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The Search for Inspiration

November 19, 2010

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.


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