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Cuomo and De Blasio Call for a Truce No One Expects Will Last

By Jeff Mays | June 2, 2015 9:14am
 Behind the public animosity between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who swear they are friends, is a battle for power, say political observers.
Cuomo and De Blasio Call a Truce to Fighting No One Expects Will Last
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NEW YORK CITY — The escalating war of words between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio is all part of a "healthy debate," Cuomo said.

Speaking during an interview Monday with Susan Arbetter of WCNY's "The Capitol Pressroom," Cuomo held to the line that he and the mayor have a strong friendship that will outlast the sniping between the two.

"Bill and I are going to be friends after these jobs are over," said Cuomo, noting his relationship with de Blasio stretched back more than two decades.

"That's not to say I'm not going to fight like a Trojan for what I believe," Cuomo quickly added.

Cuomo and de Blasio have had public spats about everything from universal pre-K to the use of Sunnyside rail yards in Queens for affordable housing. Their most recent debate is about the 421-a program, which provides tax abatements to developers in exchange for building affordable housing.

But behind the public animosity of the two men who swear they are friends is a battle for power, say political observers.

"This is about a fight for the Democratic Party or who will be the top dog in the party," said Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College. 

"Tension between the mayor and the governor is common but this seems personal. Both of these gentleman have ambitions beyond their current jobs."

Cuomo has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. And since he took office 18 months ago, de Blasio has traveled the country and to Europe espousing progressive values.

The tour — which made a stop last month in Washington, D.C.,  where de Blasio unveiled a progressive agenda intended to impact the upcoming presidential elections — has raised the first term mayor's profile as one of the leading liberal politicians in the country.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that Cuomo and de Blasio could find themselves in a bruising Democratic primary one day, said Richard Flanagan, associate professor of political science and global affairs at the College of Staten Island.

"When Cuomo was elected he had so much positive buzz that there was talk of a presidential run. He doesn't look so invincible any more but you see de Blasio trying to claw out this national reputation as the nation's leading progressive," Flanagan said.

"I don't think Cuomo is anxious to catapult a potential rival by boosting his agenda."

Caught in the middle are a host of issues affecting 8.5 million residents of New York City such as mayoral control of schools, the expansion of charter schools and the most recent hot-button issue between the two men — the controversial 421-a tax abatement program.

The issue has earned special notoriety because it's the first time de Blasio strongly fired back at Cuomo.

De Blasio held back when Cuomo released a statement throwing cold water on the mayor's Sunnyside Yards affordable housing plan and efforts to raise the minimum wage shortly after the mayor touted both plans in his State of the City address.

But last week, after Cuomo said de Blasio had arrived in Albany too late to lobby for his version of the 421-a plan that Cuomo called a "giveaway to developers," de Blasio issued his harshest public comments.

In an interview Friday with Diana Williams, de Blasio said Cuomo was not "acting like a partner" when it came to efforts to reshape the 421-a plan.

After marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade on Sunday, de Blasio said it was "disingenuous" of Cuomo to say that it was too late to lobby for the plan.

"I’m just surprised the governor is acting this way. I endorsed him. I worked very hard for him. I worked very hard to convince my fellow progressives that they could trust what he said," de Blasio said of his successful efforts to win Cuomo the support of the Working Families Party in his last election.

On Sunday, de Blasio rallied support at Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn around his affordable housing plans, placing Albany as a road block.

"We are not blind. We're not blind to petty politics. We're not blind to the games people play," de Blasio said at the time.

On Monday, Cuomo downplayed the rift between himself and de Blasio.

He said he wouldn't respect the mayor if he wasn't fighting as hard. And because he and de Blasio were friends, they didn't have to worry about the "political silliness."

On 421-a, Cuomo said he and de Blasio differed "on what we believe about the plan but not the goal," which both men say is affordable housing.

"A healthy debate is good. We should have more of it," said Cuomo, who extended the olive branch during the interview, with his strong support for mayoral school control to be renewed for three years.

By his afternoon press conference, de Blasio had also tamped down his tone.

"I thought his comments today were constructive. And it’s not surprising that each of us has strong views but, you know, also I think there’s a lot we can get done," he said.

But since these flare-ups between Cuomo and de Blasio seem to occur every few months, no one believes the truce will last. In a March poll from Quinnipiac University, 41 percent of voters believed there was a feud between de Blasio and Cuomo.

"Reasonable people would argue that Cuomo's and de Blasio's politics and agenda should be aligned," said Evan Thies, a political consultant and president of Brooklyn Strategies.

"But executives at that level are used to driving the bus themselves and are opposed to anyone else taking the wheel. It's not so much the agenda that's an issue as it is who gets credit and who's in control."