This will be the last post for NT2.
Several of our members, including our scribe, are about to start new
ventures. Our remaining members didn’t think they could maintain the output
of the blog at the same level. So we’ve decided to end it.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our work. We hope we’ve made a worthwhile point or
two, and encouraged dialogue.
There’s a possibility that we regroup and return in the new year under a
different banner and with a slightly different focus. We’re exploring that
But regardless of what happens in the future, we want to thank our readers,
especially those of you who took the time to respond to our posts with
wisdom, humor, occasional pique, and style.
New York is actually in better shape than many other states. Yes, it has significant projected financial gaps, but these gaps are smaller (as a percentage of our overall budget) than the gaps that state officials have dealt with successfully in previous years.
The recession is over. Yes, job growth has been stubbornly slow, but key sectors of the economy thought to have lost jobs for good are showing signs of improvement.
Change is coming to state government. The new governor is very capable and appears to have the right set of priorities. Legislative leaders are saying all the right things about the need to work together to address the state’s problems. Sweeping change is probably unlikely, but state leaders are indeed likely to agree on measures that will at least move the state in the right direction.
Bipartisan government is about to be restored in Albany. And the new Republican majority in the Senate appears to understand that it is in its interest to get things done.
The tenor of the public dialogue in New York has changed for the better. After an extended period of excessive partisanship and general rancor, the dialogue seems to be more restrained and perhaps more realistic with regard to the challenges the state faces.
The coverage of state government by the media has improved. Reporters seem more willing to press elected officials for details of their positions. And with exceptions, there appears to be less open booster-ism of officials.
People are more optimistic. More than 70 percent of respondents in a recent poll believe things will get better in New York over the next four years.
Have a great holiday.
We are alien visitors to earth. We’ve come in peace to observe how the inhabitants of this planet interact.
We’ve discovered that the most important facet of your collective lives does not involve self-governance, but a phenomenon known as ballroom dancing.
The attention of your people is now focused a television show called Dancing with the Stars. On this show, people with nominal notoriety in your culture dress up, spin around on stage and throw their arms out in dramatic fashion to the wild applause of viewers.
While viewers of this television show appear to derive satisfaction from seeing the gyrations of the contestants, they are most stimulated by the act of commenting on the relative merits of each contestant’s performance.
In fact, we have observed that the more disagreement that exists over the judging of the performances, the more stimulating the experience appears to be for viewers.
This particular phenomenon appears to be most pointed with regard to young women contestant who, despite inferior dancing skills, appears to be a favorite of home viewers. Her appeal is believed to be linked to the fact that her mother is a prominent political figure.
The young woman’s success on the show has generated great controversy, which, again, appears to a far greater source of stimulation for viewers that the dancing itself.
Humans now appear to have divided themselves into rancorous opposing camps – those who support the young woman for reasons unrelated to her dancing skills, and those who believe her continued success on the show is violative of cherished societal precepts.
We find this situation to be rather hard to comprehend. We will continue to observe and endeavor to understand it.
Apropos of nothing in particular, we bring you this discourse on the disputed derivation of the word “lobby.”
First, there’s an old hotel in the Washington, D.C., the Willard, that claims to be the birthplace of the term. It is said that President Grant used to come to the hotel for a drink in the afternoons, and that people seeking favors would stand in the ornate lobby waiting for him to walk by. As word of the President’s availability (and lubricated good humor) spread, the number of people grew and hotel workers coined the derisive term “lobbyists” to distinguish them from the hotel’s paying guests.
While this activity may have transpired as described, experts note that English dictionaries of Americanisms published in the 1840s included the word “lobby” and said that it was in wide usage to describe the act of seeking to influence the decisions of elected officials.
Since Grant was elected president in 1868, the Willard Hotel derivation would seem unlikely. (Those who support the hotel derivation counter that he might have been visiting the hotel when he was a Civil War general instead of president, but that still doesn’t go back far enough.)
Another equally colorful derivation is suggested by the poet Robert Hass, who says that there was once an individual named Joseph Lobby who, while running for alderman in a New England village at the turn of the 19th century, repeatedly wrote letters making the case for his candidacy. The act of writing persuasive letters or otherwise seeking to influence people then became known as “Lobbying.”
Hass, master of the dramatic monologue and former U.S. Poet Laureate, asserts this derivation in a poem in which he notes that we all lobby to one extent or another.
Still other experts say the word originated in the 16th century in England and that it referred to a designated area at Parliament where members of the public could speak to members of the House of Commons.
We rather like the Hass explanation, and hope that in future posts we’ll also be able to tell the story of Gerald Mander and Phillip Ibuster.
So ends our lesson in lexicography.
For Mario, it was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and philosopher who tried to reconcile evolution and faith. Mario would launch into deep reflections on de Chardin late at night as reporters were writing on deadline about stalled budget negotiations.
For George, it was Teddy Roosevelt, the great conservationist. He put TR’s giant, manly-man portrait in the Red Room of the Capitol and stood before it to make state land acquisition announcements. (No elected official in history acquired more land-locked, inaccessible parcels in the wilderness than GEP.)
For Eliot, it was also TR, whom he revered for trust-busting intervention that saved capitalism from excess. Eliot moved the TR portrait into his office and it inspired him in manly-man ways that were ultimately counterproductive.
For Andrew, it is … well … we don’t know.
The New York Times reported recently that when Mario was governor, Andrew slept in the executive mansion in the second-floor room once occupied by Nelson A. Rockefeller. The Times said that Andrew described Rocky as “a hero he hoped to emulate.”
But this can’t be. Rocky can’t be Andrew’s inspiration. Mario always said that Rocky (builder of the Thruway, the SUNY system and Capitol complex) set New York on a path toward overspending. It was also Rocky who created the overly harsh drug laws that Andrew worked to eliminate.
A more logical possibility for Andrew is Hugh Carey, who saved New York from fiscal calamity. Andrew recently delivered copies of Carey’s biography to some political leaders in New York. In so doing, he made a point of noting Carey’s famous line that “the days of wine and roses are over.”
But if Carey is really Andrew’s hero, it’s something new. There was always tension between Carey and Cuomo camps, and Andrew was known to have taken offense to Carey’s endorsement of Pataki.
Another possibility is Bill Clinton, the great triangulator. Andrew has talked about Clinton being a mentor in politics, but he’s never called him a hero. In fact, he was and is closer to Al Gore than Bubba.
We think that Andrew is a person still in search of a true hero. (He can’t say that it’s his father because it is so uncool to be a liberal now.)
We’ve been wracking our brains to think of a person who could serve as a proper role model for our next governor. We’ve been trying to identify that person who best exemplifies the special leadership qualities that are needed in New York now. Unfortunately, we’re not able to name such a person, but we do know the personal qualities that are needed. And it is not the set of qualities people might expect.
It’s not political muscle. It’s not being a hard-ass. It’s not the ability to force lawmakers to do things they don’t want to do. That’s been tried before with disastrous results.
Instead, it’s subtlety, strategic egolessness, and diplomacy. It’s the ability to understand the lawmakers’ constitutional role and their need for relevance and respect.
In this regard, legislators are elected officials who must go home with accomplishments. Contrary to popular belief, the accomplishment does not have to be securing excessive quantities of pork. Instead, it can be as simple as having a meaningful say in budget deliberations. But no recent governor, not even Paterson who served in the legislature for two decades, has acted as though he understood this. Recent governors have all tried to make lawmakers look like stooges.
We desperately need a different approach. We need an executive who selflessly positions his legislative colleagues for success, instead of himself.
There’s a way of doing this. Yes, it’s something of a game but it’s a game with a meaningful end result. Here’s how it works: The governor knows he needs to cut $1 billion from a state program. So what does he do? He cuts $2 billion from the program and he lets the lawmakers have a victory in restoring half of the funding. Yes, the governor will look terrible in the short run, and the lawmakers will look great. But that’s the point. The governor lets the lawmakers look good now, so he can look good later.
We wish there was some recent example of a New York governor savvy enough to get the utility of this approach and employ it successfully, but nobody has come close. In fact, nobody has even tried.
We hope Andrew will try. We believe that if he does, if he employs his extraordinary political skills in this particular way, he will be successful. In fact, we think he’ll be so successful, that other politicians will one day be citing him as a true inspiration.
One of the frustrating things about the new governor is his tendency to make sweeping statements that he then expects everyone to accept as gospel. A case in point is his insistence that he has provided more details on his plans for running the government than any other candidate ever. The reality is just the opposite. He hardly campaigned. He gave no major speeches. He did not subject himself to rigorous questioning on policy matters. And his ballyhooed policy books were generalized statements of goals and aspirations — not detailed plans for running the government. If you doubt us in this regard, just read today’s article in the Wall Street Journal by Jacob Gershman, a quirky, but brilliant reporter, who talked to real policy experts who have been left wanting by Cuomo’s pronouncements to date.
Another bizarre thing about the new governor is the fact that the only reporter to whom he appears to be available is Fred Dicker of the New York Post. Cuomo routinely participates in Dicker’s Albany-based radio show where the dialogue is remarkably similar to Capital Connection, a program that featured Mario Cuomo and Alan Chartock more than a decade ago. Remember those dialogues in which Cuomo would ramble and Chartock fawn? The striking thing about Chartock then and Dicker now is the degree to which both men seem to need to be perceived as the friend and confidant and intellectual equal of the governor. We pine for more probing questioning from Dicker, but we know that if he tried, Cuomo wouldn’t appear nearly so often as a guest.
It hasn’t been a good run for Mayor Bloomberg of late. His staff was exposed by the New York Times for playing fast and loose with the facts in campaigns for public health initiatives. He went to China and made comments about trade policies that drew rebukes from members of his own party. And he botched the rollout of the appointment of Cathy Black as the city’s top education official. (The opposition here is more about him than her.) Third terms are always tough for pols. In order to be successful, the official has to rededicate himself to the fundamentals of politics – maintaining focus, being attentive and responsive, and working well with others. (See Chuck Schumer.) We know someone very close to Bloomberg who fears that he is going in the opposite direction and “has no patience anymore for what needs to be done.”
The Catskill casino deal is getting beat up pretty good in the papers, and a lot of people think its DOA, but a key insider thinks otherwise. He says the deal may not have to come back to the state legislature for a vote because the site of the project was pre-approved in legislation passed in 2001. (The planners of the project, a couple of old Cuomo administration hands, really knew what they were doing.) Moreover, the insider says that federal approval, always so problematic in the past, may not be now because of the support and intervention of one Sen. Chuck Schumer.
It’s not likely that ordinary folks in the private sector will feel much sympathy, but there is a tremendous amount of anxiety in the ranks of state workers nowadays. Layoffs are occurring, some 900 by year’s end. And despite the rhetoric of the unions about it being “illegal,” this is just the first round of several over the next year or so. In addition, there’s an extraordinary phenomenon that is just beginning. With the change in administrations in the Governor’s office and in the State Senate, there comes “the ugly time.” This is when the new bosses ask for everyone’s resignation and say: “You can submit your resume for consideration, but there are no guarantees.” This makes it easy for the new boss to get rid of people whose affiliations and loyalty might be suspect. People in the private sector must contend with the vicissitudes of the business cycle, but they usually don’t have to endure the transition-related blood-lettings that occur in the public sector. From the mail room and steno pool to the counsel’s office and executive suite, people will do anything to keep their government jobs – not the least of which is rat out their co-workers as secret operatives for the enemy.
It’s hard for us not to believe that Mr. Cuomo isn’t already running state government. In this regard, nobody in any position of authority (who harbors any hope of retaining his job after Dec. 31) is going to act on anything substantive without a signal from the Cuomo camp that it is OK to do so.
So when you see major developments, such as the announcement of a controversial casino in the Catskills, it’s a good bet (pun intended) that Cuomo was involved. And when you see Cuomo people associated with the project, it’s a sure bet.
Setting aside the merits of the proposal – and we’re sure that there are positive economic development aspects to it — we’re absolutely dumbfounded by the process.
How, after the whole AEG fiasco, do state officials conduct secret negotiations with an out-of-state Indian tribe and come to an apparent agreement without any public dialogue whatsoever? How is this consistent with the new era of integrity and openness the Cuomo has promised?
The answer is that it is not consistent. It’s just the same old back-room dealing.
Update: As we suspected we might, we’re getting pushback from the Cuomo camp. They insist their man was not involved. Yes, he may have heard something about the project, but he did not sanction it. It wasn’t his decision.
Instead, this deal was apparently brought to us all by the same Paterson staffers responsible for AEG — Peter Keirnan and others in the governor’s counsel’s office. Keirnan was a star (facetious) of the IG’s report.
This information is apparently supposed to reassure us, but somehow it’s even more disconcerting.