Here in America — strife-torn, hopelessly partisan-ized America — many of us yearn for a Uniter. A leader who can, by dint of charisma and/or courage, persuade and/or inspire us to pull together, dammit, like we did in the war or in some other mythologized period of long-lost American history.
It may never truly happen (we are an ornery folk, us Americans, and lacking the social homogeny of other lands) but for a while, it seemed like we had a Uniter in the form of our governor, Andrew Cuomo. Son of Mario came in back in 2011 atop a steamroller of reform, changing state government in ways cynical, fed-up-with-Albany commentators like myself thought impossible. He brought public employee unions to heel with a Tier VI pension reform and a NYSUT-despised teacher evaluation program. His 2 percent property tax hike cap is forcing municipalities and school districts to re-evaluate (admittedly painfully and in some cases certainly unjustly) how they do things and to no longer take annual spending increases of anywhere from 5-10 percent as inevitable. He’s managed to, with little more really than an emphasis on Greek yogurt and voiceovers from Robert DeNiro, to make the state once again appear to be a somewhat attractive place to do business. Budgets get passed on time, same-sex couples can get married, the minimum wage goes up, the Knicks are good again. New York is not yet utopia, but we’re on the way, singing a happy song, right? Led by the governor, right?
Well, then comes Newtown and the gun control laws, and now the Uniter is now, before our very eyes and documented by opinion polls, has lost some of his consensus-building cred as the shock of the rapidly adopted (some would say rammed-through) New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 dies down and the anger of much of the state — especially the part we live in — ramps up.
To wit: this month’s Siena poll finds the governor’s approve-not approve score at 64 percent to 30 percent; while yes, many politicians would covet such numbers, ever since he put his Andrew Cuomo on the NY SAFE act, Andrew Cuomo’s numbers have been wafting down to level of regular politicians. (It was 72-21 back in December, according to the Siena poll, as close to unanimous as one is likely to get in a society with a free press, and 67-29 last month.) Further, a Quinnipiac poll just out this week finds that Cuomo’s bipartisan luster is dulling too. Back in July, Republicans approved of him almost as much as the members of his own party — 69-19! But now, Empire State GOPers have soured, putting the governor down to 49 percent disapproving and 38 percent approving.
The essence of being a Uniter, at least in this state, is bringing together New York’s two regions: The City, and everywhere else. (Where exactly “everywhere else” begins is a topic for endless debate, but you know the line when you cross it, if you know what I mean. I personally look at anything north of the Westchester-Rockland line as “upstate.” How Quinnipiac and Siena define it is not quite clear.) According to Quinnipiac, upstaters disapprove of NY SAFE 55-35. (Overall, Democrats like it 67-18, City people like it 61-22 percent and suburban — again, unclear who exactly these people are — like it 54-33.) These days, you can hardly pick up a paper or tap your iPad without seeing an account of some county or town taking up the matter and, much more often than not, voting to call for the law’s repeal. Now, will the governor be all like, “OMG, Sandra, the Ulster County Legislature doesn’t like my law; I guess I had better repeal it lickety-split”? No, he won’t, which is why some commentators refer to these resolutions as “pointless.” Pointless they are not. While it’s ironic that the most attention paid to the county legislature in forever has to do with something it doesn’t control at all, it is attention nonetheless. It focuses and codifies opposition and builds public momentum, the evidence of which can be seen in Cuomo’s eroding numbers.
Now, whether the gun laws will actually work is at this point impossible to tell. Many metrics from around the world indicate that the fewer guns you have floating around, the fewer deaths occur from guns. Mass-killing scenarios, thankfully, are rare birds; it could take many years of not having them to be able to ascribe their absence to any particular cause. Plus, the law may never take effect, or be a law for that long — the NRA is filing its court challenge this week and several more are already in the system. While it was pushed through quickly, the legal process will add the deliberativeness the process lacked. NY SAFE’s ultimate fate could be decided not in the halls of Albany, but in the chambers of the Supreme Court.
By that time, it’ll be interesting to see whether the governor can get back to the rare state of near-universal acclaim he enjoyed before. (This all may be good news for fracking foes; the Siena poll this month found those opposing it up 43-39, a hair up from last month’s 40-40 split. One might expect the governor to not burn any more political capital by allowing fracking to go ahead, but maybe the real reason behind his delays is that he’s waiting for some kind of stronger public indication one way or the other.) If he cannot, he’ll just become another New York City-based governor like, oh, pretty much all of them, angering upstate but impregnable with his impervious Gotham-based base. Which will be according to script and make many upstaters look to a Republican-held state Senate as their voice in Albany. (If there is a Republican-held state Senate, that is — the GOP is just barely holding on up there, having done deals with a handful of turncoat Dems to form a downright parliamentary-style ruling coalition.)
What’s lost, really? That dream of being United, of course. Sure, he’ll be re-elected in 2014 and probably even 2018 if he wants. But he may never again be the transcendent leader behind whom we all could get, and that’s a bit of a shame.