Alan Chartock: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chess game
So it really does make a difference who is in control of the legislature.
For the first time in a long time, we have two legislative houses in New York that belong to the Democrats as well as a Democratic governor. To understand what that means, you really have to look no further than the changes that we are experiencing in the New York rent laws. Of course, there are nuances.
It’s like watching a chess game. Andrew Cuomo is really good at it and Speaker Carl Heastie is a consummate politician who knows how to play the game, often by keeping his mouth shut. Heastie came up through the ranks until he was boss of the Assembly. He knows how to play the leadership game. After all, he was once boss of the Bronx.
Cuomo is blazingly and sometimes infuriatingly smart. There are times when I think he’d rather fight than breathe. He learned that from his beloved father, who once told me that good politicians can think six moves ahead. Andrew Cuomo hadn’t spoken to me for about eight years—I think he was mad at me—but now he’s on the air with me all the time. This is not a guy who lets old animus get in his way.
Take the case of one of the great gentlemen of New York politics, Carl McCall, who is now retiring from his position as chair of the State University of New York board of trustees. Once, years ago, a much younger Andrew Cuomo decided to run against McCall when McCall had the Democratic nomination for governor all sewn up. McCall prevailed but lost the general election to George Pataki, perhaps because of Cuomo’s messing up the Democratic ranks. Anyway, McCall was one angry dude. But the ever-brilliant Cuomo appointed him chair of the SUNY board and the two got along famously and lived happily ever after.
Cuomo has a playbook that includes using the state Senate as a scapegoat. But the time had come for the Republicans to lose, since they were in office thanks largely to the evil and now failing gerrymander and to the perfidy of a group of Democratic senators who made a deal with the Republicans to keep them in office. That deal by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) was truly one of the most nauseating things I have ever seen in New York politics. Finally, the political prostitutes in the IDC were on the ropes, and Andrew called them in and told them that the game was up. Some people believed that the only reason the so-called IDC got away with its shenanigans was that Cuomo had permitted that to happen. Some suspected that Cuomo was happy to have the Republicans putting the brakes on the more progressive elements in the Democratic Party.
In addition to Cuomo and Heastie, we have Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the newly minted majority leader in the Senate. With her deputy, Michael Gianaris, she has had to defend against an onslaught from Cuomo, who seems to be treating them as the enemy, the same way he positioned himself with the now-deposed Republicans. Of course, Cousins and Heastie have formed a coalition together and have passed a great deal of progressive legislation, which the governor is quick to take credit for. In fact, he has said on the air that he would sign whatever they passed.
He frequently raised questions as to whether the Democratic Senate could get it done. It did, and he is in a position to take the credit for having goaded the Senate into doing the job. For his part, Cuomo took a lot of money from the real estate interests in New York. In politics, there are times to forget your IOUs. He says that he’ll kick anyone in the behind who suggests that his acceptance of campaign money means that he’s in the tank.