The Governor Blinks

It’s like déjà vu all over again.


For a while it did not seem thus. Through an infortuitous concatenation of events, for fourteen long and agonizing months of tumult and confrontation, it sometimes appeared that the line it had been drawn, and the curse had been cast, with the old order rapidly fading.


In 2006, with the aid of all those dedicated to preserving the existing Albany arrangements, Eliot Spitzer had been elected Governor, like all new New York Governors, by promising to cast those arrangements aside. Then, something strange and unfathomable occurred; in an unprecedented fit of ingratitude to those who had brung him, Spitzer suffered a psychotic delusion which caused him to believe he was actually obligated to fulfill the promises he had made.


Embracing the twin mantras of “any weapon to hand” and “by any means possible”, Spitzer had no reluctance in cutting down every tree in Brooklyn in pursuit of the devil. So blinded was he by the light of God and truth and right (well perhaps not God, so much as a something which appeared to be a reasonable facsimile, most likely his own image in the mirror), that he seemed willing to cut down every law as well, including the Law of the Tappan Zee (AKA “The Bear Mountain Compact”).          

 No, Eliot Spitzer was not going to lower himself to engage in the Albany game of “What happens in Niskayuna stays in Niskayuna”. He would make his own arrangements. Likewise, his vision was so distorted by the light of his own virtue that he could not comprehend that using State helicopters to travel to New York City for fundraising events was perfectly legal, while using the State’s law enforcement apparatus to expose such activities was a crime.

Thankfully, the old order has triumphed. We once again have a Governor whose ability to see the Albany light is 20/20. David Paterson has been sending all the right signals. All but paraphrasing the President he most resembles, Washington D.C.’s beloved Gerry Ford, who similarly stumbled from inoffensive and ineffectual Minority Leader to pro formally irrelevant second in command, before accidentally landing in the driver’s seat of power, our new Governor got up in front of Albany’s assembled establishment and told them  "Your short local nightmare has ended”.


The only difference was that no pardon was forthcoming; in fact, Paterson busied himself burning to the ground the mansions of Spitzer’s shining city on a hill and the amber waves of grain growing upon its open spaces, while Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is finishing the job by liberally dousing the flames with gasoline and dynamite, after which he will cast the grounds with salt, lye and lime.  

Eliot Spitzer had brazenly violated the old rule that a Governor is never allowed to use his personal power to disrupt the existing partisan majorities in the chambers of the State Legislature.  He’d used that power to tip two seats in the State Senate to the Democrats, and spent every waking hour plotting to take more by any means up to and including hiring Claus Von Bulow to be Caesar Trunzo’s personal pharmacist (one of the items deleted from the budget by the new Governor in the name of fiscal conservatism).   

Shockingly, it appeared that Spitzer’d actually succeed in his efforts to alter the existing arrangements.  In an unprecedented move, Bronx County Democratic Leader Jose Rivera violated the unwritten rules governing both members of the Assembly’s Democratic Majority and Democratic Party Leaders, by acceding to Spitzer’s request to sponsor a high-priced event on behalf of the State Senate Democrats.

Thankfully, cooler heads have now prevailed. Though it was too late to cancel the Rivera event, Governor Paterson sent the proper signals to all concerned by blowing off two Senate Democratic Campaign Committee events in the course of one week. Once again, Albany has returned to the business of governing New Yorkers in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

What once seemed to be a history-making blitzkrieg in progress, has now been revealed, to the delight and relief of all right-thinking people, to be little more than an amusing anomaly, what the late and much lamented Robert Moses would doubtless refer to as “The Strange Interval of Holy Joe Spitzer”.


Even the organized “progressive” community has courageously embraced the new Governor as one of their own. The Working Family Party, no longer bullied into serving as the political arm of the Spitzer administration, has openly promised to once again consider supporting Republicans for election to the State Senate. All of New York’s political establishment has admirably joined together in cooperation in order to foster the return of normalcy.

Normalcy in New York is a misunderstood thing of beauty. It is not about cooperation in the sense of ending gridlock. It is about cooperation in creating and managing gridlock (or, in the case of congestion pricing, failing to do so). The pillars of the Albany bi-partisan iron triangle do not necessarily get along with each other, but they are united as one in their efforts to see that no one outside the triangle can ever disturb “this thing of ours”.  

But this was not good enough for our innovative new Governor.  He was not merely intent on the restoration of the old order, but in its expansion. Take the budget; transparency in the budgetary process forces the parties involved to adopt public postures at cross-purposes with the goal of swift resolution.  Timid moves like eliminating the Spitzer agenda for “Open Government” clearly would not alone get the job done. It was necessary as well to clear way  away the blue smoke and smash the mirrors which passed for an “Open Process” during the Pataki administration, and instead bite the bullet and do what real men do behind locked doors. And taking it like a man, the Governor apparently bent over backwards to accommodate his two partners’ every desire, in a successful effort to, as they say in Mario Puzo novels, “do the job”.

What really occurred behind those doors? Well, in this era of the restoration of the Albany Bi-Partisan Iron triangle, such discussion is specifically prohibited by the newly expanded “Bear Mountain Compact”. What happens in Albany stays in Albany.    

Yes, the Governor did discuss some proposals that would, if implemented, discomfort nearly everyone. His calls for fiscal conservatism surely discomforted both the tax and spend liberals, and borrow and spend “conservatives”, who inhabit Albany; the specifics perhaps even more so.  

Paterson has shown a policy wonk’s inclination to violate the unwritten taboos of public discussion by considering expenditures through the tax code to be just as susceptible to the meat ax as expenditures through the appropriation process. Elimination of the STAR property tax rebate program would curtail a feel-good smoke and mirrors boondoggle designed to deceive taxpayers into gratitude towards their electeds. Elimination or curtailment of Empire Zones and Industrial Development Associations could infuriate both supply-side Republican and Black and Latino Democrats. Streamlining public authorities could result in unprecedented levels of governmental transparency. While the Governor’s fiscal conservatism does not go so far as to acknowledge that expenditures  equaling revenues is a goal so important that it is time to consider a millionaire’s tax, his proposals, if enacted, could have a revolutionary impact upon State Government. 

Thankfully, there’s been absolutely no indication that the Governor has one iota of intent to actually expend the political capital necessary to bring such a program to fruition. In fact, virtually every act, or (usually) lack thereof, he’s taken thus far indicates no such willingness. In this manner, it is he, and not Andrew Cuomo, who is truly the son of Mario.  

The only difference is that Mario usually went through the motions of blaming the State Senate Republicans for the failure to enact his agenda, while Paterson’s rhetoric is admirably free from such disingenuous finger-pointing. It is unlikely we will see any  insincere criticism by the Governor of Joe Bruno, and sincere criticism seems out of the question.