Amid tabloid cheering about the fall of State Senator Pedro Espada in Tuesday’s primaries, it’s easy to forget that New York’s fiscal crisis is still looming and that nothing in the primary results is likely to help. On the contrary, three of the big winners—the Working Families Party, Democratic attorney general nominee Eric Schneiderman, and Al Sharpton—will do their best to tax, spend, and borrow the state further into its fiscal hole.
It was an alliance of unions, the WFP, Sharpton, and what pass for reform-minded Democrats—such as State Senator Liz Krueger, who still hopes to repeal welfare reform—that handily defeated Espada. Schneiderman’s campaign was backed by the same crew. When Gustavo Rivera came to the podium to announce his victory over Espada last night at the Monte Carlo on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, his supporters were shouting, “Union power!” This was the same union power that forced the cancellation of a mall that was to be built on the unused Kingsbridge Armory—because the unions insisted on controlling hiring and wages not only in the construction of the mall but in the stores that would operate there.
In recent years, the attorney general’s office has become a stepping-stone to the governor’s office in Albany—first for Eliot Spitzer and now for Andrew Cuomo, who is virtually certain to be New York’s next governor. That makes it likely that Schneiderman, November’s probable winner in this all-but-one-party state, will soon see himself as a future governor. To give an idea of what the state may have to look forward to: Schneiderman opposes the police practices that have kept crime under control in New York, and he’s promised that Sharpton’s “House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of this state” when he’s elected. In his victory speech, Schneiderman, like Spitzer a man of considerable wealth and ambition, made it clear that he wasn’t going to tack to the center for the general election. “This is not the time for small ideas, for go along, get along passivity,” he told his supporters. “It is time to think big.”
Schneiderman, who has strong ties with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is sure to be a thorn in the side of a Governor Cuomo. He’s heavily backed by the WFP, which desperately needed to cross-endorse Cuomo lest it lose its place on the ballot. Cuomo could have denied his ballot line to the WFP—he’ll hardly need the party’s support to defeat Buffalo blowhard Carl Paladino in November—but he doesn’t want to antagonize it. The WFP helped make him attorney general and even signed a statement supporting his platform for fiscal reform—almost assuredly a meaningless pledge.
While the WFP notches victories, the Conservative Party, which backed loser Rick Lazio in the GOP gubernatorial primary, may lose its ballot line. Paladino’s victory suggests a touch of Tea Party strength in New York State. But, as with Thomas Golisano’s gubernatorial runs in the 1990s, it’s mostly a matter of New York’s Western Tier blowing off steam. Politically, the state is increasingly dominated by New York City, and the city’s politics are increasingly run by public-sector-union Democrats with a pre-Giuliani outlook. New York and the nation, then, are marching in different directions. The impending governorship of Andrew Cuomo might well be pulled apart by these cross-tensions.