Albany unplugged

It’s interesting to me how generally innocent of basic political processes Americans have become, and yet everyone in America (including me) considers themselves a political expert. By “political processes” I mean the basic “laws of power” – what it is, how it develops, how it moves from person to person and group to group, and even how it dissipates (according to Alan Ehrenhalt, “power is perishable” – at least, it can actually vanish from a system). Many Americans, though, simply believe that someone has power merely because they were voted into office by a democratic process. The democratic vote adds legitimacy to someone’s assumption of power – ideally, the ultimate legitimacy, but it doesn’t always work that way.

The ugly process of de-horning Andrew Cuomo is ongoing. Cuomo can take temporary solace in a stale Siena poll that shows an impressively high number of New York voters don’t want him to resign, but this was before this weekend’s fresh barrage of headlines, few of which were particularly meaty, although Cuomo’s pal Larry Schwartz suddenly became a household name, which I’m sure he didn’t like.

Biden has also demurred from getting directly involved, although the matter has breached the White House press room already and hasn’t just been confined to the White House helicopter lawn. The Assembly is regrouping and promising a very long impeachment process which is probably going to be our 2021 and 2022 right there. Everyone in Albany is settling in for a long and public scrum.

However, there is hope: it actually may be a long and public scrum. They all may not be able to keep this in a room (although Carl Heastie is trying).

The one interesting thing about this moment is that — for once — the nature of power in New York State is on the table for everyone to see and think about. We’re not really talking about personalities, or politics, or policy, so much as power itself, and how it is used and abused. From nightly cable news discussions of how Big Men use their power over 25-year-old women, to local officials wondering when they can get their power back from Albany’s control, the state is having a power crisis.

I prefer this to “power struggle” because “struggle” implies everyone is fighting for control of an agreed-upon “thing.” It’s hard to say exactly what that thing is when the pandemic has blown such a hole in business as usual. The outcome of the election has also blown some holes in New York’s model. We have a president who can and will contrive to get money to individual communities that they can use with their own discretion. We also have a president who groks the Inland North (why, he even knows where Syracuse actually is). And it’s not just a senator from New York who is now the Senate’s leader, but Chuck Schumer, man of 1,000 press releases who (allegedly) can draw Yates County on a napkin, while Cuomo can’t even figure out his cell phone.

“He cannot govern,” an agitated Zephyr Teachout tried to explain about Cuomo on CNN the other night, but it’s a felt fact that is impossible to explain in sound bites. When someone like Ryan McMahon, who carefully walked the center line and refused to criticize Cuomo’s “experts” all year, firmly says “Give us our power back,” and you can’t imagine Cuomo ever even acknowledging the work of local officials much less responding to a demand to give up power… you just wonder if there’s anything left to work with in a threat-based government.

And with no power to run the beautiful machine — who will keep the weeds down? When Republicans muse on the upstate-downstate divide by calling for agricultural workers to get vaccination privileges (as McMahon did at Monday’s presser), rather than complaining about taxes and business climate, there may be some strange weeds poking up in the future.