Their Man in Albany

You remember Andrew Cuomo? You know, everyone’s best friend, the Governor of New York State? The man who, the New York Times gushed in mid-March, “Is the Control Freak We Need Right Now” (before pivoting, at least momentarily, in early April to point out how “Delays” and “Warnings” “Unheeded” by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio had “Hindered New York’s Virus Fight”)? The man about whom Radio Open Source host Christopher Lydon – like many in the liberal media – fell all over himself in praise just a few weeks ago? The man who engages in light-hearted sibling banter with his brother – the MSNBC anchor – against the backdrop of pandemic? Who has many good liberal folks Tweeting #CuomoForPresident? Who has inspired the neologism Cuomosexual? In short, the man who – having colossally bungled New York’s COVID-19 response, in the process costing tens of thousands of lives – now has New York City and New York State in the palm of his hand?

That Andrew Cuomo. You know the guy. The one who’s currently in the process of selling out our futures to the highest bidder.

As Akash Mehta wrote for Jacobin in late March – “Even in a Pandemic, Andrew Cuomo Is Not Your Friend” – and followed up in early April – “We’re in a Plague — Yet Andrew Cuomo Just Passed an Absolutely Brutal Austerity Budget” – under the cover of COVID-19 ravaging New York City, Cuomo has been very effectively waging class war from Albany, the Javits Center, or the howling guts of the helicopter in which he then finds himself.

I’ve been hammering away myself, mostly to no avail, at Cuomo’s mishandling and abuse of the crisis – in early and mid-March, on his bungling; in late March and early April on his austerity politics and lies about COVID-19 data; and steadily since, right up to the present. On the phone the other day, my friend Milo pointed out that Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State does not get the credit he deserves for his decades of climate work. Similarly, Inslee is not getting the credit he now deserves for having averted a New York-style COVID-19 crisis in Washington, but so desperate are people in this country for a hero, a savior, a crisis daddy, and above all, an outwardly competent politician, that they’ll sooner celebrate a man who cost tens of thousands of lives, than lift up one who took timely action and saved them.

Coming to the point, Naomi Klein has a long piece out this morning in The Intercept which I encourage you to read. I’d been watching with concern as Cuomo tapped first Michael Bloomberg, then the Gates Foundation, then Eric Schmidt for roles in “recovery” planning, but – as is often the case with respect to political issues North American – Klein has pithily summed up the state of affairs even as it is still taking shape. To quote from her article, wittily entitled “Screen New Deal” (and with the subtitle, “Under Cover of Mass Death, Andrew Cuomo Calls in the Billionaires to Build a High-Tech Dystopia”):

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

We need look no further than post-Katrina New Orleans (where the entire education system was privatized) or post-invasion Iraq (where the riches of an ancient society were pilfered and despoiled by US-based private contractors) to understand the type of money-making bonanza that certain individuals and corporations now perceive in our present state of chaos and collapse. Why is the Governor turning to all these (white, male) billionaires? Probably for the same reason that he’s refusing to tax people like them, and why he’s packed the Financial Control Board with individuals demographically much the same.

We are in the process of very rapidly getting fooled again. For those who are interested, you can find the full text of my email (of September 10th, 2018) endorsing the problematic and ultimately doomed gubernatorial run of Cynthia Nixon below in which I lay out the case against Cuomo. In the year and a half that has passed, not all that much has changed (and apologies for the formatting, WordPress is making it hard to both keep the links and match the size):

Please forgive me for the political email. I’m sure many of you share my feeling that we are at once in an energizing and deeply frightening political moment in this country, and I’ve been trying to do my small part to help move the electoral needle. Volunteering for and supporting the [primary] campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez certainly inspired me, and while – truth be told – I can’t support Cynthia Nixon (and Jumaane Williams) with the same wholeheartedness, I’d nonetheless love to see both of them win in the Democratic primary this Thursday, September 13th.

Here’s why:

In eight years, Gov. Cuomo has starved our public schools of funds; badly underfunded SUNY and CUNY; promised to make NYS a leader in renewable energy generation while simultaneously supporting the build-out of massive fracked gas infrastructure (that is in the process of “locking” us into 40 to 50 more years of fossil-fuel dependency) and undercutting the viability of distributed solar generation in New York; peremptorily shut down an investigation that threatened to reveal his own corruption; had an aide (who was like a “third son” to his father) convicted of taking $300,000 in bribes to facilitate the permitting of a fracked gas power plant; and enabled the rogue Independent Democratic Caucus (or IDC; it’s a nice sounding name, but they caucus with the Republicans) to give effective control of the New York State Senate to the Republicans, stymieing progressive action in what should be one of the most progressive states in the nation.

I could go on, but will trust that you are doing your own homework. Doesn’t Gov. Cuomo have some substantial accomplishments though?

– He banned fracking in NYS in 2014, only to turn around and enable the aforementioned massive buildout of fracked gas infrastructure and the piping into and through NYS of fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s devastated Marcellus Shale region.

– He backed marriage equality, though I think can fairly be said to have led from the back on that effort.

– He introduced a “free college” plan for students attending SUNY and CUNY schools. Sadly, although the Governor’s office has bandied around the phrase “one million families” in characterizing the impact, in truth, fewer than 25,000 students (out of a total state-wide student body of ~900,000) are currently receiving the Excelsior Scholarship, and the majority of students who have applied for it have been declined, not for lack of need or merit, but owing to the fine print that has disqualified the vast majority of low-income students, most of whom balance school with significant work and family responsibilities.

– He claims to stand in defense of undocumented people, but hasn’t supported something as simple as Green Light NY.

While it is probably incorrect (though apocryphally ubiquitous) that Albany is the “most corrupt” state capital in the country, it is certainly extremely corrupt and seems to have grown more so under Cuomo. As I wrote above, I’m not able to back Cynthia Nixon with the same enthusiasm that I backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or that I back Julia Salazar  for those of you living in North Brooklyn!), but setting aside her television career, she does have a long track record of progressive activism, especially around education, and she has been outspoken on issues of racial, economic, and environmental and climate justice. She more than held her own in the lone Democratic gubernatorial debate; she’s been endorsed by the scrappy and rapidly-growing DSA; and she clearly has Cuomo scared. As was widely reported last week, Cuomo’s campaign spent $8.5 million in the three weeks prior (~$400,000 per day) in spite of the fact that polls show him with a “commanding” 60% to 20% lead. Bit hard to figure out exactly how much money Nixon’s campaign has raised to date, but it no doubt remains a small fraction of what has flowed into and out of the Governor’s “war chest,” and she is not accepting corporate donations and has relied largely on “small” donors. Meanwhile, Cuomo rakes in massive donations from the real estate industry.

There are, of course, real questions to be asked about Cynthia Nixon (though if what she says she stands for is among your questions, please go have a look at her website): Could she effectively govern? Would she follow through on her promises? Does she stand any chance upstate? Might she lose a state-wide election to a Republican, leaving us in an even worse bind? In truth, I don’t have any easy answers here, but, as recent upsets have shown, when enough people believe something is possible and vote their consciences, we can start to shift the political discourse away from terms centered on fear and inevitability. Cuomo has done a bad job; he has not served the interests of the vast majority of New Yorkers; he’s presided over extreme corruption in Albany (and, I forgot to mention, bears significant blame for the state of our beloved and beleaguered MTA, no matter how much he tries to dodge and equivocate); and we would be well-served to see him gone.

Here’s A Guide to the NY Democratic Primaries from the Indypendent that may help answer some of your questions about races down ballot from governor, and remember, in 2014, ~11% of registered Democrats voted in the NYS gubernatorial primary, and Zephyr Teachout startled manyone (myself included) by polling 34% to Cuomo’s 62%. She lost badly, but was expected to be in like the single digits. This is why the Governor is spending so big right now. He knows that a majority of New York progressives are sick of his corruption and fake progressivism (he’s called “PAndrew” for a reason), and that he is extremely vulnerable in this primary. If 20-30% of NYC Dems show up to vote, I suspect he’ll lose.

I was obviously very wrong about the outcome of that primary election. Turnout was in the range for which I called, and yet Nixon still got crushed. Thankfully, with the voting out of six of the eight IDC legislators, and the progressive wave in Albany and at City Hall, we’ve seen progress on a number of the issues I highlighted in the email. How Nixon would’ve fared in the face of the pandemic is anyone’s guess, but what use Cuomo is making of it is plan for all to see.

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