At ‘New Ideas, New NY’: Policy, protest and a joke about Cuomo and Iowa

Richardson, talking to a Post reporter. (Reid Pillifant)
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Midway through the early session of Andrew Cuomo's "New Ideas, New NY" policy conference this morning, well into a third hour of policy prescriptions, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson threw the Cuomo-beat reporters who were present a very small bone.

"Iowa has an excellent community college system of renewable energy, I would urge you to look at that," Richardson said. "Governor, you'll learn a little bit about Iowa in the future."

The reporters looked up from their phones. The crowd chuckled.

For today's conference, the first of three the administration has planned, Cuomo—who is doing his best to avoid overt engagement with national politics, and will only be making the briefest of appearances at his party's upcoming national convention—called on some old friends from the latter days of the Clinton administration including Richardson, the former energy secretary who is spending the summer in Cape Cod, and John Podesta, Clinton's former chief of staff, who was to moderate an afternoon session on campaign finance reform. 

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In his opening remarks, delivered at the Sheraton New York to a ballroom that was only about half full, Cuomo gave a robust—and, for him these days, somewhat rare—defense of traditional Democratic values. (The room filled up over the course of the session.)

“Fundamentally the Democratic Party believes in government," he said. "We believe in the concept of government. We believe government is the vehicle for community, and that’s the essence of what the Democratic Party is all about.”

After he spoke, Cuomo shook some hands, then took a seat at a front table and sat quietly through the first panel, on technology, followed by the one featuring Richardson, which was focused on "public-private models to expand the clean economy and create jobs."

And the governor barely turned around to look when a couple of protesters interrupted the proceedings.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am so sorry to interrupt if I could have your attention please," said a man in a dandy-ish suit, with his best vaudeville accent, while a female companion held up a small anti-fracking banner. "In the New Testament of the Bible it is written that Jesus turned water into wine. Through the miracle of hydraulic fracturing Governor Cuomo and our friends at Halliburton will turn water into brine."

The two were led out, after a few dramatic faints by the woman, and a handful of reporters scrambled into the hallway to get their names. (Later, anti-fracking protesters hung a banner on the outside of the hotel.)

Before the protest, Richardson had praised Cuomo, who has postponed a final decision on fracking while the state conducts an environmental review, for "making decisions based on science, decisions based on protecting the environment."

After the session, Cuomo told reporters there was no timetable for making a decision.

Asked about his decision to make only a brief appearance the Democratic convention this year, Cuomo said, "I went to many, many conventions for many, many years. And I understand that. My job now is governor of the state of New York, that's what I'm doing.

"Someone was saying, 'Well in past conventions you were very active.' Yeah, I was in the cabinet of Bill Clinton, supporting at one time Al Gore to become the next president of the United States and doing the politics for the next president. That presidential campaign was important at that time.

"My role now is to be governor of the state of New York. That's who I am. That's what I'm doing. That's what I told the people of this state I wanted to do. That's what I was elected to do. That's what I get paid to do. That means being in the state, do the job of being governor.

"I will go to the convention, pay my respects to Mr. Obama, and do what I can do to help re-elect President Obama. And I'm going to do that. My job is governor of the state of New York, and that's a job that is done in the state of New York."

I asked the governor how important he felt it was to have a Democratic administration in Washington.

"I think, for this state, it's very important," he said.