When the national conversation turns to gun violence and the pool of Democratic presidential candidates looks like it’s faltering, what’s the ambitious governor of a high-profile state that already has the nation’s strictest gun laws to do?
Make a fiery speech, propose another, incrementally impactful law, punch President Donald Trump in the metaphorical nose and … see what happens.
Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed the state pass a “Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act,” for any person who kills in a mass attack on the basis of race, religion, creed or sexual orientation, that would carry a penalty “the same as it is for other terrorist crimes -- up to life without parole.”
A Cuomo spokesperson said the proposed law would create a much stronger charge that explicitly defines this kind of hate crime as terrorism, but with or without the change, no one who kills in a mass attack fueled by race, religion, creed or sexual orientation is likely to be walking around free in New York.
Announcing that law, though, presented Cuomo with an opportunity to play on the stage where legal changes could make a real difference: the national stage.
Cuomo called on Washington Democrats to “show today that they have the leadership” to bring change to the country and “expose this president and the Republican senators as the political cowards they are and lackeys for the gun industry they serve.”
And Cuomo’s attacks on Trump on this hot-button issue can serve him doubly well in the national conversation. It makes him a proxy on the issue, going after the president on a subject that can be very touchy in swing states, so that the presidential candidates don’t have to.
And it keeps Cuomo in mind, as a forceful antagonist to Trump and a generally moderate figure who shares most of frontrunner Joe Biden’s views but is 15 years younger and not likely to wilt under attacks. Would Cuomo be the alternative if Biden does not have what it takes and the rest of the Democratic field doesn’t have the experience, gravitas or pragmatism to beat Trump in 2020?
- Lane Filler @lanefiller
Meanwhile, a check-in with a man on the trail
Campaign-mode Mayor Bill de Blasio had taken a hiatus from answering off-topic questions from the local media, so no surprise that his return on Thursday was jam-packed and a little combative.
In discussing the circumstances around a mental health event, de Blasio called both the New York Post and a Republican New York City councilman “a liar”; he had to explain why NYPD officers were still parking in bus stops (“Rome isn't built in a day"); and he fielded questions about cyclist deaths and NYPD suicides, and the state of education in Orthodox yeshivas. A reporter even requested that an education announcement not be leaked to The New York Times.
No surprise, then, that the lowly presidential contender vowed to remain on the 2020 trail.
Asked about the departure of other candidates such as former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, de Blasio said, “as more candidates drop out, there's more opportunity for everyone who remains."
Saying his campaign’s “not there yet” in terms of qualifying for the September debate, he’s soldiering on. He’s always been in an underdog position. “I think this is a wide-open situation," he said.
Who needs home?
- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
What are you in for?
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion
MTA talks overtime
August is usually the only month of the year when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board doesn’t meet.
Not this year.
Friday, the MTA board will hold a “special” meeting, one that wasn’t on the calendar until just a few days ago.
The most significant item that’ll be up for discussion is at the bottom of the meeting’s agenda: a just-released extensive and troubling report on the MTA’s overtime policies.
The report, released by the MTA Thursday afternoon, shows that the authority hasn’t been able to control its overtime costs over the years, and hasn’t even been able to determine whether there’s widespread fraud because it can’t “track overtime effectively.” It also illustrates how the same problems have gone unchecked for years, “with little if any action” from MTA leadership.
The Long Island Rail Road saw the highest rise in overtime spending – a 20 percent increase from 2017 to 2018, when its overtime spending reached $218.8 million, about a quarter of the rail road’s total payroll spending.
The report says the “vast majority” of MTA timekeeping uses manual systems like paper time cards and attendance sheets, and says every MTA agency except Bridges and Tunnels seems unable to “consistently” manage overtime costs. The report cites a larger workload, and employee vacancies as factors, but also blames “arcane collective bargaining agreement provisions and work rules,” such as the notion that LIRR employees receive an extra day of pay when they run electric and diesel trains on the same shift.
The MTA welcomed the report, as spokesman Maxwell Young said its recommendations were “important and well thought out,” and noted some of them were already being implemented. Nonetheless, it’s likely the report will generate a stronger, more animated conversation at Friday’s board meeting. And that doesn’t even include the other items on the agenda, like an update on the authority’s transformation report.
The report, written by a former federal prosecutor, will give more ammunition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is pushing the authority’s leadership and his appointees to the MTA board to be more aggressive in fighting unions, especially on the subject of installing biometric clocks.
Looks like the contract wars between the MTA and its unions will be starting at the board meetings.
- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall