Pressure builds for pols to back Tappan Zee
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo enters week two in his efforts to rally elected officials behind his new Tappan Zee Bridge project, politicians throughout the region are feeling the pressure to stand up and be counted.
The daily news releases from the governor trumpeting "support to replace the Tappan Zee" began Aug. 5 with the announcement of five names, including three former Westchester County executives: Republican Andy O'Rourke and Democrats Andy Spano and Al Del Bello. The roster grew with the addition of half a dozen more names during the next two days and peaked Aug. 8 in a barrage of three separate news releases that trotted out 40 politicians who were attending a private party that night sponsored by the business group Build The Bridge Now. Monday brought five new names, putting the number of politicians supporting the fast-tracked, $5.2 billion, five-year bridge construction proposal at 80 -- including former Republican Gov. George Pataki, state senators, county clerks and city council members.
"It reflects the growing bipartisan and broad regional support to build the new bridge," said Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto.
Dozens of the governor's supporters were quoted in the news releases, in some cases with their statements actually scripted by Cuomo aides, a practice that Vlasto refused to discuss.
Christina Gilmartin, spokeswoman for Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, confirmed that her boss had no problem using a quote written for him by the Cuomo camp. "Look, you both have the same mission," she said. "It's just a matter of adjusting the quote to the way the mayor would say it."
For now, elected officials who serve constituents living closest to the Tappan Zee Bridge have chosen to watch the governor's carefully orchestrated machinations from a distance. Some of those local leaders also question the value of Cuomo creating a public cheering squad.
"They're trying to shift the conversation to a paper tiger -- new bridge or old bridge," said Assemb. Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), who added that he did not respond to a request from a Cuomo supporter to join up. "I'll support the new bridge; that's not the problem. The problem is all the local problems that come as a result of the new bridge. It's creating havoc."
As the region prepares to take on the reality of construction, joining the list will only get in the way of helping constituents, said Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner. "The momentum makes it tougher for people to question the bridge. It's almost as if you question one aspect, you're not a patriot," he said.
So far, the mayors of the villages sitting at either end of the Tappan Zee Bridge are keeping a low profile as they assess what bridge construction will bring them in the way of dirt, noise, property devaluation and other environmental concerns.
Tarrytown Mayor Drew Fixell, who declined an invitation to attend last week's pro-bridge private party at an Armonk country club, said he is still struggling to finish reading the final environmental impact statement, which was released Aug. 1. The report, which is more than 10,000 pages long, details the government's response to mediating problems stemming from the proposed new bridge.
"Until we're able to get through the documents, it's difficult to comment," Fixell said.
South Nyack Mayor Trish Dubow said she is also "holding off" because residents still feel burned by their experience during the construction of the current bridge. In the 1950s, the village's downtown and more than 100 homes were demolished to create Exit 10 -- "a huge, stupid circle" -- to link the State Thruway to what was then the new Tappan Zee span.
Although Dubow believes the replacement bridge should be built, "We were damaged a lot the last time and are continuing to be damaged now," she said. "So we would like to get something that would help us out."
At the moment, three VIPs conspicuously absent from Cuomo's list are Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell -- all Republicans. To really get the momentum going, the governor needs their backing because each holds a decisive vote on the nine-member New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, a regional group with the power to determine whether the bridge project can qualify for federal loans. Earlier this summer, the county executives called for a postponement of the vote, citing the need for more information. A new date has not been set but is expected to take place after Labor Day.
"Obviously, there are a number of politicians and elected people that feel a need to stand at a podium and publicly express support," said Vanderhoef spokesman Ron Levine. But he said his boss "doesn't feel the need to be paraded."
Odell sees no problem with Cuomo's strategy for creating consensus. "You start at the fringe and work your want into the center," she said. "Once he has the three county executives, does he need the others?"
As for Astorino, spokeswoman Donna Greene said representatives from her boss' office are in communication with the governor's office.
Also conspicuously absent from Cuomo's news releases is any mention of Sen. Charles Schumer. Called for comment, the office of the high-visibility Democrat issued a statement noting that as he has already said in the past, "his role is to fight for every available federal dollar" available to build the new bridge.
With the will-you-or-won't-you debate continuing in political circles, Dubow said another mayor called her the other day to pick her brain on options. "People want to know what the other guys are doing," she said.
Meanwhile, Cuomo is moving ahead in building "an impressive list that says the bridge makes sense to a lot of people, and he's showing there is strong support across party lines," said Lee Miringoff, director of Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts polls on political issues.
Bridge project officials also are continuing private overtures to the wary. Even Feiner, who has been an outspoken critic of bridge toll hikes and plans to demolish the old bridge instead of making it a greenway park, is being courted. Last week, the Greenburgh town supervisor said he was surprised to receive a personal phone call from Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor. "He said that they would rather have a dialogue and work with us and the community, and that we could just pick up the phone and call any time," Feiner said.
Elected officials listed on Gov. Andrew's Cuomo news releases as Tappan Zee Bridge project supporters, listed by date of announcement:
Former Westchester County Executive Al Del Bello
Former Westchester County Executive Andy O'Rourke
Former Westchester County Executive Andy Spano
State Sen. David Carlucci
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano
Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnik
White Plains Mayor Tom Roach
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis
Rockland County Legislature chairwoman Harriet Cornell
Assemb. Kenneth Zebrowski
Assemb. Robert Castelli
Assemb. Sandy Galef
Assemb. Shelley Mayer
Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence
Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack
Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips
Former Gov. George Pataki
Congresswoman Nita Lowey
Congresswoman Nan Hayworth
State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson
State Sen. Jeff Klein
State Sen. William Larkin
State Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Assemb. Ellen Jafee
Assemb. George Latimer
Assemb. Gary Pretlow
Assemb. Amy Paulin
Assemb. Ken Zebrowski
Village of Ossining Mayor William Hanauer
Village of Mount Kisco Mayor Michael Cindrich
Pelham Mayor Ed Hotchkiss
Village of Sleepy Hollow Mayor Kenneth Wray
Suffern Mayor Dagan Lacorte
Chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators Ken Jenkins
Westchester County Board of Legislators vice chairman Lyndon Williams
County Clerk Tim Idoni
Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato
Westchester County Legis. Katherine Borgia
Rockland County Legis. Chris Carey
Westchester County Legis. Michael Kaplowitz
Westchester County Legis. Virginia Perez
Westchester County Legis. Bill Ryan
Rockland County Legis. Ian Schoenberger
Westchester County Legis. Mary Jane Shimsky
Westchester County Legis. Bernice Spreckman
Westchester County Legis. Alfreda Williams
White Plains Council member David Buchwald
Clarkstown Council member Frank Borelli
Clarkstown Council member Stephanie Hausner
Clarkstown Council member George Hoehmann
Former Westchester County Legis. Paul Noto
North Castle Town Supervisor Howard Arden
Former Secretary to the Governor John Cahill
Town/Village of Harrison Supervisor/Mayor Ronald Belmont
Town of Ossining Supervisor Susanne Donnelly
City of Rye Mayor Douglas French
Rockland County Legis. Jay Hood
Hillburn Mayor Bernard Jackson
North Salem Supervisor Warren J. Lucas
Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy
Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons
Ardsley Mayor Peter Porcino
New Square Deputy Mayor Izzy Spitzer
Pound Ridge Supervisor Gary D. Warshauer
Elmsford Mayor Robert Williams
Westchester County Board of Legislators Minority Leader James Maisano
Rockland County Legis. Doug Jobson
Rockland County Legis. Nancy Low-Hogan
Rockland County Legis. Patrick J. Moroney
Rockland County Legis. John Murphy
Rockland County Legis. Philip Soskin
North Castle Supervisor Howard Arden
Spring Valley Mayor Noraime Jasmin
Westchester County Board of Legislators Majority Leader Peter B. Harckham
Westchester County Legis. Judith A. Myers
Rockland County Legis. Toney Earle
Mount Pleasant Town Supervisor Joan Maybury
West Haverstraw Village Mayor John Ramundo