August 8, 2010: New Yorkers are rolling in the aisles. The summer of our discontent (economic, political, you name it) has been made glorious circus by the race for the governor's seat. A clown car of candidates is lurching round the ring. This year's Volkswagen-- or is it a Volt?-- is almost totally filled by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. His war chest is bulging, his poll numbers mighty. When New York's venerable Republican machine chose former Congressman Rick Lazio as challenger to Cuomo they knew what they were doing. Who can forget how Lazio wiped the floor with Hillary Clinton in the alternate reality version of the 2000 senate race?
Annoyingly, Lazio won't be the sole candidate in the Republican primary. Carl Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo-based developer, has managed to shoulder his way onto the ballot.
Paladino paints himself a political outsider. Using the Tea Party as launching pad, recycling Howard Beale's “mad as hell” line from Network. (I wish populists, genuine and otherwise, would give that line a rest; they never seem to realize that Beale, though a sympathetic character, was supposed to be insane.) Political outsider Paladino rents miles of office space to government in a state where public contracts are typically 4 Cronies Only. Tenants include the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the State Thruway Authority, the State University of New York (SUNY) and the state Assembly. Paladino's multi-million dollar leases are long time affairs. Think decades. Taxpayers can't renegotiate. The Department of Transportation alone pays $94,000 a month for digs in depressed post-industrial Buffalo. Paladino's other properties include commercial strips and residential developments blessed with tax breaks such as Empire Development Zone (EDZ) property tax abatements.
(New York's EDZ program was recently jettisoned; too much waste, too few results. Taxpayers who picked up the slack won't receive refunds.)
Carl Paladino gives as good as he gets. The almost half-a-mil in known donations he's doled out directly and through assorted corporations and partnerships to a host of pols from both parties for the last ten years were “donations to good government”*. Take heart cynics! If Paladino managed to find so many worthy public servants in New York, reform must be just around the corner. Paladino's political philosophy includes the belief that reform might best be accomplished by “a benevolent dictator”.
Like, how fresh an attitude is that for a New York pol?
Almost as fresh as madcap political consultant Roger Stone. His minions have been spotted advising Paladino. Stone goes back to Nixon. (Nixon's face is tattooed on his back I kid you not.) Stone has another horse in the race; Manhattan madam Kristin Davis. Davis is running on a libertarian platform, though not the official Libertarian ticket. (The official Libertarian candidate is Warren Redlich, an attorney from Guilderland in Albany County.) Davis was allegedly one of the pimps and pimpettes who supplied X Governor Eliot Spitzer with hookers. Despite her qualifications and an upbeat platform focused on legalizing drugs, prostitution, and gay marriage, Davis doesn't look likely to win. At present she's not even on the ballot.
Carl Paladino is currently behind Rick Lazio in polls. But the gap is closing. (Losing the primary might be a silver lining for Lazio. Word has it he's been offered a role on Mad Men, playing a Don Draper underling.) Both are far behind Andrew Cuomo. But Cuomo's numbers have dipped slightly. Hey-- anything can happen in New York. See Eliot Spitzer.
In 2006, when Andrew Cuomo was running for state attorney general, the office Spitzer held before becoming governor, Cuomo campaign lit featured a pic of a large pair of shoes headlined “Elliot Spitzer is Leaving Some Very Big Shoes to Fill”. No mention of Spitzer's black socks. Which he allegedly kept on while trysting with hookers. Spitzer fessed to his ho habit after a paper trail of his laundered payments surfaced but the sock story may be apocryphal. It was spread by his obsessive arch foe, Roger Stone. (Stone's blog still dishes Spitz.) Despite the foe thing, Stone hung in the same hooker circles as Spitzer and claimed to have heard the sock story straight from the horse's mouth.
New York pols are nothing if not classy.
Though Andrew Cuomo seems shovel-ready for office, contributions continue to swell his war chest. (Lazio is sweeping up peanuts and Paladino is largely self-propelled.) Hard to figure why Cuomo's contributors, an inordinate number of whom represent NYC real estate interests, think he still needs to campaign. He's been stumping for years. Take those listening tours he went on as attorney general under his Community Partnership Initiative. I attended his August, 2008 appearance in Albany, the seat of state government. The crush of pols, bureaucrats, public contractors, and nonprofit players obviously saw Attorney General Cuomo as governor-in-waiting. Fealty was necessary. In Cuomo's speech he inveighed against the growing trend of cynicism about government. He also joked about the $100 million he'd delivered to Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings when he (Cuomo) was head of HUD. A cynic sitting behind me (We Are Everywhere!) hissed “I'd like to know where it all went”.
Cuomo's generosity to Albany/Jennings wasn't singular. As HUD head, Cuomo made 25 visits to New York, about 5 times more than he made to other states**. In 2001, Cuomo's final year at HUD, he announced that New York would receive $170 million for economic development along the Erie Canal. In 2002, Cuomo attempted to become Democratic candidate for governor of New York but lost out to Buffalo-based H. Carl McCall, the former state comptroller. As for the Erie Canal, info surfaced in 2003 that the quasi-public Canal Corporation, a sub entity of the quasi-public New York State Thruway Authority, had sold the shoreline development rights to a supporter of Republican Governor George Pataki for $30,000 via a bid process shrouded in murk. State Comptroller (then) Carl Hevesi rescinded the deal and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, after investigating the matter thoroughly, gave the execs at the Canal Authority in Buffalo a real tongue lashing.
Earlier this year it seemed as if Andrew Cuomo might gift Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings anew. Making Jennings his running mate in the lieutenant governor slot. But Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy got the nod. (Cuomo cares about the whole state not just NYC.) This wasn't the first time Jennings was rumored to be movin' on up, only to remain mayor-for-life. 17 years and counting. Jennings was a big supporter of “Hillary!” for prez. Buzz was “Hillary!” would transport him to DC. Alas. No go. In my early blogging days I wrote quite a bit about Albany under Mayor Jennings. Then I got bored and moved out of town. How long can you go on about decrepit political machines, crony development deals, massive mortgage frauds, neglected blue collar neighborhoods, police scandals, drug trade, and violent crime? Who wants to be carper-for-life? Still, Jennings as potential lieutenant governor would have revitalized my interest.
Being lieutenant governor of New York is a laid back gig. Not much work, swell perks. State senator David Paterson said it all when Eliot Spitzer picked him for the job in 2006, “You get to fart in the executive bathroom.” (New York pols are nothing if not classy.) Spitzer's resignation in early 2008 under a heap of scandal-- but no criminal charges-- forced Dave out of the bathroom and into the governor's mansion. When Paterson mounted the throne it looked as if he might be the right man for the job. He seemed at ease with himself, able to work with others. A refreshing change after Spitzer, who'd been revealed as a petulant carpet chewer better at creating bad blood than being a negotiator or leader.
The relief was brief.
By 2009, after a series of political missteps Paterson's popularity was seriously sagging. None the less, he was planning to run for governor in 2010. Which would have meant a primary contest for Andrew Cuomo against New York's first African-American governor. Not only does Cuomo dislike contests (he prefers to be crowned) the racial politics would have been sticky. Cuomo played coy, making no formal announcement. Meanwhile other folks got busy. President Obama urged Paterson to drop out of the race, ostensibly fearing Paterson would hurt other NY Democrats come election day. Paterson refused. In early 2010 the New York Times, after weeks of hinting at bombshell revelations, pooped out a few Paterson scandals that by Empire State standards were barely there. But the cloud lingered in the minds of corruption-weary New Yorkers. And as the state budget collapsed on Paterson's head he morphed into yet another petulant carpet chewer better at creating bad blood than being a negotiator or leader. Take his dealings with the state employee unions...
Disclosure: I'm pro-union. In both the private and public sector. Which is one reason why I'll never be totally on board with conservatism or libertarianism or with the type of liberalism that's gonzo for globalism. Yeah, unions are sometimes excessive and/or contribute to public corruption. But I just can't get past my cynical suspicion that if it weren't for unions American workers-- both unionized and non-- would be doing the dollar a day rag. In the case of public employee unions, the rights of labor and the rights of taxpayers have to be balanced. The budget crisis in New York State is pressing and it's fair for union members to make sacrifices. It would also be fair if the state's government-empowered developers gave up their tax breaks. And how about clawing back a few billion from New York's multitudinous quasi-public authorities and corporations? As Eliot Spitzer said re the Canal Corporation, “These public authorities are to government what the off-balance-sheet partnerships were to Enron: It's where you hide stuff”.***
But I digress. The subject is Governor Paterson. Paterson has done much of his negotiating with state employee unions in the news media. Dropping policy announcements like bombs. Making threats one day, then backing off the next. His state worker furlough plan failed when challenged in court (which Paterson and his staff should have anticipated) but still cost state government time and money as managers and administrators prepared for a massive disruption which never occurred. Paterson has been equally smooth on other fronts. For example, he shut down dozens of state parks as a budget cutting measure. A number of the targeted parks are tourism engines in financially strapped rural areas or the only places for outdoor recreation near urban ones. After a public outcry Paterson reopened the parks, covering the cost of operation by dipping into the state's Environmental Protection Fund. Which he could have done from the start. But holding the parks hostage made the dip go down more easily.
Governor Paterson took office with the public strongly behind him. Now most New Yorkers can't wait to see him go. Paterson likes to say he's had to make tough budget cuts and doing so is always unpopular. Some truth there, but the real turn-off was how poorly he handled the process. He's no longer taken seriously, just seriously disliked. As a negotiator, Paterson is petty, bullying, and erratic. As a leader, he's proved incapable of inspiring New Yorkers to pull together in a crisis. And oh yeah-- he's long gone from the governor's race. Andrew Cuomo is the only Dem big dog left standing.
Incidentally, if you don't think Cuomo is capable of being a carpet chewer you don't know his history.
King Cuomo, Lazio the Lesser, Paladino For The People. Which will it be? Gee. If it weren't for the Roger Stone connection (that Nixon tattoo spooks me) I'd go for Kristin. Even as a write-in. At least she looks good-- in a pimpette sort of way. And did I mention that she supports gun rights?
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
*Is New York Ready for Carl Paladino?, Robert J. McCarthy and Tom Precious, Buffalo News 04/04/10
**HUD Scandals, Tad DeHaven, Downsizing the Federal Government, Cato Institute
***The Govercutor, Chris Smith, The City Politic, New York Magazine, 05/21/05
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