"This is the game that moves as you play." – X
The legislative session in Albany is ending with a whimper. Several major initiatives of Gov. Cuomo including campaign finance reform and his Women's Equality Agenda won't be passed by the legislature – which seems in a hurry to get out of town before another one of its members gets arrested.
While Cuomo managed to get the state's minimum wage increased and his gun control bill passed earlier this year, it's clear that the rules of Albany and the leadership of the legislature are blocking the governor from making more progress. But these are rules and leaders that Cuomo has embraced, making his stunted growth in the third year of his administration largely his own fault.
Unlike Eliot Spitzer who famously vowed "Day One: Everything Changes" when he became governor, Cuomo promised not to blow up Albany but rather to master it. With his enormous popularity, Cuomo in his first year was able to pass spending limits and tax cuts while also masterfully navigating gay marriage legislation through the Republican-led Senate.
But much of what Cuomo is accomplishing is going on behind closed doors. Last-minute deals are being made over bills that have barely seen the light of day – let alone legislative hearings. With his haste in pushing through his gun measure, Cuomo not only alienated some lawmakers but he also later had to admit that a crucial part of the law dealing with the size of gun magazines had to be changed.
Cuomo has also seemed satisfied with the dysfunctional leadership of the state legislature. Perhaps he's following the lead of his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who always appeared content that the State Senate was led by Republican Warren Anderson because he served as a convenient scapegoat when things didn't get done.
The current Senate leadership is like some bizarre Italian government with Republican Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein – the head of a small group of renegade Democrats – sharing power. In the Assembly, Sheldon Silver is a lion in winter with his members wondering behind the scenes how much longer he'll stay in charge. While there's been a lot of grumbling about Silver's handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal, it appears that the Democrats don't have the stomach to take him out.
As the leader of the Democratic party, Cuomo could have tried to flex his political muscles with the legislature, ordering Klein's Democrats to get in line or call for Silver's ouster. But perhaps because he was afraid he'd look weak if he failed, Cuomo decided to embrace the rules of the game and outmaneuver lawmakers. While that might be a great short-term solution, it means that there will likely be more frustrating legislative sessions like this one in coming years in the Cuomo administration.
When Cuomo was first elected, pundits were quickly predicting a 2016 presidential run. But with prominent Democrats already lining up behind Hillary Clinton, Cuomo's final political resting spot could very well be the Governor's Mansion. It's time for the governor to try a new approach. If you don’t change the rules, the game in Albany eventually beats you. Andrew Cuomo is learning the hard way.