Opinion

Cuomo vs. de Blasio: The gubernatorial primary we deserve

By Aaron Short |  

August 10, 2017 |  

(Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor)

In the prologue of "Romeo and Juliet," the chorus never explains why their families hate each other and only tells us of their “ancient grudge that breaks to new mutiny.”

Their feud is left to the viewer’s imagination, although a key source of Shakespeare’s play points the cause squarely toward envy. 

I think about "Romeo and Juliet" occasionally whenever Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are engaging in another tussle in their seemingly never-ending turf war. De Blasio resembles one of the stranded spell-bitten sailors in the "Tempest" while Cuomo likely would feel at home in the 11th Century Scottish highlands of "Macbeth," but perhaps that’s a debate best left for scholars.

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Who even remembers the cause of the ancient grudge between the House of Cuomo and de Blasio?

Could it have begun at the end of the 2015 legislative session when the mayor accused the governor of engaging in “political machinations” to “revenge or a vendetta” against him when Cuomo undermined the mayor’s agenda in Albany?

Did the enmity bubble when de Blasio and Cuomo clashed over how the state would pay for universal pre-K funding in late 2014? Or was it de Blasio’s push for the Working Families Party to endorse Cuomo for re-election in 2014 and expected Cuomo to push for a Democratic-controlled Senate in return?

Did it start when de Blasio could not get an endorsement from Cuomo in his star-crossed bid for City Council speaker in 2005 despite helping Cuomo withdraw with dignity from his own ill-fated 2002 campaign for governor?

Or maybe they had some piteous misadventure years ago that is only known to the bards of Park Slope and Douglaston? No matter. The state’s top Democrats exchange heated barbs and subtle jabs on a near-monthly basis. 

They battle over who controls the subways (Cuomo). They joust over who should run the city’s schools (de Blasio). They argue over who has done more to help the poor (toss-up). They grapple over who can build the most affordable housing (neither). And they posture over who will most aggressively defend New York against the president (In an upset, it’s actually Attorney General Eric Schneiderman). 

A de Blasio-Cuomo matchup would be the greatest New York rivalry since Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.

Neither of them face significant opposition in their coming re-election bids. De Blasio only has an Assembly Republican back-bencher in his way, and should win resoundingly. Cuomo has seemingly frightened away upstart contenders despite calls from the Democratic Party’s left flank to challenge him. 

In the absence of a viable opponent, Cuomo will continue to batter de Blasio until he snaps. And when he does, he could form an exploratory committee – for governor.

Think about it. A de Blasio-Cuomo matchup would be the greatest New York rivalry since Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Or Robert Moses and FDR. Or Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. Or Ed Koch and Donald Trump.

Both men have made their claim as the true heir of New York’s liberal lineage. 

De Blasio received a crash course in liberalism while serving under Mayor David Dinkins and cites legendary political consultant Bill Lynch and President Bill Clinton as his mentors. Cuomo’s credentials are in his blood – his late father remains one of the most admired Democrats of the 20th Century.

What better way to settle who is the most progressive progressive than a debate? Or five of them.

Put them center court in Madison Square Garden to spar for 15 rounds over transit and you’d fill up the World’s Most Famous Arena. 

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At the second debate, the two pols could duke it out over housing policy at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island – a region that has been the apple of Cuomo’s eye since he became governor. Then they could talk tough on crime and gun rights at the Times Union Center in Albany, tackle jobs and the economy at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome and finally, duck responsibility for raising taxes at Buffalo's New Era Field.

And the ads! Think of the campaign ads!

Cuomo skydives into West Point football home game with army veterans! De Blasio enters the 2018 Nathan's Hot Dog Easting Contest, Cuomo tries to break the state’s land-speed record on the Taconic State Parkway! De Blasio introduces even more members of his family to voters!

Each day of the campaign would bring dueling press conferences when one absolutely needs to outmaneuver the other and an onslaught of Twitter wars between their quarreling camps.

De Blasio and Cuomo would have multiple chances to scarf down sausage sandwiches, fried greens, Buffalo wings, garbage plates and other upstate delicacies with indigestion and abandon.

Above all, a competitive 2018 race would make de Blasio and Cuomo channel their seething hatred for one another into making the state better for all New Yorkers. 

A glooming peace will arise the morning after, no matter the result.

As for the subways, fuhgeddaboutit! Elon Musk is already on it.

Aaron Short is a New York-based political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @aaronshortstory.

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