NEW YORK — They appear together regularly at parades, dinners and news conferences. They have called each other “friend” and “partner.” When there are major announcements or policy decisions, they coordinate ahead of time.
But in New York, it is nothing short of revolutionary: For the first time in years, the mayor of the city and the governor of the state are trying to get along.
The feud between Andrew M. Cuomo, the former governor, and Bill de Blasio, the former mayor, is the stuff of political legend, full of scorn and insults, featuring a long line of clashes over everything from issues such as prekindergarten funding to the fate of a deer found wandering in Harlem.
Now Hochul and Adams are attempting to show that the relationship between the governor and the mayor, while sometimes fraught, does not have to resemble open warfare.
“In the past, there has been this tension, which is a polite way of saying fighting, between the governor of New York and the mayor of the city of New York,” said Hochul at a Democratic Party event in Brooklyn last year. “The era of fighting between those two bodies, those two people, is over.”
Whether Hochul and Adams succeed in working together could have far-reaching consequences for their political futures as well as for the recovery of the nation’s most-populous city from the coronavirus pandemic.
Hochul, 63, is the first woman to serve as governor of New York, a job she assumed after Cuomo resigned last year following a sexual harassment scandal. She remains relatively unknown beyond her political base in Buffalo, where she served as a local official and a member of Congress.
To win election in November, Hochul needs considerable support from voters in New York City, and Adams could bolster her campaign. Now she must also contend with the fallout of a corruption probe into her lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin. Benjamin resigned last week after being arrested on charges that he engaged in an illegal scheme to solicit campaign donations starting in 2019.
Adams, 61, is a former police captain who became mayor in January and swept into office vowing to tackle a slew of challenges facing by the city, including rising crime and the enduring economic impacts of the pandemic. Addressing those issues will require help and funding from the state.
While the mayor of New York is often a nationally known figure, the state’s governor tends to have a lower profile. When it comes to wielding power over the city, however, the governor holds enormous sway.
Hochul and Adams are tactical allies acting out of “enlightened self-interest,” said Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant in Albany. “They need each other.”
New York’s former mayor credits Hochul for the change in tone in Albany. Hochul became governor in August and overlapped with de Blasio’s final months in office. Within a day or two of her swearing-in, they met in a hotel conference room in Manhattan, where Hochul made clear she intended to break with the past, de Blasio said.
“She started with a magnanimous view that local officials knew what they were doing and knew their communities best,” the former mayor said. “It didn’t make her any less the governor.”
In Hochul’s subsequent dealings with Adams, “there’s obviously been a willingness to work on respectful terms,” de Blasio added. “With Cuomo, there was no such thing.”
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, responded: “It was tough to partner with an incompetent mayor who cared more about politics and ideology than actually doing his job.”
Cuomo and de Blasio “just couldn’t contain the hostility they had for each other,” said former New York governor David Paterson (D). Hochul and Adams, by contrast, have worked to avoid conflicts and handle frictions in private, Paterson said. “So far, it has worked magnificently for both of them,” he said.
Hochul and Adams have known each other since at least 2014, when she was running for lieutenant governor and he was the Brooklyn borough president. Both have a taste for retail politics and occupy similar ideological ground as moderate Democrats.
Adams “always puts the practical choice before the political noise, and the governor has said that’s the kind of leader she wants to be as well,” said Evan Thies, an adviser to the mayor and co-founder of Pythia Public Affairs. “So it’s not surprising that they have had a productive working relationship.”
Last year, the two politicians appeared together onstage at the election night victory party for Adams at a Marriott hotel in Brooklyn, clasping their hands together above their heads. Hochul called Adams a “tremendous partner.” Adams thanked Hochul for coming and told the cheering crowd that the city was “gonna to need her.”
In New York, the mayor and governor often jostle for media attention, particularly when major events unfold in the city. When a mass shooting unfolded at a subway station last week, Hochul rushed to address a briefing at the site, although she was careful to note that she had just spoken with Adams, who was isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus.
One early test of their collaboration just unfolded in Albany. Amid worries over rising crime, Hochul — with Adams’s backing — pushed the legislature to revise a landmark package of bail reform changes passed in 2019. The law had eliminated the use of bail for defendants accused of nearly all nonviolent crimes.
Most Democratic state lawmakers had little desire to revisit the legislation, saying there was no data showing that it had driven the recent increase in violence. Ultimately, as part of the annual budget negotiations, the governor and lawmakers forged a compromise that will give judges greater discretion in setting bail and expand the types of offenses where bail can be required.
Adams indicated in a recent television interview that he does not think the measures go far enough but also commended the governor and lawmakers on the “steps they took towards dealing with public safety — something that people said was impossible for us to get done.”
Tackling bail reform changes was important for both leaders. After a series of high-profile violent crimes and a rising number of shootings in the city, Adams wants “to get crime off the front page,” said Basil Smikle, director of the public policy program at Hunter College and former executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee.
Hochul, meanwhile, is fending off criticism from suburban Democrats and Republicans that she has done too little to bring down crime. Among those who added their voices to the debate: Cuomo, who has hinted that he could mount a new run for governor.
Both Hochul and Adams have reasons to continue their alliance. Another priority for Adams is extending mayoral control of the city’s schools before it expires in June, a power that is renewed periodically by the state legislature. Under Hochul’s predecessor, the process was fraught with tension, but she has indicated she will take a different approach. When Adams asked her to extend the city’s supervision of schools for another three years, she responded, “I’ll give you four,” she recalled in an interview in January.
The fact that the mayor and the governor are no longer openly hostile is a dramatic change for city and state officials, said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential association of business leaders.
Wylde said that officials who focus on economic development at both levels of government have told her how “great it is to be able to compare notes and work together.” One example: It took only a couple days for Hochul and Adams to issue a recent joint letter seeking a $250 million grant to further life science research in the city, Wylde said.
“It just wouldn’t have happened” under Cuomo and de Blasio, she said. The rancor between the two men was such that Wylde wouldn’t invite them to the same event, knowing they would not want to appear together. Wylde recalled attending numerous political fundraisers where organizers made sure Cuomo and de Blasio were scheduled to speak at separate times.
Another frequent area of strife was the city’s public transportation system, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. New York’s subways and buses are overseen by the state, giving the governor a crucial role in the lifeblood of the city.
The relationship between Cuomo and de Blasio was “so toxic that it kind of spilled into everything the MTA did,” including the functioning of the board of directors, said John Samuelsen, International President of the Transport Workers Union and a member of the MTA board. “Everyone just kind of jumped in bunkers, the de Blasio bunker or the Cuomo bunker.”
The absence of a public feud between the governor and the mayor is “helpful to the system,” Samuelsen said. He praised Hochul and Adams for collaborating on a proposal to construct a new train linking Queens and Brooklyn called the Interborough Express.
Hochul and Adams do not view each other as competitors, Samuelsen added, and neither is “trying to suck all the oxygen out of the room” when they are together.
The ultimate success of the Hochul-Adams relationship is “not going to be a matter of personalities or politics” but to what extent they can cooperate to solve the problems faced by the city, Wylde said. If the public safety situation deteriorates, she said, both politicians could be in trouble, and “when people get in trouble, they tend to point fingers.”