On Verge of Victory in New York, Cuomo Announces War
Wednesday 27 Oct 10
By Akito Yoshikane
The latest polls suggest Democratic Andrew M. Cuomo will
become New York's next governor after next Tuesday's
election. But his recent statements spurning big labor
should leave many unions worried when he takes office.
Cuomo, the current state attorney general, told the New
York Times on Sunday that he plans to take on labor and
special interests who have incapacitated the state
government with their disproportionate amount of
influence. "We've seen the same play run for 10 years,"
Cuomo tells the paper. "The governor announces the
budget, unions come together, put $10 million in a bank
account, run television ads against the governor. The
governor's popularity drops; the governor's knees
weaken; the governor falls to one knee, collapses, makes
According to the article, the political scion believes
that labor and their campaign money "bullied previous
governors and lawmakers into making bad decisions."
Instead, he hopes to strengthen his ties with the
state's business and corporate leaders who, according to
him, have been marginalized by unions.
The interview was part of Cuomo's larger policy outline
for how he intends to fix a state grappling with a
budget deficit, political gridlock and scandals. He
hopes to do that by ending political entitlements, and
his inclusion of unions in the criticism suggests that
labor has recently become more of an opposition than
ally. Despite pocketing campaign contributions from
labor in the run-up to the election, he has increasingly
strengthened his tone against unions.
Cuomo has a tendency to accept contributions from groups
he criticizes. But unions - one of the several special
interests he singles out - have played an integral part
in election efforts by bankrolling his campaign. Heading
into June, unions gave Cuomo more than $1.4 million to
battle controversial Republican candidate Carl Paladino.
At the time, half of Cuomo's $7.1 million campaign
contributions came from organized labor, real estate,
healthcare and lobbyists. And some of his largest
benefactors were unions, including the United Food and
Commercial Workers International Union ($53,000) and the
Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union
But in recent weeks, he has become more critical of
unions. On Labor Day this year, Cuomo penned an op-ed
piece in the New York Daily News asking for labor
concessions. He cited a recently published book
highlighting the sacrifices by public labor leaders
during the 1973 state fiscal crisis when unions agreed
to a pay freeze to avert bankruptcy.
"Similar to 35 years ago, I suggest that today is
another moment in time where the public sector (along
with everyone else) must make sacrifices for the common
good," he wrote.
Jonathan Tasini at Working Life notes that Cuomo has the
tendency to slam unions at the whim of campaign
contributions, but he says the Times' catchy anti-union
headline may have been just hyperbole:
"[I]t seemed to me that he was basically tooting his
horn as a 'I'm going to take on the whole system'. The
first paragraph--which claims he said he was going to
mobilize the business community to take on labor--isn't
supported by the rest of the story. It may in fact be
true--and it rings true. But, something is missing."
With his recent comments, Cuomo joins a chorus of public
officials who have spoken out against public sector
unions. Critics say their labor costs, especially
pensions, have outstretched the budget. Reports by New
York State Public Employees Federation say that pension
contributions have been declining for four years heading
Cuomo's sudden change just ahead of the elections is an
unsettling note for labor, but not surprising
considering the criticism unions have undertaken
recently. The Times notes one lesson Cuomo learned from
former Governor George E. Pataki's election after he won
by seizing voter anger in 1994: "Lesson from Pataki's
success is: Use the political moment."
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