The states that border the Hudson River estuary have a long tradition of strong-willed leaders. In New York, the names read LaGuardia, Rockefeller, Koch, D’Amato and Giuliani; in New Jersey, we start with Abraham Lincoln’s nemesis, George B. McClellan, who went on to become that state’s governor, and include Peter Rodino and the current resident of Drumthwacket, Gov. Chris Christie. Many of these politicians have had a similar career path; their story begins with a spectacular rise, in which their energy and force of personality holds the media and the public in thrall, and then soaring high on the fumes of power and self-regard, comes the crash. The most recent political Icarus, of course, is Christie, now reduced to appearing before the C-PAC convention today, with the likes of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.
Where is Andrew Cuomo in this narrative arc of power? I am afraid he may be blasting off toward the sun. Cuomo’s relentless ego is well-known, and when calibrated, a strong ego is essential to wielding power effectively. By many accounts, Cuomo has been a highly effective governor, compiling a record of pragmatic progressivism. He has worked effectively with Republicans to balance the budget, cap property taxes and institute new ethics laws. But, lately, there are signs of arrogance, the kind of self-absorption that undoes political careers. First, we have a report that Cuomo is trying to influence the Republicans’ choice of his opponent this fall. While this may seem like a fairly innocuous tidbit of political trivia, it indicates a politician who has become so over-confident of his powers that he can indulge in a kind of political gene pool selection. Something in these machinations whispers, “be careful what you wish for.” And then there is the governor’s use of new New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as foil. Every time the mayor says up, the governor says down. “At every turn,” the New York Times reports, “Governor Cuomo has not only stymied the mayor, but also seized the moment for his own gain.” Again the motivations are less important than the resulting arrogance. Cuomo doesn’t want to share the stage, and he doesn’t want to see a liberal model of government trump his more centrist approach. Fine. But his approach is beginning to morph from the bully pulpit to the plain bully.