New York’s Governor 1 Percent

April 30, 2014

New York City activist and WBAI radio co-host Sandy Boyer examines Andrew Cuomo's record in his current job--and his obvious ambitious for another one.

ANDREW CUOMO will be seeking reelection as governor of New York in November. But he's also hoping for a promotion--and a new mansion to live in where the walls are painted white.

Whether he stays another four years as governor of New York--a pretty sure bet at this point, given the failure of the Republican Party to find a candidate who can challenge him--or he heads south toward the White House in January 2017--still a long shot against a host of other hopefuls--Cuomo will remain what he's always been: a servant of the 1 Percent.

So are virtually all mainstream politicians, of course. But Cuomo has forged a unique political strategy that sets him apart.

He's out to divide the progressive coalition--pitting people who care primarily about "social" issues like same sex marriage and choice against those more concerned with "economic" issues like schools, taxes and workers' rights. It's a strategy he thinks will make him more electable by appealing to moderate Democrats and even liberal Republicans.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo's signal achievement as governor has been forcing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage through the Republican-controlled state Senate. He accomplished this not by mobilizing popular support, but by mobilizing a group of millionaires. Each of them cut a six-figure check to a fund that eventually totaled more than $1 million. The money was used for campaign contributions to Republicans who voted in favor of marriage equality.

Unfortunately, there has been no such success in guaranteeing a woman's right to choose in New York state. Cuomo supported a bill that would have preserved the protections of Roe v. Wade even if the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion was overturned. But the bill died when he could not or would not mobilize a similar group of millionaires to overcome resistance in the state Senate.

WHEN IT comes to economic equality, Cuomo doesn't even pretend to be any kind of liberal. Consider his record:

With Cuomo leading the charge, New York state has taken more than $2 billion a year away from school districts over the past four years.

Cuomo forced state workers to take a two-year wage freeze, pay more for their health benefits and take nine days off without pay over two years. He also succeeded in cutting retirees' pensions and increasing the retirement age.

Thanks to Cuomo, manufacturers no longer have to pay New York's corporate income tax.

Food service workers were left out when New York increased the state minimum wage to $8 an hour. Now Cuomo is refusing to appoint a board to increase food service workers' wages and protect them from rampant wage theft.

And for Andrew Cuomo, it's never enough to attack working people on the state level. He's just as determined to prevent New York City from doing anything that might make life better for the 99 Percent.

Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York by promising universal pre-Kindergarten as well as after-school programs for all middle school students. He wanted to pay for this with a "millionaire's tax"--raising taxes on New York City residents earning over $500,000 a year, from almost 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent. This would have given the educational programs permanent funding so they wouldn't have to depend on the vagaries of appropriations from the state legislature.

Cuomo immediately proclaimed that taxing the rich was non-negotiable. He pushed through a bill that will give the city $300 million a year for two years for pre-K, rather than the $340 million de Blasio wanted. There's nothing for middle school programs and no guarantee that there will be any funding when the two years are over.

Cuomo took his political revenge on de Blasio by pushing through a bill to force the city to provide space for charter schools--privately operated at government expense--even when it means crowding out public school classrooms. The city will also have to provide public classrooms to new and expanding charter schools or pay to rent space for them in private buildings.

It may be just a coincidence that Cuomo has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from charter school supporters.

De Blasio also wanted the state to let New York City and other municipalities set their own higher minimum wage. Cuomo didn't waste any time shooting that down. He claimed it would allow cities with a lower minimum wage to poach higher-paying New York City jobs.

Cuomo says low-wage workers shouldn't be demanding $15 an hour because it will only backfire on them. He clearly loves them more than they love themselves.

Unfortunately, instead of continuing the fight for a higher minimum wage and guaranteed funding for middle school and pre-K programs, de Blasio has decided to declare victory and shut up. Even the most progressive Democratic public officials may only be willing to go so far.

ANDREW CUOMO is the past master at using New York state's bizarre legislative politics on behalf of the 1 Percent.

The Democrats have virtually permanent control over the State Assembly and the Republicans the state Senate. Each house passes bills to please its own base, knowing that most of them will never become law.

At the end of the legislative session, all the important issues are decided by a meeting of "three men in a room"--the Assembly Speaker, the majority leader of the Senate and the governor. After they agree on everything behind closed doors, legislators are told what to pass. Sometimes, they don't even get to read the bills before voting.

This is a very cozy arrangement for both Democrats and Republicans, and especially for Cuomo. It gives him enormous power to enact his elite agenda, especially by making deals with the conservative Senate Republicans.

If the Democrats ever controlled the state Senate, Cuomo and especially the Democratic leadership in the Assembly would be in serious trouble. When bills on vital issues like housing, jobs and choice die every year, they wouldn't be able to keep blaming the Republicans. Their supporters might start demanding that they actually deliver on their promises.

Some people would even want Cuomo to champion both social and economic issues. That would derail his entire presidential strategy.

But New York's politicians have a terrible problem. There are over 25 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans in New York, according to the state Board of Elections. When the Pew Research Center asked New York voters which party they prefer, 39 percent said the Democrats, and only 23 percent said the Republicans.

This has compelled Cuomo and the Democratic leadership to find creative ways to keep the Republicans in charge of the state Senate.

At first, they relied on a good, old-fashioned gerrymandering. Cuomo signed off on a virtual incumbents' protection bill that essentially allowed the Democrats to design the Assembly districts and the Republicans the Senate districts. For good measure, they added another, presumably safe Republican seat in the Senate.

Then the voters double-crossed them in the 2012 elections. They gave the Democrats a three-seat majority in the state Senate.

Something drastic had to be done. Suddenly a group of "Independent Democrats" announced that they would leave the Democrats and vote with the Republicans. It was back to business as usual, with the Republicans controlling the Senate, the Democrats the Assembly, and Cuomo in the driver's seat.

We may never know precisely how Cuomo engineered this. But as Michael McKee of the Tenants Political Action Committee wrote in Tenant/Inquilino:

It is not a secret that Cuomo prefers a Republican-controlled Senate, although he won't admit it, and virtually no other politician will say so in public. Reports that Klein [the leader of the Independent Democrats] had consulted the governor as he negotiated with Skelos [the Republican Senate majority leader] were denied all around. But actions speak louder than words.

Andrew Cuomo has worked long and hard to earn the title of "Governor 1 Percent." Now he's betting that his deals can propel him to the White House at the expense of working people. The only thing worse than "Governor 1 Percent" might be "President 1 Percent."

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