Cuomo-De Blasio feud yields benefits

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio aren’t exactly the best of friends these days. That’s regrettable. Or is it?

Perhaps the very public ill-will on display between New York’s two top leaders could even be a good thing. Who knows, maybe progressives have found a winning formula for pushing important policy initiatives through in New York? Simply pit the two politicians against each other and see who is left standing to take credit for popular proposals.  Call it the “spoils of war” approach.

Case in point.

After being elected mayor on a pledge to address concerns about widening economic and social inequities in the city, Mayor de Blasio set about gaining public and political support for one of his central policy goals: an ambitious plan to make full-day, universal pre-kindergarten available free-of-charge to all four-year-olds.

The mayor proposed funding his pre-k expansion and after school programs with a tax on wealthy New Yorkers. Enter Gov. Cuomo, the mayor’s erstwhile fellow Democrat and current nemesis, who wasted no time roundly criticizing the mayor and his plan. Calling it a “charade” meant to curry favor with labor unions, the governor put the official kibosh on the tax. Then, in true Cuomo-esque fashion, he pivoted to work with the state legislature to fund the program.

Though a little bruised and beaten up, in the end the mayor was able to take credit for providing the catalyst for a program that has been touted as one of his early achievements. To date, more than 65,000 students and counting have been enrolled in universal pre-k.

Here’s another example of how political clashes between the mayor and the governor can produce positive results. In this case, the governor’s obsessive need to outflank the mayor paved the way for a significant victory for low-wage workers.

During the past legislative session raising the minimum wage was a top priority of Democrats in Albany. At $8.75 an hour, and scheduled to go up to only $9.00 in 2016 with no additional increases on the horizon, New York’s minimum wage was an embarrassment. To further underscore its inadequacy, cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles had moved to raise wages for its workers to $15 an hour over the next several years.

In his first year in office Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order requiring workers on city-subsidized projects of $1 million or more to be paid a living wage of $13.13 per hour. It would set in motion a broader effort by his administration to secure authority from Albany to implement a local minimum wage. In testimony last January before joint fiscal committees of the state legislature, the mayor reiterated the need for a city minimum wage of$13.00 an hour by  2016, and indexed to inflation going forward.

Once again, the governor played the spoiler. Just as he did with the mayor’s proposed tax on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-k, the governor poured cold water on the notion of a separate city minimum wage. And then he offered his own proposal – raising the state’s minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 outside the city.

Predictably, Republicans in the State Senate balked, and lawmakers ended the session in June without acting on the measure. But few could have predicted that the same governor would wield his executive powers months later to convene a state wage board that in July recommended a $15-an-hour minimum wage for 160,000 fast-food workers in the state.

By raising the minimum wage for the state’s fast food workers, the Governor must have known that he would be opening himself up to calls to support raising the minimum wage to that level for all workers.    Which is exactly what he did a week ago. And why not? He’s already neutralized the opposition by demonstrating the public’s appetite for the higher wage.  Our Unheard Third annual survey of low-income New Yorkers found that New York City residents overwhelmingly support a statewide $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers.

A harmonious relationship between the Governor and Mayor might sound good. But if the feuding between them result in policies that benefit Latinos, the working poor and immigrants, I for one say, let the war go on!

Issues Covered

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