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PostGovernor Kathy Hochul; a Buffalonian's Perspective (Sasha Pack, USA, 08/15/21 4:01 am)
As a local yokel, I'd like to comment on Ms. Hochul. She is the Buffalo native who, following the Cuomo scandal, will be the next governor of the most important US state in which I reside. I wish I could offer up a David Duggan-esque portrait of incompetence and petty corruption intertwined with urban vice and maybe a washed-up celebrity cameo. But even David D. himself couldn't serve up anything spicy on this relatively unknown, workaday pol. As Lieutenant Governor, she seemed loyal enough to her disgraced boss, but they never seemed to be in the same place at the same time. She basically served as Albany's liaison with the western part of the state, where things are a bit less solidly blue than they are downstate. As governor, she will have a lot to influence on how to spend the largesse that is about to arrive from Washington.
Hochul surely is a moderate Democrat. She made waves in the mid-2000s when, as Erie County Clerk, she refused to follow the orders of then Gov. Spitzer to make it easy for aliens without papers to get NY drivers licenses. The Cuomo years did not see a resurgence of that particular issue, but the Dems won major victories on "cultural" issues from same-sex marriage to free college to legal cannabis over the past decade. During his remaining days in office, Cuomo will surely be reminding us of all of these enlightened things he accomplished on the culture front. The state's cannabis legalization resulted from Cuomo's dramatic about-face on the issue earlier this year (a diversion, apparently, from the now-forgotten nursing-home scandal of the first weeks of Covid, in which many residents died after the governor refused to quarantine them). It will be interesting to see how that works out. Unlike Colorado, NY is trying to prevent Big Weed from quashing all those little underground pharmacists who assumed a lot of risk building up the market back in the days when their product was illegal. In other words, you don't need a clean record to get a vending license. (By the way, in these hypersensitive times, I should stress that I mean no offense to any real pharmacists reading out there. But let's face it, when it comes to psychotropics, the pharmaceutical-drug divide has always been pretty much artificial.)
I do hope Hochul brings a more methodical approach to governing than her predecessor. One of Cuomo's legacies is the Excelsior Plan, which essentially provides for New Yorkers to attend a state college or university for free if their annual household income is below $120,000. Mind you, there were already plenty of programs that provided excellent tuition assistance to the truly needy, but these lacked a splashy slogan fit for a politician with national ambitions seeking to court the Bernie Sanders millennials. Unfortunately, nobody from the governor's office bothered to contact anyone from SUNY (the state's university system, and, full disclosure, my employer) when drafting the legislation. As a result, without going into the details, we experienced two years of budgetary chaos at many of the 64 SUNY campuses, and especially my own, the largest, in Buffalo. For all I know, it is still going on, but we've learned to stop caring. I suppose that's where the legal cannabis comes in.
It will be interesting to see what the Hochul administration will mean for the current moderate-progressive divide within the Democratic party. In Buffalo, which is the kind of city where the Democratic primary almost always determines the mayor, our longtime mayor Byron Brown, an establishment Dem if ever there was one, lost in a shocker to an obscure community organizer named India Walton. (Imagine a mid-summer local primary in the middle of a pandemic: turnout was minimal.) Ms. Walton, who worked her way out of an impoverished and troubled youth--I won't go into the sordid details, but they are easy enough to discover--calls herself a Democratic Socialist. She is absolutely right to call attention to the reality that Buffalo, as it has turned rustbelt-chic over the past two decades, is leaving behind a large number of its poorer inhabitants. On the other hand, she has no experience in government in any form. I personally stick to the principle that you ought to serve a term or two on the student council before running for class president. Mayor Brown, for his part, is running a write-in campaign for the general election. Brown will surely get the support of the neighborhoods where most of those poor inhabitants live, while Ms. Walton is counting on relatively affluent Progressives from neighborhoods, well, like mine. But if Walton should pull it off, you can bet the establishment NYS Democrats of the Governor's office and the Congressional delegation will try to keep too much of that federal largesse from reaching City Hall. We need new sewers, not Great-Society experiments, goes the sentiment. Well, it's true we do need new sewers.
In sum, I know next-to-nothing about Governor-to-be Hochul. But I wish her the best!
JE comments: Outstanding essay, Sasha. You hooked me from the opener, "the most important US state in which I reside." A couple of requests: please keep us updated on Buffalo's mayoral election, as well as the presumed future administration of India Walton. She will be the first socialist to head a major US city since Frank Zeidler in 1950s Milwaukee. Also, let us know how Buffalo (and New York in general) fares during its transition to legal marijuana. Sales begin in 2022. Little Adrian, Michigan, so close to the Ohio border, has become a Weed Mecca of sorts. We have at least ten shops hawking "provisions." One of them, not far from Adrian's campus, promises "mindfully prepared" herb. So very Zen.