Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
ALBANY -- The political subtext of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's first legislative address proved to be less in what he said than where he said it.
The new top official performed the civic rite on his official home turf, for the first time in memory, rather than the Assembly chamber at the Capitol. The site of the event, the Empire State Convention Center, is run by the Office of General Services - an agency run by the governor. After the show, it became clear that this fact had meaning in the world of insider perception.
The locale, with some raffle-winning members of the public on hand, better lent itself to making Cuomo look like a consensus-builder-in-charge.
For generations, credentials and programming were up to the Assembly speaker's office. One year, Assemb. Anthony Seminerio (sentenced last year on a corruption conviction) felt secure enough in his cushioned seat to heckle Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Four years ago, new Gov. Eliot Spitzer came off like a rude guest in Silver's house, lecturing lawmakers that change was coming.
In contrast, Cuomo Wednesday got to look like a gracious host. He had Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) give the speeches that preceded his own. As guests, really, Skelos and Silver responded with good manners. Silver, purported public-employee defender, drew an audible "ooh" or two when he spoke of limiting property taxes. Skelos said "everyone needs to hear" Cuomo's "realistic and tough message of cuts, restraint and sacrifice."
Spitzer famously boasted in 2007 of being a steamroller. If the metaphor for governors must be some type of construction equipment, you might say that Cuomo during his appearance morphed from wrecking ball (criticizing bureaucratic tangles) to a cement mixer (urging a rebuilding of trust) to a pneumatic drill (shattering a wall of expensive mandates).
One aide said he was going for a message that said, "Let's be honest, let's be realistic, the state is in serious trouble, and if you join with me you can share credit for saving it."
Maybe so. But one audience member - seasoned in legislative negotiations and staged speeches - saw something shrewder in the Cuomo setup.
"By having a wider audience, he was telling the legislative leaders that he could make this a wider conversation - take it out of their little domain if he had to," the spectator said.
The emcee was his hand-picked lieutenant governor, Bob Duffy.
The audience lights dimmed dramatically as Cuomo took to the podium.
The graphics on the screens behind him portrayed three "ships in the night." Zooming in - at Cuomo's direction - the audience could see Skelos at the helm of one, Silver commanding the second, and the governor running the biggest ship.
For a moment you might have suspected that Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam had seized the control booth. A cartoon plane representing "special interests" entered the picture from above, dropping bombs on the Cuomo ship. Cuomo noted to Skelos how he was the one under attack.
Cuomo didn't spell out who these "special interests" were. Then again, the new venue, with its graphics and lighting, might have said more than the words.