NEW YORK — Delivering the first of six State of the State addresses planned around the state this week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday located the cure to the nation’s political fever in New York state, implicitly offering himself as an antidote to a president-elect whose name went unmentioned.
“New York knows that our progressive principles of acceptance and diversity are not the enemy of our middle class, and we know that middle-class success is not the enemy of our progressive beliefs,” he said. “In fact, it was the progressive policies that created the nation’s middle class in the first place.”
Ahead of scheduled stops in western and central New York, Long Island, Westchester and Albany, Cuomo’s remarks in a light-filled room at One World Trade Center colored largely within state lines.
But, remarkably for a politician who has avoided even the appearance of White House ambitions since entering the governor’s mansion in 2011, his speech also seemed aimed at an audience outside New York.
Cuomo reiterated his promise to upgrade Queens’ two major airports, but he dwelled far longer on the reality on Queens’ streets. There, he said, the economic recovery trumpeted by the Obama administration had somehow never gotten around to the Hillside Avenue gas station where he worked as a teenager or the “pizzeria where we hung out.”
“It is not what they feel,” he said, referring to the white middle-class voters who proved so receptive to Donald Trump’s candidacy. “It is not their reality.”
Lines drawn from the Elizabeth Warren syllabus got the Cuomo treatment (at one point, he noted that the Wall Street executives who presided over the financial crisis were never punished). One of Cuomo’s chief proposals Monday was a “middle-class recovery act” that he said would provide jobs and erect infrastructure, expand access to education and lower taxes.
Lest anybody miss the point, the governor’s staff circulated “key takeaways” and quotes from the speech, billing the address as a groundbreaking blueprint for moving forward in the Trump era.
There were blink-and-you’d-miss-it proposals covering what seemed like the whole spectrum of liberal causes. Doubling the child care tax credit for more than 200,000 families. Executive orders intended to reduce a wage gap for women working for the state. Criminal justice reforms affecting the state’s bail system, recordings of police interrogations, the age of criminal liability and access to a speedy trial. Same-day voter registration and early voting.
Cuomo proposed a defense fund guaranteeing legal representation to immigrants, as well as passing the Dream Act, a long-stalled piece of legislation that would open financial aid at state colleges to undocumented immigrants. For environmentalists, Cuomo unveiled a deal, reported Friday by The New York Times, that would lead to the shutdown of Indian Point, a nuclear plant north of New York City.
The governor had announced several initiatives before the speech, including a pledge to cover tuition costs at state universities and community colleges for families making up to $125,000 a year.
Some of his ideas seemed to be flags planted directly on the liberal territory previously staked out by Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, who listened from the second row — the latest subplot of a feud between governor and mayor, which recently reached new depths over the death of a white-tailed deer. Cuomo even took credit for establishing a universal prekindergarten program in New York City, a mayoral proposal ultimately financed by Albany.
Yet for all that Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont might find to like in the speech, Cuomo, who has been criticized by the left over collaborating with Republicans, faces a bumpy session in Albany. Legislators have taken the governor’s decision to split the traditional State of the State address in Albany into six regional events as a snub, and legislative leaders have declined to attend.
There was someone present who wanted to air the legislators’ grievances, however lonely the quest.
About 64 floors below the pristine white room in which Cuomo spoke, Edward F. Cox, chairman of the state Republican Party and a Trump supporter who had been denied entrance, monitored the proceedings from a Joe & The Juice shop.
“He’s afraid to face them,” Cox said outside afterward, referring to state legislators. “So he’s running around the state giving great speeches that really sound like speeches for someone who’d like to be president of the United States, rather than someone who’s governor of New York state.”
In the 20-degree wind, Cox fended off a shiver. He planned to follow the governor to his afternoon speech in Buffalo, where Cox would be, doubtless, equally unwelcome.