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De Blasio and Cuomo Rift Returns During Chelsea Bombing Response

By Jeff Mays | September 18, 2016 4:31pm
 The mayor and the governor held separate press conference the day after a bomb injured 29 people in Chelsea but did tour the area together.
The mayor and the governor held separate press conference the day after a bomb injured 29 people in Chelsea but did tour the area together.
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Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

NEW YORK CITY — Hours after a bomb exploded in Chelsea injuring 29 people, Mayor Bill de Blasio stood before the press and said there was no known connection to terrorism.

"It’s something we will be investigating very carefully but there is no evidence at this point of a terror connection," de Blasio said.

The next morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a different take.

"Now it depends on your definition of terrorism. A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism," the governor said.

The difference in opinion is not the first time the long-standing rift between Cuomo and de Blasio has come into public view during a time of crisis.

In the run-up to a January 2015 snowstorm, de Blasio said Cuomo gave him 15 minutes notice that he was closing the subway, an unprecedented move. During last year's outbreak of Legionnaire's disease, the two men held dueling press conferences and gave contradictory information.

De Blasio called Cuomo a vengeful politician in June 2015 after the end of the state legislative sessions because he said the governor had been more focused on "deal making" and "revenge" than "policy" and "substance" as issues of importance to the city did not go the way the mayor had requested.

And Cuomo has repeatedly questioned de Blasio's ability to run the city, intervening on issues like homelessness, the deadliest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in city history and affordable housing.

On Sunday morning, it looked like the two men were going at it again.

Cuomo was briefed by law enforcement officials near the explosion before his 10:30 a.m. press conference, while de Blasio had a tour of the area affected by the blast scheduled at 11 a.m. and a press conference at One Police Plaza scheduled at noon.

On social media, journalists began questioning why the two men could not work together even during a crisis.

Eighteen minutes before de Blasio's tour, Cuomo's Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa sent out a tweet that the mayor and the governor would tour the affected area together.

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio tour the area affected by a bomb in Chelsea.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio tour the area affected by a bomb in Chelsea.
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Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Asked why they had not held a joint press conference, Cuomo said, "I spoke to the Mayor this morning...that’s the way we normally handle these situations."

Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, said Cuomo and de Blasio's inability to work together even during a crisis makes both men look bad.

"They both look petty because it looks like they can't even get it together under these crisis circumstances. The entire world is watching and they can't put their differences aside," said Zaino.

"This is very serious incident. In times of crisis, we see people of different parties come together and that should be especially true for people of the same party," she added of the two Democrats.

Representatives for the two men said nothing was out of the ordinary.

"It’s an emergency response scenario. Things come together quickly. The governor and mayor felt it was important and productive to walk Chelsea together," said de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips.

"Our offices have been communicating constantly," said Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever.

Neither explanation provides an answer for why two of the state's leading politicians can't agree on whether the bombing was terrorism. Normally, those sort of details would be worked out behind the scenes.

While de Blasio said the bombing was "intentional," he declined to discuss Cuomo's declaration that the explosion was terrorism.

"We know there was a bombing. That much we do know. We know it was a very serious incident, but we have a lot more work to do, to be able to say what kind of motivation was behind this. Was it a political motivation? A personal motivation?" said de Blasio.

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill, on just his second full day on the job, was more blunt.

"If there is an act of terrorism, we are going to come out and say it," he said.

Earlier, Cuomo said he thought de Blasio was referring to international terrorism when he said the bombing was not connected to terror.

"But, a bomb going off is generically a terrorist activity. That is how we are going to consider it, and that is how we will prosecute it, also. But the mayor is correct, there is no link at this time, at this preliminary stage, to international terrorism," Cuomo said.

At this point, Zaino said a higher power might have to intervene between de Blasio and Cuomo to get them on the same page.

"I wonder if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going to have to hit them both upside the head and say: 'Get it together,'" she said.