It was never a question of whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo would respond to Mayor de Bill Blasio’s pre-vacation swipe, but how and when. And for those fascinated by how Cuomo would respond to the mayor’s claim that he is “vindictive” and “vengeful,” the governor didn’t disappoint.
Here are five take-aways from the Cuomo-de Blasio exchange:
1. Maintain a calm-and-composed demeanor, leave the attacks to your surrogates.
An obviously frustrated de Blasio spoke to the media, and accused Cuomo of playing dishonest “political games” and trying to get “revenge” and “payback” for any “perceived slight.” The remarks didn’t seem to fluster Cuomo, who appeared calm and composed. “You know what — I’ve known Bill, the mayor, a long time. I consider him a friend. He says what he says. I say what I say. And I’ll let him speak for himself,” Cuomo said a day later. Comments by Cuomo’s surrogates weren’t quite as serene. Cuomo communications director Melissa De Rosa sent out a statement which said in part: “For those new to the process, it takes coalition building and compromise to get things done in government. We wish the mayor well on his vacation.”
2. Go into your frenemy’s backyard, and school him.
It wasn’t until after he made a splash officiating his pal Billy Joel’s wedding and celebrating July Fourth that the governor was ready to address the rift. And when he did, Cuomo came right into the mayor’s backyard for several days in a row holding events at NYU and John Jay College, and speaking to the NYC media. “Look, the mayor was obviously frustrated he did not get everything he wanted from the legislative session,” said Cuomo. “Welcome to Albany.”
3. Don’t come empty-handed. Instead show him how it’s done.
Cuomo came into de Blasio territory prepared to show New Yorkers that at least one of them is getting things done. His first order of business was to sign the “Enough is Enough” legislation, a measure designed to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses. He followed the bill signing at New York University the next day by issuing an executive order giving the state attorney general the power to investigate and prosecute deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police. It is not just coincidence that both the bill and executive order are popular with those on the progressive left, groups that tend to be in the mayor’s corner. In his public remarks on these achievements Cuomo made much of the fact that de Blasio wasn’t the only one frustrated with the legislative session in Albany, but unlike the mayor he wasn’t going to let that stop him from moving ahead with his agenda.
4. Don’t take a hit lying down.
Cuomo may have been calm and cool in his public appearances but he wasn’t prepared to roll over in the face of the mayor’s attacks. Instead, Cuomo gave as good as he got. Some of the counterattacks were subtle. For instance, in several interviews he mentioned that he is a NYC native who obviously wants what is best for his hometown. The implication of course is that while mayor, de Blasio is not native to the city. Other jabs were less understated. For example, when Cuomo sarcastically said: “Welcome to state government, welcome to life — you don’t get everything you want.”
5. Don’t meet with or say anything nice about your nemesis.
Cuomo may have been calm, but he wasn’t a pushover. He quickly rejected former Sen. Al D’Amato’s suggestion that he and the mayor make nice over a bowl of pasta. Most telling, however, was the Cuomo’s response to a question about whether he could name one thing de Blasio has done well for the city? In classic example of a passive-aggressive response, Cuomo said this: “You know that’s not for me to comment, we get elected, we run in elections, you know, and people decide if they want to rehire us or not . . . so it’s up to them.”
Jeanne Zaino is professor of political science at Iona College and campaign management at NYU.