Monday, February 15, 2021

Of Bloggers and Governors

Before there was Trump, there was Andrew Cuomo. 

Anyone who has follows the NYCEDU blogs in the past may be aware of local blogging legend Reality Based Educator and his/her blog 'Perdido Street School'.  Named after a popular (and very unique) SciFi novel named Perdido Street Station (wikipedia or explore its own wiki here), RBE's blog cast a daily critical lens on policies of the DOE championed by former mayor Bloomberg. It helped explain how those policies actually affected teachers and students. The posts were hard hitting, fact-based and always well researched. They were opinion pieces, but they were opinion pieces rooted in and committed to facts. They left readers feeling much better informed about what was really happening in NYC's public schools than any of us would otherwise would have been. Because of this, the blog became a part of the daily digest of many teachers across New York City. You can (and should) check it out here

In 2011 -nine years ago now- the worst guy in New York politics got himself elected governor. This politician scapegoated his enemies like no other had up until that point. Many of his enemies, in fact, had an almost uncanny way of encountering mysterious scandals before resigning their elected offices and or heading off to prison.  People today have forgotten names like Bruno or Silver  or Skelos. But back then these were the giants of Albany politics (if ever Albany politics had giants)  and their fate, much the same as governor Spitzer's before them, was determined through shock, scandal, disgrace, and eventual resignation. 

All these folks happened to be in Andrew Cuomo's path at the time their scandal broke the news cycle. His political tone and tenor commanded a sort of appalling attention that Albany had not experienced modern times.

He associated with charter schools, where he would scapegoat teachers, and with public schools, where he scapegoat charters. He would publicly scapegoat local elected officials and then, after having them replaced with people who were loyal to him, extolled the 'great work' that was (finally) being done and send them money to 'invest' in their economy (read about Buffalo Billion scandal here as an example.  But this process has played out all across the state since his election). This guy was the very epitome of dirty, hardball politics.  Today, they say it's "Andrew Cuomo's New York". But back then, before his enemies' names faded from memory, and the state became his own,  Cuomo's dominance in New York politics was not guaranteed. Like watching a summer storm moving in, we all watched as Andrew Cuomo slowly took over New York State politics. 

It was right around this time that RBE began writing exclusively about Cuomo -and (s)he wrote about this almost every day. Just as were the posts about education, RBE's pieces about Andrew Cuomo were extremely well-researched. (S)he demonstrated as strong of a command of the facts as anyone in the professional journalism world before or since. His/her style was to use publicly available news reports and then crossed reference them with other facts and details that only (s)he seemed to able to recall. (S)he was able to connect dots that might otherwise have fallen down any one of the dozens of memory holes New York readers must contend with every day. It came to a point where many of us would navigate to Perdido Street to learn about Cuomo in the same way we would  head over to Politico or the NYtimes to find out the news from Washington DC. It was that well informed. It was that reliable. It was that good. 

Every scandal, every misstep, every corrupt act (in fact any act emanating from Cuomo's Albany which might lead to -or even otherwise be associated with- a corrupt political act), were all covered in detail on Perdido Street School. If it happened, RBE wrote about it, summarized and analyzed it for us. Daily. This went on every single day for a long time. During a time when no one else in the state of New York was giving Cuomo's actions a true critical lens, Perdido Street School was a dependable resource of accurate information.  

During the mid 2010s, Cuomo began facing challenges from the left. It was around this same time that Donald Trump's presence on the national scene -which used the same scapegoating hardball, 24-hour politics style as the governor- absolutely eclipsed anything Andrew Cuomo had ever done. In what must have been a relief to Cuomo, our collective level of appall turned to the Donald and has remained there ever since. 

In 2017 RBE wrote his last post and stopped publishing. The light on Cuomo went dark (very, as matters turned out, dark. Between the lack of light on Cuomo and the rise of Trump, it was as though all of the posts, all of the muckraking and almost all of the scandal surrounding Cuomo just disappeared). There was little explanation and almost no warning just a quick 'this is my last post' kind of post and then he was gone (bloggers, man. bloggers). Shortly thereafter, many of us came to realize that Perdido Street had actually been the only source of accurate, usable information about the most dangerous politician in New York.  When the blog shut down there was nothing (or almost nothing). RBE never got to cover Cuomo's desperate attempt to inch toward the left, his feigning of legalizing marijuana, his almost complete political takeover of the massive MTA ('East Side Tunnel access needs ten more years of salary contracts? Fine. No problem. Just give me two train stations and Second Avenue Subway and we'll call it even'). 

Since that time, Andrew Cuomo has watched Donald Trump take his style of politics and use them to turned the whole world upside down. A fully eclipsed sun can only watch and react as this happens. And, for the rest of us, eclipses tend to work that way as well. One moment you're standing in the middle of warm bright summer day. The next you are draped in night catching only passing glances at the sun in the background.  And, during all that time, the sun can do almost anything it wants without anyone much noticing or caring. Take complete control of the government with emergency powers? Sure.  Screw up a vaccine roll out? No problem. Send our most vulnerable senior citizens into an environment where they will surely be exposed to the disease and become very ill or die? Yep. That too. Cover all of that up? Absolutely. 

Heck, that level of anonymity might even make someone bold enough to try to admit to the cover up in hopes of getting ahead of it.  Unfortunately for Cuomo, by the time that happened (and, recently, it did), the moon had passed out of view leaving all of our gaze to fall squarely back on the sun. 

Trump is now gone and every Democrat in America hates his style of politics. And those are, in fact, Cuomo's politics. This is why I have to say (and forgive me for making a cheap Bob Dillion reference), our collective ability to see again is why the wind is now (finally) beginning to howl as the riders are approaching. Something is coming fo Andrew Cuomo in the coming weeks. And it isn't good at all.! 

To this day, I am convinced that there is only one person in the US who could ave told that story; the story of Cuomo being out-Cuomoed and then having to pay the political price for developing this terrible political style to begin with.  If he had, the story may have sounded something like this:

"It has always been obvious to anyone paying attention that Cuomo is a mini-Trump. He has the same appetite for authoritarianism as the former president: during the pandemic he has drawn scrutiny for cancelling special elections, issuing executive orders and consolidating power. Like Trump he has nothing but disdain for his detractors, particularly if they happen to be more qualified than he is."

but it would have sounded like this every day. 

(special note: The Guardian is a British newspaper. To date, there are very few news sources in the US who have been willing to write about Cuomo in this way).  

And now, eleven years after his election, when all of his dishonesty, corruption and the "24-hour politics" style of our governor looks to be (finally) crashing down around him; now, right when it seems almost as though Cuomo's political epitaph is being written in real time, RBE's analysis and assessment on Perdido Street is very sorely missed. 

Watching Cuomo begin to implode just doesn't feel the same without that daily explainer. It's almost as if we're watching a movie without ever having seen the trailer (I mean, yeah, it's a good movie. But you don't quite know as much of what is happening as well as you would if you had  seen the trailer). 

Perhaps just a post script here, but I'd like add one more thought: There is a type of commentary that is missing from our political discussions, today.  It was a commentary that was rooted in facts and analysis and a general premise that, as politicians shouldn't ever be trusted, readers shouldn't ever be told what to think.  It was a commentary that could point to governmental corruption and draw a line from that corruption right down to the local employees who lose their jobs because of it. This sort of commentary served the purpose of connecting the dots so that the rest of us could better understand and, when attention turned to politics, it was this commentary that helped us to see how really bad politicians were causing further harm for individual people.  But it was a commentary that was not overtaken by its premises as is done today. 

When Jefferson wrote (to Lafayette), "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed....It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.", he surely had in mind politicians just like Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump. When he wrote of the need to keep the waters pure (clearly a reference to ensure the press did fall into corruption or into intimidation by others), I am convinced he would have used pieces from RBE's to demonstrate how that looked. There is nothing along the American landscape of the written word that approaches this level of truth. We are all, in fact, post-truth

Here on a more local level, Perdido Street School represented one of the last spaces where a reader could gain access to that level of facts and commentary that free peoples need in order to make informed decisions. And if you want to gain a sense of how all of that felt (and now would be a good time as there may not be a governor Cuomo by this time next year), look no further than RBE's incredible posts about Andrew Cuomo (you can start here). 

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