Bully boys

Old-timers (like me) are fond of comparing the Cuomo governors with each other. I’ve been on record as opining that Andrew Cuomo has some of his father Mario’s virtues and most of his vices. Both are natural born bullies. I’ve covered them man and boy. Andrew is worse.

Last week Andrew unloaded on a reporter at an Albany press conference after the scribe asked why some people were “confused” about his policies on school closings. “No,” responded an obviously angry governor, “The public is not confused. You’re confused.” Another reporter asked a follow-up question. Cuomo dismissed him with a wave of the hand.

Mario liked to spar with reporters, sometimes with humor, but underneath lurked bare knuckles.

A bunch of us media were trailing the first Cuomo governor from an appearance at a resort in Sullivan County. Referred to as “walking press conferences,” the informal Q&A ran between the time Cuomo left the event and when he got to his getaway vehicle.

Cuomo handled the usual patter with practiced aplomb until a young red-headed radio reporter from Monticello asked what seemed a topical question. A stranger to the pack, we thought he might have been a disc jockey on temporary duty as a newsie.

“People say taxes are too high in New York, governor,” he said, politely. “How do you respond?”

“What people?” Cuomo responded.

“You know,” fumbled the reporter, “People.”

Pulling another wing off this hapless fly, Cuomo, his face now only a few inches away, asked, “What taxes?”

“You know,” said the reporter. “Taxes.”

The rest of us started edging away from what was becoming an embarrassing evisceration.

The kid had nothing, so Cuomo mercifully closed in for the coup de gras.

“Listen, son,” the governor said softly, placing a fatherly hand on the reporter’s sagging shoulder, “Get back to me when you have your facts together.”

Ouch. For sure, after that nobody was eager to yell out, “Governor, people say taxes…”

I think in both cases it came down to respect, one Cuomo browbeating a hapless reporter, the other insulting him in front of his peers. Some would call that bullying.

AND THE WINNER IS – I read with interest that our governor may be up for a TV Emmy for his 11-week series of daily press conferences on the virus. Cuomo gets high marks in some sectors for comforting and informing the public through perilous and confusing times. Elsewhere, grades vary.

Not to one-up His Excellency, but I’d like to nominate Ulster County executive Pat Ryan for an Oscar for much the same reasons, though without the political rancor.

Borrowing a march from the master, Ryan immediately took the local (Channel 23) airwaves with the same comforting, informative messages, but unlike his mentor, came across as friendly, approachable, even humble. Humble is something Cuomo’s don’t do.

But unlike Andrew Cuomo, who appeared for about an hour a day – media dutifully amplified whatever news bits the press events produced – Ryan is on 24/7.  It’s like Seinfeld reruns; I’ve seen them all ten times. With the pandemic reemerging, there’s no doubt a need for information, advice and solace from the county’s highest elected official, but does it have to be every day?

Even the egotistical Cuomo has cut back to the occasional update.   

RAISING CAIN – County exec Pat Ryan may have to offer up a few sacrificial lambs if he expects the newly frisky legislature to rubberstamp his proposed $333.8 million 2021 budget next month. Recall, Ryan recommended hefty raises for already well-compensated senior administrative staff in the budget he released last October, with off-setting cuts in human services.

Cannon fodder could be supplied by the state Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation, which last year denied scheduled raises in the face of rapidly rising budget deficits. And that was before the pandemic.

Citing “stark (fiscal) reality in the worst possible way,” last Monday the commission advised that “granting raises to public servants, no matter how much they might otherwise deserve them, is not possible at this time.”

Is anybody listening?

ME AND MARIO – I hate to plug my own show (and Mario’s) but who else is there? About an hour after this hits the net Me and Mario will be hosting Siena College/NY Times pollster Don Levy (at 7:35 AM) and county comptroller March Gallagher (at 8:05) on WGHQ-920 AM.


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