Governor Andrew Cuomo greeted the New Year and his third term with a familiar message: New York on his watch will welcome immigrants, defend minorities and women, build public infrastructure, reform Albany and improve the business climate.
And perhaps most of all, Cuomo said in an inaugural address on Ellis Island, state government will do everything it can to counter the messages and policies of the country’s most prominent New Yorker, President Donald Trump.
"When they write the history books and ask what did we do—in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned,” Cuomo said, “let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action.”
It was an evening of stagecraft and symbolism, with hundreds of VIPs and journalists filling the Great Historic Hall, below parallel rows of flags proclaiming ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘Excelsior,’ the state motto, which means "Ever Upward," with an implicit exclamation point.
Cuomo has repeatedly and emphatically said he has no intention of joining the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020. But the timing and location of the inauguration raised eyebrows and the dominance of national themes, in particular his extended anti-POTUS broadside, is likely to resuscitate the speculation dampened by Cuomo’s may-God-strike-me-dead denial of presidential ambition during an election campaign debate in August.
And before Cuomo’s formal swearing-in, he was introduced by a five-minute video on a half-dozen large-screen TVs around the hall. It bore an uncanny resemblance to a campaign ad. Cuomo’s media staff produced the segment with the help of various luminaries who piled on the praise.
“New York has become a beacon for the nation, as Andrew has passed marriage equality, raised the minimum wage and enacted common-sense gun laws ” Bill Clinton says.
“This is exactly the image progressive leadership believes in and delivers on,” Hillary Clinton adds.
Also positively assessing Cuomo’s career from the 1980s to the present were Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Al Gore, Kirsten Gillibrand and various inner-circle Cuomo loyalists
And then the main event began: Cuomo’s 30-minute inauguration speech. Even by Cuomo standards, the patriotic and progressive declarations came fast, furious and fortissimo.
"Let New York say that the federal government may shut itself down, but it will never extinguish the Statue of Liberty's torch or erase the words of her poem,” he said. “It is New York's duty, it is New York's destiny, once again, to bring the light that leads the way through the darkness.”
Political infighting and stalled agendas have bedeviled the third terms of the three New York governors who have won them in the past six decades: George Pataki, Nelson Rockefeller and Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo is determined to keep his administration on track and avoid the derailing they suffered in years nine through twelve. He goes into the term with something his predecessors lacked: strong, friendly majorities in both the State Senate and Assembly.
"Our new legislature is now governed by Democrats,” Cuomo said. “We will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
He said New York will “show the nation the way forward and upward” by passing “the most progressive agenda” in state history. This “justice agenda,” he said, would include ending the cash bail system, creating a “green New Deal,” passing an Equal Rights Amendment and Reproductive Health Act, tightening firearms regulations, repairing the transportation system, reforming campaign finance and allowing early voting.
"New Yorkers are smart. They know there is no magic wand,” he said. “My father used to say, ‘We don't need ideas that sound good, but rather ideas that are good and sound.’ New Yorkers know the difference between rhetoric and results."