For remarkable reasons unforeseen a year ago, a new chapter opens Wednesday in the dramatic public career of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
He delivers an annual address to lawmakers in Albany for the first time since federal prosecutions took out his negotiating partners, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced his office found “insufficient evidence” of a crime in the Cuomo administration’s handling of a corruption commission the governor created. Cuomo agreed to disband the panel as part of a deal with Silver and Skelos on ethics legislation.
That conclusion was widely expected for months, but its timing resonates as guests gather for Cuomo’s sixth State of the State speech, combined with his latest budget proposal.
Michael Shnayerson, author of a skeptical Cuomo biography, “The Contender,” offered this perspective: “Being cleared on ‘insufficient evidence’ is hardly a triumph, more like a close call.
“But it does give the governor a chance to rise from the ashes yet again ... and there’s no one who does that better than Andrew Cuomo.”
Last year, Cuomo as usual spiced up his big presentation by displaying a lighthearted cartoon graphic of himself, Silver and Skelos — this one with the trio in sombreros that titled them “three amigos.”
That leaves the governor the last “amigo” standing while the others await sentencing on their 2015 corruption convictions.
But don’t expect Cuomo now to break into a sad song about empty chairs and empty tables.
“You’ve got a unique opportunity for the governor and new leaders to come together and address concerns people have about the integrity of state government,” said Dan Hogan, a former state general services commissioner turned communications consultant. “And we know people are watching.”
“The world goes on,” added Bob Liff, a New York City consultant to Democratic clients. “I think that Albany has processed the departure of Silver and Skelos.”
As to the work ahead, Liff said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) “are quite strong in their conferences.”
That said, some observers wonder to what extent Flanagan and his caucus may resist or comply with Cuomo proposals during what could be a tough re-election year for his GOP colleagues, when they especially need conservative and independent voters.
Richard Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman from Westchester, said, “The trick here isn’t to figure out who can handle the temporary discombobulation brought by these two criminal cases” against Skelos and Silver. “The real question is what is done in the interest of the people.”
Brodsky said he sees Cuomo pivoting from his earlier profile as a “progr-actionary” who was left-wing on social issues and right-wing on economic issues. Since 2014, when he faced political dangers, Cuomo has “been lurching leftward on economic issues, and I think much to the good. I think minimum wage matters. I think infrastructure investment matters.”
Bharara’s favorite signoff, “stay tuned,” fits for more than just criminal cases.