will be in danger of being stigmatized by the WFP and its allies as simply a class-based special interest-unless it can attract a diverse small business constituency that is poised to join with it, and the governor, to return a degree of sanity, and smaller government, to Albany.

It would also be important if the coalition can reach out to the various tax payer and homeowner groups across the state to give its message a true grass roots resonance. There is no question, as Bill Hammond points out this morning in the NY Daily News, that the governor has the power to force the legislature to comply with his agenda-but it is the ability of SNY to organize at the grass roots level that will allow the governor to accomplish this without being eaten by the usual pirhana suspects.

We'll give the Post editorialists and the governor himself the last word: "Cuomo is making clear that he can succeed only with strong public support. "My voice only resonates when I have you behind me," he said in a follow-up speech at a college auditorium in Watertown. "You want the Legislature to change? You tell the Legislature."