Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sour relationship with his fellow New York progressives reminds me of a classic vaudeville sketch in which a guy goes berserk whenever someone says, “Niagara Falls.” In this case, substitute the word “Amazon.”
It still pains the governor to hear that word… he will likely never get over Amazon.
Cuomo had defeated all comers in the yearlong national competition to bring the retail colossus to Queens, and with it the promise of $27 billion in annual revenue and 25,000 jobs. Most people wanted Amazon to open its new headquarters in the borough — that’s what opinion polls had said.
When Democrats in 2018 won control of the state Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers became the body’s first African American, not to mention female, majority leader. The result was a dramatic shift in the state’s power dynamic. Now, the progressives were really energized. No longer was Albany to be ruled by the proverbial “three men in a room,” with Cuomo playing the part of puppet master. The governor was used to getting his way — and that included bringing Amazon to New York.
Asserting her independence, Stewart-Cousins appointed Senator Michael Gianaris — a longtime Queens incumbent and Amazon critic — to a key state committee that held sway over the deal.
Then, without warning, Amazon pulled out. A stunned and angry Cuomo blamed it on “governmental malpractice.”
Only three months earlier, Cuomo had only good things to say. Having secured a third term in a landslide victory, he celebrated the dawn of a new era of progressive legislation, noting that “none of these things could get done with a Republican senate.” Things would be different, he said, with a Democratic senate under Stewart-Cousins.
“And I think she is magnificently suited for it,” Cuomo said in a WVOX radio interview. “She represents Westchester County. She gets the complexity of the politics of New York.”
Cuomo looked forward to a 2019 legislative year that would include “intelligent” economic development, adding, “I’ll put my economic record against any Republican, and I’ll put my progressive record against any Democrat.”
Clearly, Amazon was to be the crown jewel of Cuomo’s intelligent economic-development plans.
After the deal imploded, Cuomo slammed the Democrats — and kept on slamming them, picking fights at every turn. At one point, in March, he suggested that the Democrats weren’t ready to govern and didn’t understand the complex nature of state politics — a direct shot at Stewart-Cousins that some of her supporters thought was racist and sexist.
“I think we’ve done a great job,” Stewart-Cousins told The New York Daily News in reply. “I’m thinking it’s SDDS — Senate Democratic derangement syndrome — at this point.”
Around that time, first-year state senator Alessandra Biaggi, a rising political star who represents parts of the Bronx, Mount Vernon, and Pelham, took Cuomo to task for holding a $25,000-a-ticket fundraiser during the budget season. She labeled Cuomo a “hypocrite” for ignoring campaign-finance reform. Within earshot of a passing reporter, a Cuomo spokesman dropped the F-bomb regarding Biaggi and two other like-minded female legislators, calling them “idiots.” (Biaggi told me that she never received an apology from either Cuomo or his spokesman.)
Chalk it up to bare-knuckle New York politics. Or, chalk it up to the Amazon hangover.
On and on it went. If you are a New York progressive, you must have been dancing in the streets in celebration of the landmark legislation sponsored by the Senate Democrats in the 2019 session — from rent reforms to driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants to plastic-bag banning and so on.
But in late May, Cuomo said they weren’t doing enough. Stewart-Cousins replied that the governor pique was owed to end-of-year stress.
By midsummer, Cuomo seemed nearly unhinged. “I am the left,” he declared.
This could have been a cri de coeur, coming as it did from a self-described “pragmatic progressive” who’d once said, “There is no good news about turning 60 years old” — one who now finds himself challenged by a younger, leaner, and perhaps less pragmatic group of Democrats.
The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.