Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2018 State of the State Address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center Tuesday Jan. 3, 2018 in Albany, NY. (John Carl D’Annibale / Times Union)
The governor’s State of the State was, in a word, exhausting.
Andrew Cuomo spoke for 92 minutes. Now there’s a guy who thrills at the sound of his own voice.
The rest of us? Not so much.
There were, to be fair, some fine and even moving moments of substance during Wednesday’s little chat, which I promise to mention in a moment. But let’s start by addressing what was clearly the biggest thing in the room.
No, not the gubernatorial ego, wiseguy (although that’s a good guess). I’m talking about the podium.
We first got a look at the towering edifice during Cuomo’s State of the State two years ago, and boy, is it massive. President Donald Trump may have a gloriously large nuclear button, but I’ll bet he has no podium that compares to the governor’s.
Not yet, anyway.
The Podium of the Gods is supposed to convey Mao-like strength and power, but in reality it makes the governor look like an immigrant from the isle of Lilliput.
It dwarfs him. It would dwarf Kristaps Porzingis.
But substance. I promised not to ignore the substance of the governor’s speech. When somebody, anybody, speaks for 92 minutes, some good things are bound to be said, as was the case on Wednesday.
That’s right. We’re getting cashless tolls on the Thruway, which means those wasteful paper cards will be a thing of the past. Oh, and the AAA baseball team in Syracuse is going to be renamed the Mets, the governor announced.
Wait a second — how is it that Syracuse, with a metro-area population of 650,000, has a AAA team while Albany and its metro population of nearly 900,000 has just a short-season A-league team? It’s outrageous.
But I’ve digressed.
Cuomo didn’t let the big issues of the moment pass unaddressed. He touted legislation that would ban secret sexual harassment settlements for elected officials’ misdeeds and would create a uniform code for state and local governments to follow.
The legislation will be called Karen’s Law — named for Karen DeWitt, the public-radio reporter who was verbally mauled by Cuomo last month for having the temerity to ask what he planned to do about sexual harassment in state government.
OK, that’s not true: The legislation won’t be called Karen’s Law. But it probably should be.
The best part of Cuomo’s speech was his mention of Kalief Browder as he called for an array of badly needed criminal justice reforms, including a ban on cash bail.
Browder’s story is like something out of Kafka: Unable to make bail after being accused of stealing a backpack, the teenager spent three years in Rikers, including two years in solitary confinement, waiting for a trial that never came. Two years after he was released, Browder jumped from a second-floor window in the Bronx with an air-conditioner cord wrapped around his neck.
“Your brother did not die in vain,” Cuomo said after asking Akeem Browder to stand. “He opened our eyes to the urgent need for real reform.”
Yes, he did. The tragedy of what happened to Kalief Browder shouldn’t be forgotten, and the governor deserves credit for keeping the memory alive.
Another State of the State high note came when Cuomo recognized the success of the long-hapless Buffalo Bills, who are about to make their first playoff appearance in 17 years.
“Go Bills! Go Bills! Go Bills!” the governor said to thunderous applause.
Yes, go Bills. On that, we can all agree. What New Yorker doesn’t want the Bills to win this weekend, even if they would certainly be humiliated by the Patriots the following weekend?
The Bills weren’t Cuomo’s only attempt at unity.
If fact, toward the end of the State of the State, he even channeled the blue state/red state speech that launched Barack Obama’s political career. Cuomo lamented the partisanship that is tearing the country apart.
“Division makes us smaller and weaker,” the governor said. “Our internal divisions are a cancer to our body politic.” Nice words, and certainly accurate, but also hypocritical from a governor who has been a leading political tribalist.
Wasn’t it just weeks ago when Cuomo was describing several of the state’s congressional Republicans as “modern-day Benedict Arnolds” who were attempting to “rape and pillage” the state? Isn’t he the fellow who described opponents of abortion and gun restrictions as extremists with “no place in the state of New York”?
But this was so late in the speech that it’s unlikely anybody was still paying close enough attention to notice the contradiction. After 92 minutes of verbiage, the audience was dazed and confused.
A warning to anyone attending a future Cuomo State of the State: Do not down a big glass of water before he steps up to that massive podium.