Discontent in the state of New York regarding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to give up emergency executive powers has reached new heights. An unlikely coalition of conservatives and leftists has emerged, calling on the governor to return those powers to the New York State Legislature, a notion Gov. Cuomo has dismissed as “stupid.”
While Republican opposition to Gov. Cuomo’s use of emergency powers is not surprising, the reaction of traditional allies is an unexpected sign of trouble for him within New York State politics. Left-leaning groups such as the League of Women Voters and NYPIRG sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo and leaders of the state legislature on July 1, requesting that the legislature reconvene in order to curtail some of the governor’s emergency powers wielded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For at least two months, New York Republicans, led by State Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) and others, have also called for a return of powers to the legislature. “As we see the COVID-19 threat begin to subside and we move in the direction of re-opening New York, the time has come for state government [to] return to its basic principle of representative democracy,” Leader Barclay said in May of this year,
There is no doubt that left-leaning groups are concerned about unilateral budget cuts and therefore wish for the Democrat-controlled State Legislature to reconvene in an effort to offset any cuts. Still, the letter sent by NYPIRG and others requests a return to Constitutional law and a balance of power among the different branches of New York state government, a position also called for by the opposite side of the political aisle.
Of all the signatories of the letter to Gov. Cuomo, the inclusion of NYPIRG may be the most compelling. NYPIRG is a significant group within New York politics. Especially popular with the left and inspired by Ralph Nader, NYPIRG was founded in the 1970s and has established chapters that are paid for by student activities fees at many State University of New York campuses (The State University of New York College at Oswego is a notable exception and removed NYPIRG from formal operations on its campus in the early 2000s, saving student monies in the process).
For his part, NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner was quick to point out that he does not disagree with Gov. Cuomo’s handling of the COVID pandemic to this point but believes this is the time to return to constitutional principles. Horner said, “What we’re arguing for is a return to the American form of democracy, a system of checks and balances...If the governor doesn’t like that, of course he’s entitled to his opinion, but it’d be a debate he’d have to have with Thomas Jefferson, not with us.”
In response to the recent calls to return powers to the legislature, Gov. Cuomo’s response on July 7 was that the ideas expressed in the letter were “stupid” while refusing to give a date to the end of his emergency powers. According to the governor, “when COVID ends, the emergency ends.”
Criticism of Gov. Cuomo, who is widely seen as a Democratic presidential contender in 2024, was prominent even before his refusal to give up his emergency powers. Gov. Cuomo ordered boycotts of key presidential battleground states of North Carolina and Indiana, passed the strictest gun control laws of any state in the Union, and called pro-lifers “extreme” and said they “have no place in the State of New York.” The remark earned him the condemnation of many Catholics, including Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan. The placement of State Troopers within the jurisdiction of the NYPD and his neglect of Upstate New York have been but two of the issues that have raised the ire of New Yorkers far and wide, urban and rural.
The unification of New York State conservatives and leftists in favor of constitutional law vs. Gov. Cuomo’s use of emergency powers will undoubtedly add to the governor's growing troubles as he seeks to keep--and expand--his power.