Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has been mostly silent lately about his plans for New York, but he's got a lot to say about his plan to present them.
Today Cuomo announced that the annual State of the State address won't be held in the State Assembly Chamber, as it usually is. Due to exceedingly high demand for tickets, the governor has opted to host this year's event at the Empire State Plaza's Convention Center. It's a larger venue for what Cuomo is predicting will be a larger-than-usual crowd, and even with the extra seating capacity not everyone who wants to attend will make it in. Cuomo's staff has said they will need to hold a lottery for tickets to the January 5th address.
In an interview with Fred Dicker this morning on Talk 1300's Live from the State Capitol, Cuomo said the change in venue reflected his administration's number one priority: restoring the public's faith in government. Part of that is including them in the process, and that begins with making room for them at the State of the State. Cuomo insisted that wasn't possible at the Assembly Chamber.
"We can only fit the legislators and the lobbyists," he said. "What a metaphor for the problem! The most important discussion of the year, who’s excluded from the room? The people!"
The change will be mostly symbolic, as January 5th is a workday and the speech is at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Lobbyists and political players are expected to snag more tickets than average citizens, many of whom don't have the time, money, or interest to travel to Albany. Cuomo admitted that would likely be the case, but that he wants to take every opportunity to restore New Yorkers' faith in their oft-broken government.
"Of all the challenges, the worst situation we’re facing is that the people don’t trust their government," Cuomo told Dicker. "You have to make people believe that the government is working, that we have a plan and the state has a future, or else you don’t. A lot of what you will hear me talking about as governor is reconnecting people with government, defeating the cynicism and the sense of betrayal they have felt. We have to reconnect with people."
Cuomo hammered that point over and over again, leaving little room for discussion of anything else. In this interview (his first in weeks) there was hardly any talk about policy, despite the fact that the state is facing severe fiscal problems. The closest the future governor got to detailing an agenda was admitting that it wouldn't be pretty.
"The challenges are daunting, so anyone who underestimates the slope of the hill that this state has to climb—let's call it a mountain—isn’t dealing with reality," Cuomo cautioned. "The numbers are getting worse."