It's official: as he enters his re-election year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is a centrist politician. In his fourth annual State of the State address, Cuomo focused on cutting taxes and balancing budgets, touching only lightly on some of the powerful progressive issues that powered his speech last year: gun control, women's equality, and abortion rights.
The sharp right turn is all the more stark given the election by an overwhelming margin of progressive Bill de Blasio as New York mayor, on a campaign that explicitly pushed raising taxes to fight inequality.
For good measure, Cuomo named former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly a special advisor to a new school for homeland security and emergency preparedness. Kelly was widely lambasted by de Blasio and his supporters for his aggressive stop and frisk policy, which was seen as racial profiling. De Blasio, in Albany for the speech, shrugged that off, saying he respected Kelly's working fighting terrorism.
During the speech, Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing tweeted, "creating jobs and supporting businesses isn't conservative. FDR pioneered economic development as governor and president."
To be sure, Cuomo did exhort both houses of the legislature, whom he addressed Wednesday in the ornate capital chambers, to pass the women's equality bill, support medical marijuana use, keep juvenile suspects out of adult courts and support universal pre-kindergarten.
"It's time for New York State to have universal pre-K statewide," Cuomo said to warm applause. But he did not propose how to fund the program.
Cuomo did propose other specifics related to education, which he called "the best long-term economic development strategy." Teachers who get the highest rating in the state's new evaluation system will be eligible for bonuses of up to $20,000 a year through a Teacher Excellence Fund. Cuomo said this would incentivize performance and help "pay them like the professionals they are."
In 2013, Cuomo pushed through a strict gun-control measure even before the session began. But the backlash was fierce, particularly upstate, and Cuomo's approval rating sunk to its lowest ever. Other measures he raised in his State of the State last year, like the Women's Equality Act and reducing penalties for marijuana arrests, went nowhere.
It was more than an hour into his speech before Cuomo hit the kind of emotional high he's known for — when pushing for ethics reform in Albany. In the past year Cuomo has set up a Moreland Commission to investigate ethics. "Some suggest the Moreland Commission suggests I don't believe in the legislature," Cuomo said, his voice quavering. "It's the opposite.Government is limited by the lack of trust. The more trust, the more capacity. We have accomplished great things! I want to see us do even more together!"
His speech wound up by condemning the sort of discrimination that took place in Pine Bush, with the knowledge of school officials. "We are part of one community, and that's what makes us great!" Cuomo declared. "E pluribus unum!"