Andrew Cuomo Exemplifies The Democrats At Their Worst
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election loss has left the Democrats looking for a 2020 candidate, and outlets such as Politico, The New York Times, and The New York Post have speculated that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to step in. Cuomo may seem ideal for the Democrats: he has spent several years cultivating his image as a bold champion of progressive stances on same-sex marriage, education, and environmentalism.
But this image is false. Cuomo’s politics, divorced from principle and empiricism, are focused on pandering to public unions and wealthy liberals. He exemplifies the intellectual bankruptcy of the Democratic Party in his impracticality and trite political vision.
Consider Cuomo’s environmentalism. Under his watch, the 2015 State Energy Plan committed New York to reducing its 2030 greenhouse-gas emissions to 60 percent of their 1990 levels. When President Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord Cuomo reaffirmed New York’s commitment to the accord’s distant targets.
But the environmentalist zeal with which Cuomo sets these goals for his successors vanishes whenever he faces hard choices himself. Last January, Cuomo kept a promise to New York City’s rich northern suburbs and announced a plan to close the Indian Point nuclear reactor—which provides a quarter of the city’s electricity—ostensibly on safety grounds, even though federal regulators had pronounced the reactor safe. Renewable energy cannot replace the reactor:New York’s climate does not support reliable solar power, wind generators are politically controversial because they create irritating noise and harm bird populations, and the nearest large renewable generators are in upstate New York and Canada, on the wrong side of a transmission bottleneck. Cuomo has also stymied natural gas development, passing up chances to enrich the state’s rural areas and replace dirtier coal and oil power.
The New York governor has also touted his support of transportation improvements in New York City, such as the Second Avenue Subway and a $1.6 billion railway-station expansion. But his support stems not from a genuine concern for the city but a desire to build monuments to himself. Consider a project that Cuomo has championed: a rail connector to LaGuardia Airport. Vancouver’s airport connector, the best-performing in North America, gets 28.9 percent of the airport’s passengers (the second-best, at Chicago Midway, gets 13.8 percent). If LaGuardia’s rail connector served 28.9 percent of the airport’s 29.8 million yearly passengers, it would have a daily ridership of under 24,000, less than a seventh that of the city’s single busiest subway station. And real ridership will be much smaller still: to avoid local opposition, Cuomo insisted that the connector run to a subway station more remote than the airport itself, providing a trip to the central city slower than the existing bus service. Yet Cuomo has pushed the connector through the contracting process, justifying it with empty phrases such as “world-class transportation gateway,” and he has diverted funds intended for subway upgrades to the connector and his other pet projects despite several recent breakdowns caused by outdated subway equipment. And the LaGuardia train is hardly the only example of Cuomo’s vanity: more recently, he dedicated $11.3 million to fancy road-tunnel tileswanted by practically no one but him.
However wasteful Cuomo is with public funds, he is miserly with his own political capital. In 2014, for example, workers on the Long Island Rail Road threatened a strike to get a 17 percent raise spread over six years rather than seven. The LIRR union—which, incidentally, had been caught defrauding federal disability benefits not long before— needed no concessions. Hundreds of their employees make over $100,000 per year, more than triple New York City’s median income, in part because of work rules that, for example, entitle employees to doubled pay for any day they operate both diesel and electric trains. As a result, the LIRR’s 2014 revenue covered only 29.6 percent of its operating expenses, compared to 38.5 percent for Metro-North, New York City’s other regional railroad. Cuomo could have used the strike to demand work-rule reforms, but instead, he forced a compromise, spreading the raise over 6.5 years. Cuomo’s actions placated a public union and rich commuters, but condemned New York to years of expensive rail service.
There are countless examples of Cuomo’s cynical appropriation of center-left priorities. Democrats demand free higher education in the name of economic fairness; Cuomo slaps the “free college” label on a program that helps only the richest half of New York’s students and includes an illiberal provision prohibiting its beneficiaries from leaving the state. Democrats push for legal aid to the poor and illegal immigrants. Cuomo vetoes a bill providing for legal defense of the indigent, uncharacteristically citing cost concerns, and then takes credit for a “public–private” immigrant defense fund that receives no public money. California’s vanity transportation project, an expensive and poorly designedhigh-speed railway, at least serves an actual transportation need; this can’t be said of Cuomo’s vanity projects.
Cuomo, who once remarked “I am the government” in an interview and who has used recent subway breakdowns caused in part by his own mismanagement to demand more power for himself, seems unlikely to rein in his penchant for autocracy if he ever becomes president of the United States. From his fashionable, see-no-tradeoffs environmentalism to his authoritarian leanings, shirking of necessary fights, and waste of public funds on self-glorification, Cuomo is a microcosm of everything wrong with the Democratic Party.
Connor Harris graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a degree in mathematics and physics. He now works as an intern at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York through Charles Koch Institute’s Fellowship Program.
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election loss has left the Democrats looking for a 2020 candidate, and outlets such as Politico, The New York Times, and The New York Post have speculated that New York Govern
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