Columnist

Cuomo must think that “Somos estúpidos”

By Gerson Borrero |  

March 22, 2016 |  

Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, the chairman of Somos El Futuro, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Philip Kamrass / Governor's Office)

“He (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) must think we don't see and can't figure out what he's doing," a veteran New York political insider said to me, before allowing me to get a word in. The well-known puertorriqueña went on to say that the gov “must think somos estúpidos. And you can quote me on that.” I asked her if she was sure about that and she responded in the affirmative. She then took about 10 steps before turning around to walk toward me. “You know what, don’t quote me,” she said. “They’ll come after me.”

Presumably “they” refers not only to the notoriously vengeful Cuomo but also to the top aides on his enforcement team. This exchange took place in Albany early on Sunday, the last day of the 2016 Somos Spring Conference. Our conversation was just one of many I had with conference attendees regarding the governor’s latest efforts to increase diversity in New York state government.

The Latina leader who requested anonymity has seen her fair share of advisory groups and task forces created over the years – some not too different from the Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion announced late Friday afternoon via a press release from the governor’s office. The idea of such an advisory council was laughable to some, insulting to others, and applauded and embraced by a few. Those in the latter group are mostly Latinas who work for the increasingly insulated and out of touch Cuomo. Sources tell me that most of those staffers had very little input on the creation of the advisory group. The two legislators involved, Assemblymen Marcos Crespo and Nick Perry, were apparently flies caught in the Cuomo spiderweb.

Angelo Falcón, a leading authority on the subject of Latino representation in the New York state and city government workforce over the last 35 years, responded within hours of the governor’s announcement. In a written statement as part of a request for comment by City & State, the political scientist and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy wrote:

“New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement today of his creation of an Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion is a major disappointment for the most underrepresented community in state government --- Latinos. As the governor’s news release points out, although 18 percent of the state workforce, Latinos make up less than 5 percent of state government workers.”

Falcón went on to say, “Instead of announcing long-overdue measures to address this history of clear employment discrimination against Latinos, the governor instead has created an ‘advisory council’ made up for the most part of members of his own administration without any Latino, Black or Asian community participation. The involvement of members of the state Legislature in this ‘advisory council’ also indicates a buy-in by them that compromise their long-neglected oversight function over the Executive on issues such as this.”

The head of NiLP concluded his critique of the current governor with this: “When the governor’s father, Mario Cuomo, established the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs back in 1983, it was chaired and was composed of members from the Latino community not just members of this Administration. The particular problem of Latino underrepresentation requires that the (governor) focus on Latinos specifically and that involves prominent independent members of our community in the process of developing solutions, as his father did. It is clear from the history that these broadly-defined ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusion’ initiatives made up of state government insiders have been ineffective in addressing this longstanding problem.”

There were other critics of Cuomo’s initiative who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity – including two members of the Assembly and one state senator. Each legislator shared their disappointment with the governor’s advisory council plan. One of the legislators called it “an insulting gimmick.” The other went as far as calling it “una mierda” – a piece of you-know-what.

To hear what was discussed about the governor’s initiative at City & State’s Estado Latino opening reception on Friday, and Assemblyman Crespo's defense of it – he reluctantly admitted, in fact, that “it may be a gimmick” – check out the live stream here (Crespo’s interview begins at the 30-minute mark).

The governor has a right to do as he pleases, and it would be unfair to claim that he hasn’t made decisions or advocated for policies that have garnered praise from the Latino community. For example, there were many Latinos who were pleased and encouraged last year when Cuomo named Rose Rodríguez as the state’s chief diversity officer.

We were puzzled, though, by Cuomo’s selection of Rossana Rosado as chair of this Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. Cuomo’s recent nomination of Rosado as secretary of state has been widely praised. However, Rosado still awaits a Senate confirmation process. Her hearing is expected to be pro forma, but we wonder why the governor would burden Rosado, soon to be the newest member of his senior administration, with the task of leading this advisory group? Why expose his nominee to questions from senators about this Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion? It’s just asking for trouble, and potentially bad headlines.

For those of us who bore witness to and covered the late Mario Cuomo as governor, his son has never fooled us. What is perplexing, though, is why – as much as Andrew claims to be trying to honor his father’s legacy – he would choose to dishonor his dad’s memory by creating an advisory council instead of an improved version of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Hispanic Affairs, which Mario established in 1983.

Instead, Andrew announced the creation of an advisory council with no power, composed of key staffers and two members of the Assembly who have, at best, minimal knowledge of the history of the struggle of the Latino community to gain access into the state’s public workforce. Andrew’s move was nothing but a three-card monte trick – a shameful ruse by a governor looking to shore up his support among Latinos.

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