What Andrew Cuomo's experience is worth
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) just locked up an important endorsement in advance of Thursday's primary. The New York Times editorial board — in keeping with its limp dishrag political tradition — recommended him over leftist challenger Cynthia Nixon, mainly citing the incumbent's political experience.
Yet the final several weeks of the campaign have demonstrated exactly what Cuomo's experience delivers: an endless cavalcade of incompetence, corruption, and dirty tricks.
Cuomo likes to paint himself as akin to Robert Moses, the infamous "master builder" who controlled most infrastructure construction in New York for decades. But while Cuomo may be every bit as immoral, cynical, and inattentive to vital public transit systems as Moses, he is light-years away from his ability to actually get projects constructed.
Moses really was a genius at getting big, ambitious projects — typically a pointless highway or bridge that required bulldozing a vibrant working-class neighborhood — designed and built. Cuomo's approach, by contrast, is demonstrated well by a campaign event he recently held at a new bridge whose construction he oversaw (naturally named after his father, from whom he inherited his political career). This is a replacement for the old Tappan Zee Bridge, a span crossing the Hudson River north of New York City built at one of the widest spots in the river back in 1955 for goofy political reasons.
Planning for a new bridge (right next to the old one) has been going on for over a decade and actually started back in 2013. Like Moses, Cuomo stripped all the public transit elements out of the bridge in the planning stage. Unlike Moses, this is practically the only major infrastructure project Cuomo has actually completed, and it has eaten up nearly his entire two terms as governor (unless you count a measly three new subway stops that were mainly noteworthy for being about the most expensive ever built). By late 2017, the westbound span was open for traffic — but not the eastbound one, because the old unstable bridge was still sitting next to it.
So on Sept. 8, Cuomo held a campaign event with Hillary Clinton at the bridge entrance thinly disguised as an opening ceremony for the eastbound span, which would be officially opened three days later — only two days before the primary, giving him a nice ribbon-cutting to boast about. He insisted this was mere coincidence, but the Times later reported that Cuomo's staff had offered money incentives and legal immunities to the contractor to get the bridge done by the end of August. After the event, naturally, a chunk of the only partially-dismantled old bridge shifted alarmingly, forcing the actual opening to be delayed indefinitely. (At least nobody got creamed by a collapsing bridge piling.)
Yet even this grotesque display is nothing compared to Cuomo's greatest infrastructure failure: the New York subway. Despite his attempts to blame everyone but himself for its severe dysfunction, the governor controls the subway authority, and as I carefully explained over a year ago, anyone with a lick of sense could see the crisis coming a mile off. But since that the crisis actually took hold, despite the fact that many crash repair programs have been started (including closing whole lines) there has been virtually no progress in reducing service delays. Cuomo appears baffled and disgusted by the whole idea of public transportation and completely incapable of forcing the janky and corrupt New York transit bureaucracy to act quickly or efficiently. It's no surprise that he's too cowardly to ride the subway even for a photo-op, for fear of being heckled by irate New Yorkers.
Speaking of clean government, Cuomo sure has a weird habit of hiring people who end up indicted for corruption! His former campaign manager and executive secretary Joe Percoco was convicted in March for soliciting and accepting bribes, while Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo tapped to oversee his signature "Buffalo Billion" development initiative, was convicted in July of bid-rigging to shunt contracts to pro-Cuomo firms. The Buffalo initiative — a $1.5 billion program, supposedly to revitalize the struggling city — was (perhaps unsurprisingly) a bloated boondoggle that didn't provide half the long-term benefits Cuomo promised.
Finally, that brings me to politics. As usual, Cuomo has run an utterly slimy campaign. Last week, the New York State Democratic Committee sent out a mailer falsely accusing Nixon of supporting the BDS movement, and being "silent on the rise of anti-Semitism." Cuomo controls the committee, but he claimed he had no knowledge of the flyer. Given his track record, the denial beggars belief.
Cuomo also reportedly pressed some unions to leave the Working Families Party, as well as to stop funding nonprofit community groups like New York Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, and Make the Road Action, over their decision to endorse Nixon. "If unions or anyone give money to any of these groups, they can lose my number," WFP state director Bill Lipton reported Cuomo saying. The groups report the threat was indeed carried out.
Cuomo is not wrong to say he is a lot more experienced with extant New York state politics than Nixon is. The above is what it means to be familiar with that status quo — a toxic sludge of failure, corruption, stupidity, incompetence, and Spiro Agnew-style dirty tricks, plus the threatened annihilation of anyone who dares complain.
Sensible people might conclude it's time to try someone — anyone — else.