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Scoring the Cuomo Visit: Hoyt vs. Brown

This is not an analysis of the message Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered last Friday at Buffalo State College. For that, I suggest an unmediated look at his People First campaign. Cuomo never strayed off-message, so you’ll get the gist from browsing that site or reading any of the dozens of analyses that his campaign will generate.

Instead, this is a look at how Cuomo’s visit underscored the rivalry between Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and Mayor Byron Brown, and the roles into which Cuomo cast each on Friday.

If the anti-union strain of education reformers in New York State ever perfect that robot fourth-grade teacher they hope will usurp the role of humans in the classroom, I imagine its speech patterns may resemble those of Byron Brown. Brown is a smart guy, certainly, and as the audience at Cuomo’s address yesterday were reminded, he’s got a college degree. (From Buff State. “Go Bengals!” Brown said near the beginning of his brief remarks, referring to an unspecified athletic team at his alma mater, and drawing mild approval from the audience.) But his delivery of scripted remarks isn’t simply wooden: He reads his scripts slowly, as if his audience were incapable of absorbing more than one word per second, and hits certain words with such pondering emphasis that one suspects he is suggesting there may be a vocabulary quiz later. Yet at the same time, one feels that Brown himself is not conscious of the meanings of the words he uses.

His lack of affect is, simply, robotic.

Perhaps Brown’s heart wasn’t in his performance, as Cuomo came to town on his statewide tour stumping for the next four items in his legislative agenda: a property tax cap, public workers pension reform, ethics reform, and marriage equality. (The last drew a loud standing ovation from the audience, excepting the orange-shirted guys from Laborers Local 210 and one woman seated right in front of me who stood and shouted, “No! No! Don’t do it!”) Brown was not even second banana in Cuomo’s roadshow: Instead, he was forced to be the opening act for the opening act. Hoyt, Brown’s hated rival in local Democratic politics, was given the honor of introducing the governor.

As the host, Buffalo State’s new president, Aaron Podolefsky, opened with a few words, then introduced Brown, who made his remarks to an appreciative but not especially inspired crowd. Then the mayor sat down while Podolefsky summoned Hoyt, also a Buff State alumnus, to the podium. One can think what one will of Hoyt as a legislator; he’s been around a long time and has both supporters and critics. (Cuomo heaped praise on him, as might be expected of a visiting politician.) But whatever one thinks of him, he is not wooden. His speeches rarely feel scripted. In short order he had the crowd laughing, and clapping, and ready for the main event. Brown must have been miserable.

When the governor took to the stage and asked the audience to give a hand, in turn, to Podolefsky, Brown, and then Hoyt, the crowd clapped politely for Brown and roared for Hoyt. I could not see Brown’s reaction from where I sat, but I looked quickly to where Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, Brown’s chief political advisor, stood beside the stage. Casey tepidly brought his hands together once, then started fiddling with his phone, as if checking for messages.

Cuomo said kind things about the mayor, calling him a “superstar” among elected officials, referring to him always as “the mayor” or “Mayor Brown.” He called Hoyt “Sam” or “my friend Sam.” The difference in the relationship was clear.

There was a brief press conference in the basement of Upton Hall after the speech, and there Brown managed to occupy prime real estate right next to the governor as he took questions, while Hoyt stood behind both men. But, in the political world where appearances and semantics carry so much weight, Hoyt already had won the day.

Do these political flocking patterns and ceremonial arrangements mean anything? Well, they won’t get your sewer system updated, or create new slots for nursing students at ECC’s city campus, or result in a property tax system that rewards downtown property owners for developing their lots instead of selling parking spaces on them. But they shed a little light on whose claims to a close working alliance with the governor ring most true.

geoff kelly

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