For nearly 20 years on television, I have interviewed political candidates, only to observe them, for whatever reason, rarely deliver on a long list of campaign promises. Watching new Governor Andrew Cuomo has been different, and dare I say refreshing. Cuomo is up-ending the dysfunction in Albany, and along the way has only fueled speculation that he could be one of the leading Democrats for the White House in 2016.
Americans have short memories. However, juxtapose that with what Cuomo has done in year one. It was a year that will go down in Albany history. Even if you didn't like him, you had to give Cuomo major credit.
He capped property taxes, legalized same sex marriage, brought ethics reform to help rid Albany of its notorious corruption, and oh, closed a $10 billion deficit with no tax hikes or fiscal tricks. The budget gap was closed the old fashioned way, with cuts in spending. Then, like a political Houdini, Cuomo got the unions to go along with it. He cut year-to-year spending for the first time in more than a decade, and did the impossible for Albany: delivered an on-time budget.
Was this the same guy that I had met with years ago in his Washington office as HUD secretary in the Clinton administration? Was it the same guy whose political career was almost over after a failed and bitter primary battle for governor a decade ago against Carl McCall? Yes, but this is the new and improved Cuomo -- who by the way even named McCall to lead the board of trustees for the State University of New York.
The gloomy predictions I made for Cuomo's success in Albany weren't pessimism. In my opinion, I was just being a realist.
I thought for the most part Cuomo's campaign pledges would be just that. Sure, maybe, just maybe, he might deliver an on-time budget year one. That alone would've been a huge accomplishment for Albany. Conventional wisdom had to go along the path of no matter what his plans were, Cuomo would face the fate of most recent NY governors: feuding with the legislature and accomplishing very little in the end.
Ask David Paterson, Elliot Spitzer, George Pataki, or even the first Cuomo to serve in the governor's mansion. Ask Andrew's father Mario about dysfunction at the State Legislature. Sure Cuomo knows Albany well, having been at his father's side, and serving as state attorney general, but he has single-handedly redefined Albany to prove he means business.
All of the issues in question are political landmines that could have blown up in Cuomo's face. Just pick one -- the budget, property taxes, ethics reform, and certainly same sex marriage.
Even when the news has been negative, Cuomo has come up smelling roses. He went against his pledge on raising taxes, but in the process helped his possible presidential run. How could that be? Raising taxes never helps anyone run for president!
While there is absolute gridlock in Washington, Cuomo by changing the tax brackets that provide a modest measure of middle-class relief, but increasing rates for the state's wealthiest residents, has proved that he is bi-partisan and can work with Republicans.
"This is the best path for this state at this time," Cuomo said after the Senate passed the measure 55-0. "The more you make the higher rate you pay. That I believe is fair."
Cuomo has vowed he has already reached 90 percent of his campaign agenda, but much work remains to be done. The budget gap this year is three billion, and there are thorny issues everywhere like the never ending funding battles for education and Medicaid, as well as unfunded mandates and the costs to local governments. Another major issue is cleaning up the culture of Albany -- evident by the fact of this week alone when State Senator Carl Kruger pleaded guilty to accepting $500,000 in bribes.
Cuomo's second State of the State address is only days away, set for Jan 4th. That's when governors lay out their broad agenda.
I can't tell you the number of State of the State addresses I have covered live on TV that were just political rhetoric for the moment. Never to be heard of again or talked about again.
Cuomo has shown, rather than just look at his address as another boring political speech of empty promises, that we should take him seriously. How refreshing. A governor actually plans to do what he says.