I had good relationships with the offices of Governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.
Their top-level staff would get back to me within 24 hours of receiving an email, letter, or phone call. I always found that reassuring, because if I was reaching out to them, whether in my capacity as a columnist, business owner, or leader of a nonprofit board, it was for legitimate reasons, a concern that needed addressing or an idea that needed sharing. As you can imagine, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we were always polite and sometimes collaborative.
On the other hand, my relationship with their successor – Andrew Cuomo -- and his team has been, as they say, complicated.
Whenever I contacted his office it was met with silence. There was no immediacy in getting back to me and, when they did, it was a canned response, a form letter that would vaguely address my issue and was cut-and-pasted to others who may have shared similar thoughts.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t listening, especially when it was needed the most. During the peak of the Covid crisis in the spring of 2020, his team fed off what I gave them.
A column that appeared here in this paper caused the state to ditch the waiting week for unemployment benefits, a real boon to families who suddenly found themselves jobless because of the vast shutdowns. In the dawning weeks of the crisis, I often posed questions and suggestions to Cuomo and team on Twitter that would then be addressed in press conferences. Then, the icing on the cake was my reopening plan, which the state used to develop their guidelines for businesses coming out of the Covid shutdown.
I didn’t get or want recognition, because I was only doing what needed to be done to help the families I work with and the millions more who needed light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
But, in retrospect, I knew words of gratitude couldn’t come from his mouth. It would have been impossible for him to acknowledge that the people from private sector, outside of his employ, outside of his (our) funding, were capable of providing assistance and ideas to benefit the masses.
No one could do better than government. No one could do better than his government.
That’s why, for example, the Buffalo Billion focused on the awarding of money to a select few recipients; Elon Musk was given $750 million in public generosity; long term green energy plans were imposed with no thought of what the impact will be on businesses and households; Covid positive patients were allowed to be in nursing home despite concerns of families and facility operators; primary care physicians weren’t an early part of the vaccine distribution process; and only government could decide how and when to get us out of the Covid mess.
I could provide a veritable litany here, as we all could, of how the past ten years have gone. It’s been “Andrew knows best.”
Even his own executive branch has not been spared such frustrations. Agency and department heads have had to deal with micromanagement that’s been oppressive. It’s a miracle that they got things done. It’s also a testament to their love of doing the peoples’ work that they didn’t leave that toxic work environment.
His was a sick, aggressive machismo, a Y chromosome gone mad, one that ultimately proved to be his undoing with his equally intense focus on the fairer sex.
Cuomo left the public confidence in government in ruin. He left the government’s confidence in itself in ruin.
Governor-to-be Kathy Hochul will win back that confidence. She will be a welcome change of pace for two big reasons: One, she knows that she/government are not the solution, that they are instead part of the solution; and, two, she’s not driven by love of self. She’s driven by love of others.
What I’ve seen as something incredibly meaningful throughout Kathy’s political career, whether as a Congresswoman or Lieutenant Governor, is her approachability and hunger to learn about the people she serves. In an era where many politicians hide behind social media accounts or make themselves known by talk shows rather than town halls, she’s been admirably old school, shaking hands, meeting people, seeing things, listening, understanding, and caring. That knowledge of and respect for the Common Man is a rare commodity nowadays, and when your constituency suddenly becomes 19 million New Yorkers, it’s incredibly valuable.
I had the honor of meeting Kathy back in 2017 when she toured Confer Plastics to check out our expansion, one of the largest blow molding machines in the world. She was affable, bright, and genuinely interested in the successes and struggles of the company and the people who work for it. I know she will continue to be that way not only for my little world, but the bigger world around us.
I look forward to, as a good citizen, working with Kathy and her team to advance some of the ideas you read in this column in an attempt to make the Empire State a better place.
Fate couldn’t have given us a better heir to the Executive Chamber. New York needs healing in so many ways and she’s the healer we need, now.
From the 16 August 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News