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Commentary & Opinion
Mon August 20, 2012
Liz Benjamin - Cuomo's Transparency of the Tappan Zee Bridge
This morning [Monday], the nine-member New York Metropolitan Transportation Council called a "special" meeting at its Manhattan headquarters to vote on the Cuomo administration's plan to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge - a necessary step for the project to replace the aging span to move forward.
This vote was supposed to take place in July, but was delayed when three key members - Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell - balked, saying they lacked sufficient information on the proposal.
Team Cuomo immediately swung into action, accusing the holdouts, all of whom are Republican, of being obstructionist and politically motivated.
A public information campaign was launched, featuring a flurry quotes in support of Cuomo's plan from current and former Hudson Valley elected officials.
Vanderhoef, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2006, was the first to back down.
Astorino, who has been mentioned as a potential challenger to Cuomo in 2014, bore the brunt of the criticism, even as he insisted he was merely trying to be fiscally responsible and had no interest in holding up the project. He eventually caved, too.
Last Thursday, Astorino, Odell and Vanderhoef publicly announced they were all ready to vote "yes" on the Tappan Zee plan, having received assurances from Cuomo that there will be a study on mass transit options for the new bridge released within a year.
The trio expected the vote would be held next month. But on Friday afternoon, the council announced on its website that the vote had been scheduled for this morning.
Riverkeeper, a Hudson River watchdog organization, cried foul accusing the council of violating its own rules by failing to provide two weeks notice before a vote.
This was not the transparent and inclusive project state officials had promised, Riverkeeper said, while also noting there's still no detailed financing plan for the $5.2 billion project.
I'm not sure why Riverkeeper is surprised by this rush by the Cuomo administration to seal the Tappan Zee deal.
It's not like this hasn't happened before.
This is a vintage Cuomo move - the same strategy he employed for controversial votes in Albany on everything from same-sex marriage to a politically controlled redistricting plan and the expansion of casino gambling in New York.
All these votes took place after Cuomo issued what's known as messages of necessity to circumvent the required three-day aging period for legislation - put in place to give lawmakers time to actually read bills before they vote on them.
Cuomo has been unapologetic about his rush to have deals codified soon after they're reached - often in secret negotiations.
And he’s right to be concerned. Albany is notorious for seeing supposedly air-tight agreements fall apart if opponents are given sufficient time in which to launch counter attacks.
The governor has railed against the quote debating society aspect of government, in which participants endlessly pick apart every side of an issue and fail to ever reach consensus.
Cuomo is a man of action. He has no patience for endless talk.
This approach seems to be working for him.
Good government advocates, reporters and editorial writers rail against the administration's secretive ways and failure to uphold Cuomo's 2010 campaign pledge to establish the most transparent administration in history. But voters continue to give the governor high marks in public polls for his job performance.
But even Cuomo isn't completely immune to criticism. After taking it on the chin for issuing 29 messages of necessity during his first year in office, he went practically cold turkey on the practice, doling out just five during the regularly scheduled 2012 session.
As a result, two New York City bills - one a pension fix, the other to provide tax breaks to developers and landlords - died at the session's end this past June, despite Mayor Bloomberg's pleas.
These issues and others are likely to be taken up in a post-election special session held sometime around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when few New Yorkers are paying attention.
Also potentially on the table: A legislative pay raise.
Let's hear it for transparency!
Liz Benjamin is host of Capital Tonight on YNN. You can follow capital tonight all day long at capitaltonight.com.