President Barack Obama had a pointed message for state and local officials last week after he flew over New York City to inspect damage from superstorm Sandy: "We're going to have to put some of the turf battles aside."
His warning came after tensions were reported in the New York congressional delegation when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seized the initiative by asking for a $30-billion federal supplemental appropriation to help with the post-Sandy build-back.
Some members of Congress think that figure is unrealistic.
"We're going to have to make sure everybody's focused on doing the job -- as opposed to worrying about who's getting the credit or who's getting the contracts," Obama said.
This won't be easy.
The president is basically asking state and local politicians not to act like politicians as they figure out who gets how much from a pot that won't cover all needs.
But he's right.
Building back better must be done not only with speed and efficiency but with a powerful measure of foresight. On New York's side of the Hudson River, this means Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the downstate congressional delegation, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone must work in a spirit of cooperation as they identify and prioritize what their localities need.
Example: Cuomo thinks a multibillion-dollar system of barriers and floodgates is worth considering as a safeguard against future storm surges. Bloomberg has doubts about the practicality of that idea. They will need to find a resolution quickly.
Meanwhile, if the $30-billion figure looks like overreaching, Cuomo and the members of Congress who will argue his case need to agree on a number that's easier to sell in a Washington that's already embroiled in a fierce struggle simply to avoid going off a fiscal cliff.
Stubbornness could create more problems than it solves.
Just look at the crippling stalemates that developed at the World Trade Center site in the wake of 9/11. The infighting there involved multiple levels of government, private developers and insurers. And now, more than 11 years after the terror attacks, reconstruction of the site is still a work in progress.
Among the difficulties: A standoff between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority involving the construction of three office towers delayed progress for more than a year. And an argument between Cuomo and Bloomberg over which government agencies would pay the operating costs of the $1-billion 9/11 museum stopped work on that project for more than a year.
There is no room for that kind of delay as we build back better from Sandy. Congress' current lame-duck session is our best shot.
With help from decision-makers on Long Island, in the city and on Capitol Hill, Cuomo must submit a workable list of projects pronto.
Plans to harden our infrastructure must be practical and effective in the face of weather patterns growing more extreme. The price must be right to survive congressional scrutiny. And to get anything done at all, spirited discussion is fine, but unity is key.