Even though I was quite young at the time they were elected (Koch in the late 70s; Cuomo in 1982), these were certainly the two political giants while I was growing up. Yes there was Reagan in the background consciousness, but my father was a union shop stewart (years later, he and I would impress locals and take on the road our comedy team of radical academic and the conservative dad, so yes, he changed a lot–like much else) so the Daily News and Post and Newsday headlines were the stuff of my youth, since my dad, on my mom’s request, would always bring home the three major dailies. (Not to mention my 4th grade pretentious request to parents on, well, no budget, to get delivery of the NY Times, which they somehow managed to get and I dutifully carried to school each day, though it really helped most, I think, the kid in the desk next to me in 5th grade, who would copy the stuff on page 2, which was the summaries of news stories, for our current events assignments). Cuomo and Koch, both of whom died in the last year, lived and breathed New York. They were both God awful at certain or many times (Cuomo for the nationals was the voice of liberals and at home acceded to a legislature that was more conservative; Koch was unforgivable on race relations, among other things, but so was his constituency at the height of AIDS, the so-called crack epidemic, and so on). And yet after Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch, we got George (middle name Elmer, just to help you make the point) Pataki and Rudolph (9/11 came later) Giuliani and then Michael (where’s my next charity function?) Bloomberg, which was not just a blander politics–even if my first marches were against Pataki’s budget cuts to the State University of New York and I had to live through Giuliani’s wanna-be fascist bullying–but a less New York one. The punch of that time is gone, like a prize fighter just worn out at the end of a career. You could see that with Andrew Cuomo’s recent reelection: he won quite well in November but nobody seemed to care that he did. Bill de Blasio and the his tiff with NYC cops hopefully are a return to an earlier era; despite the handwringing articles, we need that. Let’s hope it stays and he fights back, rather than doing the usual of triangulating like each NY Democrat did after Clinton. New York should be a contentious place–warring against instead of copping the Democrats elsewhere. As I go home each year, that’s the New York I like to find. I’ll leave it with Cuomo on the death penalty:
Because the death penalty was so popular during the time I served as governor, I was often asked why I spoke out so forcefully against it although the voters very much favored it,”former Governor Cuomo wrote in 2011. “I tried to explain that I pushed this issue into the center of public dialogue because I believed the stakes went far beyond the death penalty itself. Capital punishment raises important questions about how, as a society, we view human beings. I believed as governor, and I still believe, that the practice and support for capital punishment is corrosive; that it is bad for a democratic citizenry and that it had to be objected to and so I did then, and I do now and will continue to for as long as it and I exist, because I believe we should be better than what we are in our weakest moments.