It’s that time of year again — British journalist G.K. Chesterton’s “silly season,” when politicians hope that taxpayers are preoccupied with their summer outings and not paying attention to their underhanded antics.
Certainly, there’s no shortage of such follies on Long Island this year. Here are two of my favorites.
The LIRR Soap Opera. There was never going to be a strike. In an election year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not going to permit it. He had a front-row seat during the LIRR strike of 1994 when his father, Mario, also up for re-election, folded the second day of the walkout, gave away the store and was portrayed as the big loser in the showdown. Cuomo was not about to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Despite the name-calling and headlines announcing collective bargaining stalemates, labor and management were never far apart. The unions wanted 17 percent raises over six years while the MTA wanted it spread over seven years.
But there had to be nail-biting theatrics, so shortly before the threatened walkout, Cuomo could appear to come to the rescue. He called the parties to his office, and mirabile dictum — agreement was reached. The end result? Seventeen percent raises over six-and-a-half years! In academic circles, that’s known as game theory. In Brooklyn, where I grew up, it’s known as splitting the difference.
Cuomo’s involvement was only theater — albeit bad theater. At the press conference announcing he had saved the day, Cuomo revealed how little he knew about the tentative deal when he was unable to answer a media question about contract specifics. Cuomo also admitted the unions got just about everything they wanted.
What LIRR commuters did learn at the press conference is that this deal is retroactive to 2010 and expires on Dec. 16, 2016. That means the management-labor kabuki dance starts all over only two years from now.
Moreland Commission Shenanigans. In a 6,000-word investigative report dated July 23, 2014, The New York Times exposed how the governor’s office “hobbled” the corruption investigation Cuomo empowered to look into “anything it wants to look at,” including himself.
The Times revealed that the governor’s chief of staff, Larry Schwartz, blocked the commission from probing parties related to Cuomo’s campaign apparatus. He badgered commission staffers to quash certain subpoenas.
While it’s unlikely the governor or his staff members broke laws, the exposé does give the public an inside view of how the office of the state’s chief executive operates. The staff acts like a bunch of micromanaging thugs. Ranting and threatening is their modus operandi.
Staffers emulate their master, who during his father’s time in office served as the administration’s thug and was called the “prince of darkness” by Albany wags.
What’s more distressing is that when Schwartz tried to block specific probes, none of the district attorneys serving on the commission told him to buzz off. Not one of them had the guts to quit and publicly denounce the unwarranted inference.
The commission’s co-chairs, Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice and Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick, were not “Profiles in Courage.” And let’s not let state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman off the hook; he recommended nine commission members and deputized them so their subpoena powers extended beyond the executive branch.
The AG who sat beside Cuomo when he announced the creation of the Moreland Commission on July 2, 2013, has been MIA since the Times story broke. If he has chutzpah, he will investigate the commission the way then-AG Cuomo investigated Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s “Troopergate” fiasco. But don’t hold your breath waiting.
Yes, dear readers, the silly season is in full bloom.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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