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Cuomo's tax reform victory lap rolls through Brooklyn

The article has been updated from the original posting.

Colby Hamilton / WNYC

After covering Governor Andrew Cuomo enough, his administration’s fixation on control—of the message, of the agenda, of everything—can wear on you. You start to wonder about things.

Like today. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people crowded outside of a small auditorium on CUNY’s Medgar Evers College campus in Brooklyn this afternoon to see the Governor sign into law the inner city youth initiative part of his economic package passed earlier this week. It was so clearly going to be a fire hazard to let everyone in. Across the street there was an auditorium at least twice the size--why wasn't it being used? Maybe it was because reporters wouldn’t be able to write about the packed room the Governor spoke before.

Then again, who could blame him? This was the Governor’s victory tour, stop number two. The first, earlier in the day, was in Broome County,where he signed the flood relief bill into law. It will provide $50 million in relief to the areas still struggling to recover post-Tropical Storm Irene.

Then it was down to Brooklyn, where State Senate Minority Leader John Sampson praised Cuomo for tackling what the Governor called “an unemployment crisis within an unemployment crisis.”

“For the Governor to include this particular package of funding to help employ our youth really shows how committed he and his administration are to a strong urban agenda,” Sampson said.

Not that Sampson or any of the other members of the Black, Latino, Puerto Rican and Asian Legislative Caucus led the charge in creating the program. They played advisory roles in putting the plan together. It was the Governor's office who was out front. Black and Latino lawmakers didn’t have to threaten to hold up the tax reform package unless something was done about the persistent high unemployment among youth of color--a priority issue for them. They simply had to vote.

This is surely how Cuomo wanted it—at least behind closed doors. In public, Andrew “I am the government” Cuomo took pains to praise the Senators and Assembly members in attendance for the efforts to get the youth initiative passed.

“You know what Governor does,” Cuomo asked his audience. “Basically, Governor: You’re just the person in the front office. All the real heavy lifting gets done by my colleagues here. I take the credit because, when it goes bad I get the blame, so I have no problem taking the credit when it goes well.”

With so little—anything?—having gone bad for the Governor during this first term, it’s almost unfair to say what would happen if that were the case. It certainly wasn’t today.

The NY Youth Works program will provide $25 million in tax credits and direct cash assistance to help unemployed “inner city youth” (the 90s term for Black and Latinos, usually males, under 25) get the training and opportunities to enter a new field of work. The full implementation details of the program haven’t come out but, it is, in many ways, not about the details with Cuomo. It’s about the vision of a state and its government that has fundamentally changed for the better.

“There’s been a chronic unemployment problem for our inner-city youth, and we haven’t done enough about it,” Cuomo said. “And today is a different day.”

If there was one person who has been overlooked throughout this entire governmental transformation process—and the tax reform blitz specifically—it’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

He stood behind the Governor today as the legislation was signed. It’s an interesting contrast: The man who would redefine and revolutionize how government can work, and the man who in a lot of ways is the embodiment of what people hate about Albany—the back room dealing, the entrenched power, the partisan divide.

But as he was leaving the event, Speaker Silver gave the line of the week, if not the year, that may indicate how much Governor Cuomo’s early remarks about who gets the work done was dead on—and how, just maybe, Albany hasn’t changed all that much.

Silver was asked how he felt about Governor Cuomo’s final tax brackets looking pretty similar to the real millionaires’ tax Silver had proposed months ago. With a knowing, sly smile the Speaker said simply, “Compromise is a wonderful thing.”