Bill de Blasio leads more people than the governors of 38 states. Yet, getting respect as a mayor is fleeting more often than not, especially from de Blasio’s own governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Which is strange, because there was a time long ago when de Blasio and Cuomo were actually allies. When Cuomo led the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department during the Clinton years, and de Blasio worked directly under him, handling New York.
When Cuomo fell on his face trying to run for governor in 2002, de Blasio — by then a city councilman — was there to help pick up the pieces.
By the time de Blasio ascended to the mayor’s office in 2013, Cuomo had succeeded in moving into the governor’s mansion, and even proclaimed that he didn’t have a “better political friend” than Bill de Blasio.
But somewhere along the line, the relationship between these two Democrats soured into a ¿quién es más macho? — each of them fighting to be New York's alpha dog.
The latest bone? When schools will reopen. Last month, de Blasio suddenly found himself unable to order public schools closed, because such emergency power had shifted to Cuomo, intended in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
de Blasio eventually got what he wanted — dark campuses — but now the mayor wants to be the one to decide when students will finally return. His decision, announced over the weekend? Next fall. But Cuomo disagreed, saying it's too early to decide when schools will reopen, and that no one can see what social distancing will be like in New York two months from now.
de Blasio says keeping schools closed is the best way to protect students and teachers. Cuomo says opening schools when it's safe to do so means the state's economy can restart, since many workers depend on schools as a de facto day care.
Both have entrenched themselves in this latest battle which ultimately will be a loss for everyone. Sure, not knowing if schools will reopen can be frustrating, but being told they're not reopening by one leader, and that they might reopen by another is exactly the kind of confusing message all of us can do without during this crisis.
In the end, however, Cuomo is right. While there is a chance schools may not reopen this academic year, that's not a decision we can make in the middle of April.
“We are not going to open any school until it is safe from a public health point of view,” Cuomo said last week. “We will not open them one minute sooner, and we will not open schools one minute later than they should be open either.”
This is a decision that must be made at a regional level, not just with New York, but with its neighboring states as well. That's a decision for a governor, not a mayor, no matter how big his city is.
While there might be a time in the future to once again enjoy watching the battle between Cuomo and de Blasio, it’s not now. We have a state — a nation — with people sick and dying. With families short on cash, trying to figure out how to buy food and pay rent.
There’s just no room right now for these playground antics.