The idea behind the idiom “chickens coming home to roost” first appeared in print in 1390 in The Parson’s Tale.
Medieval audiences readily knew of the propensity for birds to return to their nests at nightfall.
Chaucer used the allusion to illustrate the tendency for one’s less worthy deeds to trouble their perpetrator at some point down the line.
The chickens themselves didn’t specifically appear until Robert Southey’s 1810 poem The Curse of Kehama: “Curses are like young chicken; they always come home to roost.”
This tale of being undone later by something you appeared to get away with at the time has been a long-term recurring theme for good reason.
Could this phenomenon affect Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s quest for a third term in November?
It certainly influenced his father’s seemingly assured re-election to a fourth.
In 1994, Mario surprisingly lost to an unknown and unheralded — at the time — Republican state senator named George Pataki.
So, which chickens might be trying to land in Andrew’s roost?
Despite the fact that the two other statewide elected officials – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli – and New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio are fellow Democrats, the governor has seemed to go out of his way to undermine each of them repeatedly.
The conflicts Cuomo has engineered with DiBlasio have become almost legendary in number and scope and do not need to be enumerated again here.
Nonetheless, his active denigration of the big city’s mayor has led state legislators in his own party to decry his trampling of the home rule deferences the state has traditionally allowed to its largest city and the state’s other municipalities.
Cuomo also has short-circuited investigations and lawsuits Schneiderman has filed against large banks and financial institutions by engineering settlements without consulting the attorney general, allowing those targeted to avoid formal culpability by agreeing to accept an early — and likely reduced — negotiated payment to the state’s executive branch.
The fact that a third of his $30 million campaign war chest comes from those sources could raise some eyebrows.
As the state’s chief fiscal officer, DiNapoli is uniquely charged with ensuring the integrity of the state’s spending practices.
Instead of consulting his counterpart in preparing the state budget and its economic development programs, Cuomo has taken to criticizing the comptroller when the latter’s more rigorous analyses after the fact find demonstrably credible fault with both.
Since the state constitution favors a strong executive over what still is considered a part-time Legislature, it sets up the other two statewide elected officials as a check on the power of the governor.
Cuomo is not the first governor to chafe under this arrangement. However, his actions demonstrate the lengths to which he is willing to go to demonstrate that displeasure and seek to surmount it.
That makes his actions — or rather inaction — with regard to promoting the state Democratic Party’s interests and maximizing its control ever the more curious.
From his first days in office, some have perceived a general disinterest on the part of the governor toward promoting and building the state Democratic Party.
The fact that he was actively involved in last week’s dismantling of the so-called Independent Democratic Conference — whose only accomplishment in their eyes was to deny Democrats control of the Senate — indicates to those same critics that he could have done so at any time but, for self-serving reasons, waited until now.
Cuomo’s ever-evident desire and determination to be in full control also leads some to question his proclaimed unawareness of apparent corrupt and unethical activities taking place under his watch.
His sudden dismantling of his own anti-corruption commission when it seemed to be going places he didn’t want it to go does nothing to burnish his credentials in this regard.
The primary challenge mounted by a political neophyte and rumblings within the increasingly restive left wing of his own party seem to indicate there are chickens in the vicinity.
Politicians try to prevent, and often successfully, those chickens from landing in a range of ways — building overwhelmingly large campaign funding accounts, using blanket advertising, and deflecting to issues that put them in a more favorable light.
Certainly the ability of state Republicans to find even a nominally credible alternative – something it regularly struggles to do – will play an important role as well.
If nothing else, though, November could be far more interesting than the governor would have ever wanted it to be.
John Figliozzi is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.