The Cuomos and the ‘Non-Aggression Pact’

| 26 Mar 2021 | 10:59

With Governor Andrew Cuomo under so much scrutiny lately, concerning his personal, governmental and political behavior, it’s perhaps inevitable that comparisons will be made to the tenure of his father, Mario Cuomo – looking for similarities or differences – given that both of them were elected three times as Democrats to be Governor of New York.

While many of these comparisons might not find similarities, there is one area where the term “like father, like son” can certainly be applied. They were both willing, informally at least, to make “non-aggression pacts” with Republicans.

It was widely perceived that Mario never tried to do much to help bring about the establishment of a Democratic majority in the State Senate. A unified State Legislature (Democratic majorities in the Assembly and the Senate) would have made the Legislature a co-equal power to the Governor in Albany. A divided legislature made the governor the “top banana” in Albany when negotiations were necessary.

The same can be said about Andrew, but he took this strategy one step further by enabling, perhaps even helping to create, the breakaway “Independent Democratic Conference” (IDC), at its largest a group of eight senators elected as Democrats who decided to caucus with the Republicans.

This prevented the Dems from having the majority they would otherwise have enjoyed. It made the Republican leader the majority leader instead of the minority leader he would otherwise have been, and gave him and the IDC leader who caucused with him a seat at the table during negotiations, while keeping the Democratic leader out of those negotiations despite the fact that she had three times the number of senators with her as did the breakaway IDC leader.

It was commonly thought that Andrew could have pulled the plug on the IDC defection any time he wanted to, if he’d wanted to. And once six of the eight IDC Senators were defeated by Democratic challengers in the 2018 election and the Democrats finally assumed the majority in the chamber, Cuomo hired staffers who’d worked for the Republican “majority” to work for him.

Election Time

Mario seemed to have a chummy enough relationship with the Republican U.S. Senator from New York, Al D’Amato, that he never did much to help D’Amato’s Democratic challengers in their attempts to defeat him at election time.

Furthermore, when Rudy Giuliani was running against New York City’s Democratic Mayor, David Dinkins, in 1993, Cuomo released a report on the riots which had taken place previously in Crown Heights, Brooklyn which was highly critical of how Dinkins had handled them. Cuomo also put a referendum on the ballot that year concerning Staten Island secession from NYC which brought more Republicans out to the polls than otherwise might have voted.

The results of those two actions probably made the difference in Giuliani’s victory. So much so that the following year, Giuliani, out of gratitude, took the unusual political step for a Republican of endorsing Democrat Cuomo for re-election as Governor over Republican challenger George Pataki.

Andrew’s most similar “non-aggression pact,” oddly, seems to have been with a Republican from New Jersey, former Governor Chris Christie. When Christie killed the plan for a desperately needed rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, Cuomo (then as State Attorney General and later as Governor) didn’t seem to offer any strenuous objections.

When the Christie administration pulled their infamous “Bridgegate” slowdown on the George Washington Bridge, which produced horrible inconveniences for New Yorkers in traffic backups, Cuomo didn’t seem to have much to say, despite the fact that the bridge is operated by a joint N.Y.-N.J. agency, the Port Authority.

And when Christie used Port Authority money to repair the Pulaski Skyway, a strictly New Jersey highway project, rather than using money from New Jersey’s own budget, Cuomo again didn’t seem to have much to say about it. And the relationship between the two governors seemed to remain chummy.

So yes, Mario and Andrew may not have behaved similarly in all ways, but they certainly operated similarly in some ways.