Governor Andrew Cuomo traveled to Ellis Island on New Year’s Day to deliver the inaugural address kicking off his third term, basically dedicating the speech to immigrants. Can you get more “woke” than that? The setting was authentic, the rhetoric was Cuomoesque—and the irony was as thick as swamp-muck. For an event meant to evoke timeless American values, the Cuomo inaugural oozed contempt for the rule of law, a fundamental American value.
“The promise that attracted 5,000 people a day from across the globe to come to this sacred place through this historic portal on Ellis Island is not a faded memory of yesterday,” intoned the governor, “but a shining beacon for a better tomorrow.” Nowhere to be found in Cuomo’s energetic homily was the word “legal,” an omission clearly calculated to obscure the distinction between controlled lawful immigration—Ellis Island as iconic portal to America—and the unremitting border-dashing that has made immigration an incandescent political and social issue.
It’s easy to tell who’s on which side: most who support illegal crossers—Andrew Cuomo, et al.—call them “undocumented immigrants,” and many who respect the law use the harsher, but far more accurate, “illegal aliens.” There’s plenty of rhetorical room in between, even as there is not much substantively new to be said on a topic that’s been roiling American politics for decades.
What is new is the degree to which many blue-state elected officials are ditching even nominal respect for the rule of law. Think sanctuary cities. Think open defiance of federal immigration agents. And think the growing pressure on governors to use executive clemency to prevent or delay the deportation of illegal aliens convicted of crimes unrelated to immigration offenses.
In this respect, Cuomo is ahead of the curve. Heading into his Ellis Island address, the governor engineered an immigration-related jailbreak of sorts, issuing a raft of pardons to illegals convicted of narcotics crimes and other felonies. The point largely was to forestall deportations. (Think of the message that this sends to other illegals now considering dealing drugs to raise some cash. Opioid epidemic, anyone?)
But Cuomo didn’t stop there. He pardoned four murderers, including two who participated in the execution of crack-gang rivals during an Albany drug-turf war, plus some garden-variety armed robbers. He painted the pardons as immigrant-related acts of mercy—and in a weird way they were, given the extent to which the open-borders movement has come to idealize criminal behavior.
Cuomo was bitterly critical of the Trump administration’s immigration and social policies, using typically intemperate rhetoric, devoid of irony, let alone awareness of his own record. “Like looters during a blackout, [Trump] didn’t cause the darkness but [he] exploited it,” said the governor—odd imagery for a fellow who has lost so many colleagues and advisors to corruption convictions and related scandals.
Still, it’s hard to gauge how seriously to take Cuomo’s words. Yes, he savaged Trump at Ellis Island, but last month, he sat down to lunch at the White House to discuss federal money for New York, not exactly the strategy of a committed zealot who believes everything he says about the president.
And then there are the words not spoken during the governor’s address. There was no mention of the legacy-building possibilities that a smart Democratic governor working with the first unambiguously Democratic-controlled legislature in memory might seize. No promise to redesign public-works financing, public pensions, public education, or public service in general—that is, to use the corruption scandals of his second administration to catalyze serious reform in the third.
Maybe some of these goals will surface as the legislative session unfolds. But don’t bet on it. Cuomo has never demonstrated the necessary devotion to bringing about serious reform in Albany; he’s much more likely to go with the progressive flow now emerging in the capital. And he probably has presidential stars in his eyes.
All of which serves as a reminder that Cuomo is a politician—and politicians rarely disappoint serious people, because serious people don’t expect much from them.
Photo: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo