Governor Andrew Cuomo never tires of describing his first year in office as a transformative period for New York State government that saw Albany change from a hotbed of graft and gridlock into a model of bipartisan cooperation and good government. At his annual State of the State address last week, each element was perfectly calibrated to symbolically support that narrative.
Rather than giving the speech in the Assembly Chamber, Governor Cuomo moved the proceedings to the New York State Convention Center in the underground concourse below the Capitol. In an appearance on former Governor David Paterson’s radio show Monday, he confirmed the venue change was intended to send a message.
“I wanted to make a statement. The State of the State, as you know, is normally done in the Assembly Chamber,” Governor Cuomo said. “So, the Senate would come in and they would pack into that Assembly Chamber. And it was in the Capitol, it was basically to the Legislature with very few guests … because there were no seats—uncomfortable and you’re talking to a room full of politicians. I wanted to metaphorically, last year, bring the government outside of the Capitol and open the forum to the people.”
The setting wasn’t the only difference at the State of the State this year. Governor Cuomo invited Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to speak before he began his address. It was easy to see why he was willing to share the stage. Both Speaker Silver and Senator Skelos heaped praise upon the governor and reinforced the notion that his leadership helped state government turn over a new leaf.
“Governor, you’ve been a leader, an innovator and a friend, and we thank you for that,” said Senator Skelos. “We have reached across the divides of partisanship to meet daunting challenges without delays and without excuses. Together, we threw away the playbook for Albany’s gridlock and dysfunction.”
Speaker Silver told the governor that, in his first year, he “emerged as the most effective state chief executive in our nation today.
“With your leadership and by working together, we have taken significant strides toward improving government and bolstering our economy,” he added. Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy was even more effusive in his introduction of the governor.
“When you look at what this man has brought to this state, when you look at where we are versus where we were, it makes me proud. … He has inspired confidence, he has inspired faith,” he said. “I’m often accused of being a cheerleader in chief. You know, I’m proud to be a cheerleader for this governor.”
After the accolades heaped upon him by his colleagues, Governor Cuomo wasted no time patting himself on the back in his State of the State speech. Instead, he outlined an ambitious agenda for New York, including sweeping campaign finance reform, massive public works projects, legalized casinos and a slew of new social programs. In the New York City area alone, the governor hopes to build “the largest convention center in the nation,” a new Tappan Zee Bridge and a casino at the Aqueduct racetrack. Once the gleaming new convention center is built, Governor Cuomo wants to raze the Jacob Javits Center to make room for “a new 21st-century neighborhood for the West Side.”
Governor Cuomo clearly has an ambitious vision for the future of New York State, but he’s also rumored to have an equally ambitious plan for his own future. Since his passage of the landmark same-sex marriage bill last year, there has been rampant speculation that Governor Cuomo is eyeing a White House bid. With his aggressive efforts to brand his first year as a bipartisan success story and his desire to define his legacy with major construction projects, Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address may have had as much to do with Washington as it did with New York.