Can de Blasio reset relations with Albany?
Bill de Blasio will not be taking his cues from Michael Bloomberg on how to deal with Albany.
For each of Bloomberg’s successes there (mayoral control of schools, outer-borough taxi reform), it seems there was a failure of equal significance (Olympics-killing West Side Stadium, congestion pricing).
Bloomberg projected an unconcealed disdain for the raw politics and horse-trading culture of Albany, even as he enabled that culture by becoming the Senate Republicans’ largest individual contributor. And Albany, for the most part, disdained him right back.
As Democratic consultant and Spitzer administration veteran Bruce Gyory put it, “Bloomberg never knit coalitions, he just went to Bruno and Skelos and said, ‘Here’s a million dollars, now go solve my problems.’”
De Blasio, despite not having a personal fortune to draw on, will have a chance to do better in Albany. But it won’t be simple.
He has a longstanding relationship with Andrew Cuomo, which both men have insisted is strong enough to transcend traditional tensions between mayor and governor.
“You couldn’t have a better relationship than I have with this mayor,” the governor said last month of the man who was once his aide in the Clinton administration.
But de Blasio’s tax-the-rich agenda is starkly at odds with Cuomo’s tax-cutting election-year platform, putting the two men somewhat unavoidably on a collision course.
“I don’t think de Blasio will be eager to openly take [the governor] on, but he will provide a convening point for a lot of the frustration toward Andrew that up until now has been under the surface,” a veteran Albany insider said.
In fact, the real difference-maker in city-state relations in the coming years may not be the new mayor’s friendship with Cuomo, but his ability to leverage alliances in the Legislature.
“You have to really know Albany to make smart moves and recognize it’s not just the governor it’s the Legislature, too,” Gyory said. “It’s three-dimensional chess. It’s not just pushing a button, which is how Bloomberg saw it.”
De Blasio already has something of an in with downstate Democratic legislators, particularly among black and Latino lawmakers who have rallied to the social-justice theme of his mayoral campaign. (Caucus chair Karim Camara is already seeking to capitalize on de Blasio’s victory, rolling out a new progressive agenda for 2014 and seeking to make Albany “walk the walk” when it comes to helping low- and middle-income New Yorkers.)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is also a natural ally for a de Blasio, particularly when it comes to the mayor-elect’s signature policy issue, universal pre-K, a cause the speaker has championed for years.
The calculus in the State Senate is naturally a bit trickier, thanks to the bipartisan power-sharing coalition between the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference.
But there’s movement there, too. The leader of the breakaway Democratic senators, Jeff Klein, who was only recently being threatened by his erstwhile ally Andrew Cuomo for failing to deliver on progressive policy initiatives, is now embracing de Blasio’s victory, and seizing on it to criticize the governor from the left.
“I want this mayor to succeed because if I think if he is able to succeed, I think he is going to make New York affordable for all,” Klein told NY1, after pledging to shepherd de Blasio’s plan to tax the rich to fund pre-K and after school programs through the Senate.
A number of experienced Albany hands also suggested that another source of help to him in that chamber might be his pick for director for intergovernmental relations, Emma Wolfe--an organizer and labor operative who worked on campaigns in the past for the Senate’s Democratic minority.
So what can de Blasio do to take advantage of this situation?
For one thing, as he prepares to head to Albany to testify on the budget just days after his inauguration, he might consider stepping up the pace of his administration-building.
The mayor-elect has yet to put together his Albany team, yet he’ll never have a better time to influence lawmakers than at the beginning.
“Every mayor has some sort of a honeymoon when he gets to Albany,” said Anthony [Skip] Piscitelli, who served as the director of the city Office of State Legislative Affairs under both Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.
Piscitelli has some advice for the legislative team de Blasio will eventually assemble.
“A lot more retail lobbying needs to be done,” he said. “I would suggest more of that, bringing them into the mansion, meeting with the group. All of them, both sides of the aisle and non-New York City members as well.
Certainly, there are plenty of issues aside from the pre-K tax that de Blasio will need help on.
How about funding for the MTA capital program from a governor who showed little interest in mass transit until the recent deadly Metro North derailment? Or, looking a little further down the road, mayoral control, which de Blasio supports and which will come up for renewal in 2015?
“The problem, broadly speaking, is that the city has unlimited needs,” said consultant Stu Loeser, who served as Bloomberg’s communications director.
He added, “You’re not going to get everything you need out of Albany. You get as much as you can get, and it’s probably what you need, and then you go.”
Liz Benjamin hosts "Capital Tonight" each weeknight on the YNN stations across upstate New York.