ALBANY >> Thanks to an entire life spent in politics, Gov. Andrew Cuomo knows how to roll with the punches, and that’s exactly what he did for much of 2016.
The year began with prison sentences for his two former partners in governing the state, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, then segued into the shocking arrests of two of his most trusted aides. The year finally ended with Hillary Clinton’s crushing loss to Donald Trump.
Along the way, Cuomo traded blows with Democratic rivals, Republican critics, federal regulators, and the media.
“You’re a cynic,” Cuomo told one reporter who questioned his efforts to help the Rochester area, where there are 40,000 fewer people in the labor force than in the 1990s. “And by the way, we’re going to die some day. So let’s be depressed, right? And we’re getting older, so let’s be depressed. And it’s cold, so let’s be depressed.”Advertisement
The depressed upstate economy was one of Cuomo’s biggest challenges in 2016, with massive public spending on projects throughout the region. But the push was hobbled by the corruption prosecution of former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros, who was Cuomo’s top aide on the upstate economy.
Kaloyeros is now gone from SUNY Poly, charged with bid-rigging the projects. Also apparently gone are plans to build a $2 billion chipfab plant at SUNY Poly’s Mohawk Valley campus, a casualty of the investigation.
Also gone is Joe Percoco, another senior aide, charged with taking bribes and influence peddling involving a Hudson Valley power generation plant seeking state approvals worth millions of dollars. Cuomo has described Percoco as like a brother to him.
Cuomo has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has said he knew nothing of what Kaloyeros and Percoco were allegedly up to.
“I’m realistic enough to know in an operation this size with this much money and this many players, it’s unrealistic to say nothing bad is ever going to happen,” Cuomo said after the charges surfaced. “Some people have bad intentions. Some people, frankly, are stupid. And things will happen. The real question is what do you do when you find the bad actor? How do you respond? Do you punish him, and do you put the systems in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”
But there was much more than tawdry Albany scandals to occupy Cuomo’s time in 2016.
He continued to polish his resume as a master builder, with both the $4 billion Tappan Zee bridge project and the new Second Avenue subway line in Manhattan. He also put up hundreds of I Love NY tourism signs on interstate highways despite being told by the federal Transportation Department it was illegal to do so.
Cuomo pushed an environmental agenda that included demands for the EPA to pursue further dredging of PCBs from the Hudson River and environs, rejection of the Constitution Pipeline to transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania, and subsidies for upstate nuclear power plants. Cuomo says the plants are essential to moving New York on renewable energy.
But Cuomo came under fire for his administration’s slow response to the crisis in Hoosick Falls and other Rensselaer County communities where industrial chemicals have contaminated drinking water supplies.
Cuomo again sought ethics reform from the Legislature, but was unsuccessful in an attempt to tie reforms to approval of a long-sought pay raise for members of the Senate and Assembly.
“They don’t want to pass it,” Cuomo told reporters in Niagara Falls after listing ethics as his top priority for the end of session. “They have not wanted to pass it for years. They have said that 18 different ways. I’ve threatened them, cajoled them, tried to charm them, told them jokes. They do not want to pass ethics reform.”
Cuomo continued to burnish his credentials as one the nation’s most active defenders of gay rights. He banned some state travel to North Carolina over the transgender bathrooms issue there, as well as to Mississippi for a law that permits businesses and non-profits to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation or gender preferences.
But he also engaged in some punitive measures of his own, issuing an executive order to blacklist companies that support the BDS movement that boycotts investment in Israel because of how the government treats Palestinians. The NYCLU and other critics said Cuomo was acting illegally in punishing First Amendment rights to free speech. “Creating a government blacklist that imposes state sanctions based on political beliefs raises serious First Amendment concerns, and this is no exception,” the NYCLU said.
Compared to what he faced after his father’s death in 2015 and his partner Sandra Lee’s cancer diagnosis, Cuomo’s personal life appeared to be a little more settled in 2016. In May, she was released from the hospital after what she described online as the last surgery tied to her breast cancer treatment. Cuomo lives in Lee’s home in Westchester County and has referred to her as his partner and his parents’ “daughter.”
As 2016 ended, Cuomo’s political future seemed cloudier than his personal life.
Cuomo’s closest political allies are Bill and Hillary Clinton, whom he served for 8 years in Washington. But their political careers crashed with Trump’s victory, catching Cuomo by surprise. He reportedly reserved 200 hotel rooms for Clinton’s inaugural, an event that some pundits said would have been another step for him to run for president someday.
That now seems completely unlikely. He is gearing up to run for reelection in 2018 as governor, seeking a third term. For New York governors and New York City mayors, third terms have often proven to be a jinx; and in the case of both his father Mario and Gov. George Pataki, a career killer.
Meanwhile, Cuomo has found a convenient foil in Trump, who has promised to repeal Obamacare and take actions against illegal immigrants.
New York stands to lose billions if Obamacare goes. And Cuomo and other Democrats have vowed to protect immigrants against deportations. In 2016, he announced the NaturalizeNY initiative to help immigrants become citizens, offering workshops and financial aid to pay fees associated with the process.
Cuomo was also involved in smaller political rivalries in 2016.
He continued to feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat. The two appear to despise each other and pundits say Cuomo has been trying to find someone to run against de Blasio next year.
And Cuomo traded blows with two other rival Democrats, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, blaming them most recently for not catching on to a bribery scheme involving state pension fund investments.
After 10 years in Albany -- four as attorney general and six as governor -- Cuomo seems to have settled into a standoff with Democrats in the Legislature.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and others publicly criticized him over the pay raise issue, with veteran Assembly member Gary Pretlow (D-Westchester) accusing him of trying to bribe members by dangling the raise. And Senate Democrats say they don’t trust him because of his willingness to work with the Senate GOP.
Cuomo made moves to mend fences with Senate Democrats in 2016, but said it is not the governor’s role to pick and choose leaders of legislative conferences. By year’s end, he appeared to have concluded it wasn’t the governor’s role to have much to do with Legislature unless absolutely necessary.
He announced plans to cancel the State of the State speech to a joint session of the Legislature, where he was rudely interrupted by a Assembly member’s heckling last January. Instead, he will give a series of six regional talks.
Source : http://www.oneidadispatch.com/article/OD/20170104/NEWS/170109966