Friday, January 2, 2015
The Late Great Governor Cuomo
A lot of people are eulogizing Mario Cuomo today. I won't be one of them.
I am a native New Yorker, born and raised. I was born outside of Rochester, New York, in 1960, back when Kodak ran the town. My Dad worked for ITEK (which some wags say stands for "I Took Eastman Kodak") which was also in the imaging business.
Later, we moved to Syracuse, New York, which was a thriving manufacturing town. My Dad ran a truck clutch parts factory for 18 years. I ended up working for Carrier Corp, the hometown employer, in the laboratory, testing and instrumenting the industrial chiller and air handlers they made there.
My connection with New York goes back further than that - further than the Cuomo family does. My ancestors on my Mother's side settled in Western New York, in a town called Pompey, on a land grand given to them by General Washington, after the Revolutionary war.
Back then, Western New York was a wild place. The Indians had just been driven out (for foolishly choosing the wrong side in two wars) and Counties, Towns, and Villages were being laid out, willy-nilly, by land surveyors, who ran through all the Greek and Roman names they could think of, before resorting to the names of their girlfriends, or the owners of the Holland Land company.
"Go West, Young Man!" Horace Greeley, said, and by that, he meant Western New York. Western New York became the breadbasket of New York City, and a new canal system hauled goods from Buffalo to Albany, where they then traveled by ship down the Hudson to New York - and to the world.
And by the late 1800's, the area was heavily industrialized. Buffalo had its grain elevators and forge plants - making steel and pounding out crankshafts for GM by the 1920's. Rochester was a Kodak town, viewed as an enclave of culture and wealth of Central New York. Wealthy Rochesterians would summer on Canandaiagua Lake, or one of the many Finger Lakes in the region.
Syracuse, known as the "Salt City" was originally famous for its salt mines. But later the Solvay Process, New process gear, Carrier, GE, GM, and a host of other larger and smaller companies would call the town home. And even smaller towns and cities, like Auburn, New York or Seneca Falls, would be home to companies still extant today, such as Gould Pumps. General Electric, of course, populated towns like Troy New York. New York was all about heavy industry - even New York City and Long Island. Swingline ran a factory in Brooklyn well into the 1980's.
As a vacation destination, Central New York and the "North Country" were famous for decades. Millionaires would compete with each other to built the most grandiose villas in the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence. Huge Adirondack lodges were built as retreats for the wealthy and the nearly wealthy. Lakeside retreats on various Finger Lakes were populated in the summertime by folks from New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia, trying to escape the heat. Today, the descendents of their servants still live there.
In the small town of Cazenovia, where I grew up, the mansions of those millionaires still line the lake - the properties, of course, long since divided up into housing developments.
In terms of politics, of course New York was always somewhat liberal. The abolitionism movement was strong in New York State (but not in New York City - whose immigrants cared little for the rights of blacks). Harriet Tubman owned a home in Auburn, right down the street from William H. Seward. Nearby in Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton would later fight for woman's suffrage.
People were well-educated in that era as well. One of my ancestors taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Pompey. Her students learned geometry, Latin, Greek, as well as how to read and write, and of course history. Today, college students learn and know less.
New York State was productive. It was well-educated. It was progressive. It was, well, The Empire State. Things were happening in the State - it was a place you could go to seek your fortune and a place where you could prosper.
Today, Kodak no longer dominates Rochester. Kodak is basically no more. The factories that my Dad and I worked in are either no more or are severely scaled back. Many companies are just gone, completely, leaving only HazMat cleanup sites in their wake.
While New York has some of the highest educational costs per pupil, the level of education is not necessarily the highest. Unemployment is higher than in other parts of the country. Taxes are horrific. Industry has long ago fled. Even the tourist business has shrunk to a fraction of its former self. No one goes to the Thousand Islands anymore. The great lodges of the Adirondacks are shuttered. And the Finger Lakes have devolved into little more than a backdrop for a winery tour.
And generations of New Yorkers have found that Horace Greeley's advice is still true - "Go West, Young Man! Or South, or anywhere other than New York State!" Because New York is no longer a place where you can seek your fortune, but rather a place to dissipate it.
What exactly happened?
Two things. First, Liberalism run amok. Second, Corruption (the Mafia). Both are why I am not eulogizing Mario Cuomo.
Granted, there is a third reason why New York and the rest of the "rust belt" fell into decline, and that was the fact we won World War II. Yes, it turns out that the losers of WW II ended up the winners. We helped rebuild Japan and Germany after the war, and with all new machine-tools and factories, plus their traditions of quality workmanship going back Centuries, the Germans and Japanese started cranking out quality products at competitive prices, and continue to do so today.
In the US (and Great Britain), returning soldiers were tired of fighting and just wanted to settle down. The old order was overturned, and we turned into a quasi-Socialist society (the Brits went for it whole hog). Unionism, which was a form of Liberalism, Corruption, and Organized Crime, rolled into one, was the order of the day.
Profits could not be used to rebuild our factories here, but instead were paid out in increasingly larger and larger salaries and benefits for very unskilled workers. By the time I was working at GM and Carrier, people in these unionized plants were making 2x, 3x, and even 4x what similar non-unionized workers were making. Not only could we not compete with overseas competitors, we could not compete with other non-union plants in the US.
So, folks like my Dad ended up overseeing the gradual decline and decay of factories, where money didn't exist to rebuild or improve. In fact, the union would fight any form of automation or reduction in the number of workers. Every time a contract came up, long and crippling strikes would result - until management caved in and carved out yet another slice of pie for the unions.
And of course, these Unions were packed with mobsters, who were on the payroll, but of course, never worked. And yea, I was a Teamster for a while, so I know of where I speak.
Corruption existed in other forms as well. Since the mafia was rampant in New York State, any government contract was padded to the gills with payoffs to local mobsters. Utica, New York, was known as a "Mafia Town" and the gadfly mayor of that City once had the balls to go after local corruption. It seems the Mob had the contract for salt for the town's road department, and since it was a mild winter, no salt was being used. After a mild snowstorm, the Mob bosses instructed that all the salt be used - resulting in a 2" layer of the stuff being laid out on City streets. Incensed, the mayor tried to have the Department of Public Works scrape it all back up again. But of course, that is not really feasible. It illustrates, however, how corruption adds to the overall cost of doing business in Central New York.
Liberalism has a long tradition in New York State. When I was a kid, Nelson Rockefeller was governor and believe it or not, the GOP had a "liberal wing". A lot of big-government ideas started in that era of "The Great Society" and New York State bought into it, big time.
Now to be fair, a lot of the welfare State was already in place by the time Mario Cuomo took office. But during his three terms in Office, he did little but oversee the general decline of New York State - and even New York City. Recall that during the Cuomo era, New York City was a dangerous, crime-ridden place. It is not the Disney-esque place it is today, with Times Square being a fun place for tourists. The subways were covered with graffiti, and being mugged was a way of life.
The decline, of course, was slow. Many of the factories were still going strong during the Cuomo era. Kodak was still the powerhouse of Rochester. The GM plants in Buffalo cranked out parts. My Dad's factory was, if not prospering, keeping its head above water. And I was able to land a job at Carrier during that time period, which had three shifts of workers making chillers and air handlers.
But the decline had set in, and Cuomo did little to arrest it. Cuomo was once thought to be a proper candidate for President. But when asked, he replied that opponents would find out too much information about him and his family, so he couldn't run. What information? Connections to the Mafia, of course.
What did Cuomo do in office? It's funny, but while his Wikipedia page lists a lot of "accomplishments" if you read the list, they are just the name of government programs which really didn't accomplish much. Rebuild roads and bridges in New York? You have to be kidding me. Have you driven on the NYS Thruway? It is a mess! No offense, but Cuomo didn't do shit.
And his son isn't much better. His "great accomplishment" according to one site, is legalizing Gay Marriage - something that was done by ballot initiative, not him. His other "accomplishments" were balancing the budget (something required by State Law) and putting a cap on local property taxes (too late for me, sadly!). Of course, no word how this "cap" will work, if local municipalities still have to fund the welfare programs mandated by Albany. Ah, yes, more cuts to fire protection, police, and road repair. What galls me is that these mobsters get re-elected and the people of New York give them their blubbering thanks when they get back pennies from their tax dollars.
In 1987, I left New York State. I had graduated from College and was looking for a job. Other than working for the government or a University, there were no jobs. And quite frankly, the dull weather and the wearing continual economic decline of the area had taken a toll. I wanted to get out and see these other areas of the country where things were thriving and people were prospering.
My boss at Carrier told me that they would be shutting down the department soon - and that I should get out. Today, the place is a ghost town. My Dad's factory is long-gone, as are the factories that many of my friend's parents worked at, ran, or even owned.
Funny thing, but when I left New York, I realized that the rest of the country was run differently. Rather than live in fear of government all the time, most people just did what they wanted to do and thrived as a result. And it wasn't any one big thing, but just thousands of tiny, pointless regulations that drove you nuts after a while. When I wanted to put up a small storage shed in New York, it required three trips to the local zoning office. When I did the same thing in Northern Virginia, the zoning people said, "what are you bothering us for?" - the attitudes were different.
I returned to Central New York twenty years later. By then, I was a millionaire, and looking for a place to retire or perhaps a vacation home. We had this naive idea that we could buy a modest house on or near a lake and enjoy the summers there. I had forgotten the difference between a Red State and a Blue One. I would be reminded rather shortly.
After six years, we left. The taxes were horrific - nearly three times the amount we pay today for a more expensive house in Georgia. And everything was regulated, down to how you throw away your trash. Yes, the Mafia is in the garbage business, and has convinced New Yorkers that there is a "shortage" of places to dispose of trash, and is charging people accordingly.
Funny thing, in Virginia, they built a garbage-burning steam plant, that makes money for the county by generating electricity. In fact, they burn trash from as far away as New York and charge New Yorkers for the privilege. It is an interesting contrast in the mindset of how government should work.
Of course, this means trash trucks driving everywhere in the State, and people get upset that these gypsy truckers (who no doubt have to pay off the mob to get their jobs) are driving 60 mph through their small towns. So they pass another law on where the truckers can drive. That is the mindset of New York - there is nothing so small that a law cannot be passed to fix it. And it is a mindset that simply doesn't work.
Why? Because they cut back on police enforcement. Due to budget cuts, they had to cut something - and welfare entitlements were not even up for discussion. So "optional" things like fire, police, and road repair, are put on the chopping block. Optional - the things we used to consider essential. You see why it was like living in a madhouse.
Cuomo oversaw this general malaise and decline - and did nothing to stop it. Yet today he is being lauded as a great leader - although what accomplishment he can point to, I cannot say.
Today his son is governor - and not much has changed in New York State. The entire State is dependent on New York City, of course, for its sustenance. Taxes generated from the nation's financial capital keep Albany afloat, for the most part. But the other half is balanced on the backs of homeowners, some of whom are socked with five-digit tax bills. I had friends paying $1000 a month, just in taxes, to live in what were pretty modest houses. If you want to live in New York, you have to make a lot of money.
Will New York ever change? I doubt it. Cumo's son Andrew is now Governor, and big-government and anti-business are still the orders of the day. The State made news recently for banning Fracking - now that the bloom is off the rose of that business anyway. What is interesting to me is not that the State banned Fracking, but that it took them nearly a decade to do it. The Fracking issue was on everyone's lips when we lived there back in 2005. A decade later and the glacial government in Albany finally comes out with a pronouncement.
And in typical Albany style, the real deal is corruption. Fracking is banned in New York in order to preserve the coal industry in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The coal industry paid for all those yard signs and orchestrated all the protests and fed all the pre-written articles into the press. And they paid all those lobbyists in Albany as well. It is a corrupt system, an it isn't going to change.
We've been back to New York a few times since, and every time, it is a little depressing. Every area looks a little, well, abandoned and run down, particularly compared to other nearby States. Vermont has a thriving tourist industry on the banks of Lake Champlain. On the opposite shore, New York has run-down camps and abandoned rusty cars. The Thousand Islands, once the playground of millionaires, now looks like a run-down ghetto.
And so on and so on. Small upstate towns all look alike, and they all look sad. And they wonder why the tourists don't come anymore. Even famous sites, like Niagara Falls, are best viewed from the Canadian side.
I am, of course, one of New York's largest exports, and that is to say, people. New York's population growth isn't negative just yet, but it is about half the national average. If you are young and living in New York State, the best thing you can do is move out. And the odd thing was, I was the last person in my family to leave. My brothers and sister all had to leave the State to find work - because there was none, there. My parents finally left when they realized that they could not afford to retire in New York - without leading a life of privation in some small, run-down house. They could build a brand-new home on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay for less money that it would have cost to buy and live in a run-down tract home in a suburban ghetto in Syracuse.
I can only say that it changed my life - for the better. Leaving New York was liberating, both mentally and financially. Yes, it was challenging to live in States where Big Brother didn't cater to your every need from cradle to grave. I had to learn to fight for myself and to get ahead - and put away a lot of notions that were fostered in the Big Government State. But I thrived, as so many do, when challenged. And in New York, there were no challenges.
So, no Eulogy from me for Mario Cuomo. I'd like to think, as George Carlin once said, that he's down there somewhere, screaming up at us. Hope he enjoys the flames. Mafia bastard.