This ain’t the Tappan Zee.
If Andrew Cuomo has not yet grasped that notion, I suspect he soon will.
The Peace Bridge is where plans go to die. If the governor thinks he can impose his will on the bridge authority’s Canadian members, my guess is his fast-forwarding visions will soon be added to the scrap heap.
Somebody needs to tell the governor that his influence ends at the border – and that playing hardball doesn’t cut it in hockey country.
Cuomo wants to speed the expansion of the U.S. plaza, currently a rabbit warren of doglegs and detours shoehorned around a Duty Free shop. I think we all share his get-it-done sentiment. The problem is his method. Cuomo wants to do it, basically, by convincing the Peace Bridge Authority to move over and let Andrew take over.
Cuomo’s reputation for ruthlessness is, in fairness, matched by impressive results. From legalizing gay marriage to a minimum-wage hike, the governor has gone after – and captured – some big game. Nothing around here looms as large as the international border crossing that has devolved into a symbol of Buffalo’s inertia. But the Peace Bridge is a different sort of animal, one that I doubt Cuomo’s usual attack-or-reward tactics can tame.
The governor believes that recent movement on the long-stalled Tappan Zee bridge rebuild provides persuasive evidence to Canadians of his gridlock-dissolving, can-do magic. The Canadians, predictably, are neither impressed, nor – understandably – eager to hand over their half of the Peace Bridge reins to New York’s governor. This makes Andrew mad.
Everybody knows the drill when Cuomo charges in – either get on board, or get trampled. Cuomo, through his allies, has in recent weeks launched a frontal assault on the authority’s five Canadian members. Cuomo legislature proxies Sean Ryan and Mark Grisanti proposed an Albany bill to dissolve the authority. Cuomo-disciple Sam Hoyt called for the head of its general manager, Ron Reinas. Clearly, the governor is trying to bring the Canadians to heel.
I don’t see it happening. In fact, I think Cuomo’s high hard ones may do more harm than good. The string of 5-5 stalemate votes at Friday’s authority board meeting was an in-your-face display of heel-digging by the Canadians. With no majority, there is no movement – not on the $50 million U.S. plaza, not on the $92 million bridge redecking, not on anything else. Given that these are shared U.S./Canadian goals, this is a Cuomo-created crisis.
“I am completely perplexed by the Americans’ tactics,” Anthony Annunziata, the authority’s Canadian chairman, told me. “We have $175 million worth of projects we could be moving forward on.”
Instead of persuading the Canadians to step aside, Cuomo has ticked them off. The Canadians think the Ryan/Grisanti bill, although more bark than bite, prevents the authority from getting project-dependent construction loans. I hung around the coffee table after Friday’s board meeting, just to see if Hoyt and Canada’s Annunziata would come to blows over the last chocolate muffin.
Don’t get me wrong – ideally, what both Cuomo and the bridge authority want would be done yesterday. Talk of a bridge/plaza redo predates the Internet. We desperately need a consensus-reached, community-vetted plan for a sensible U.S. plaza. But I think Cuomo’s grab-the-reins move is a major miscalculation. It is borne of equal parts arrogance, Cuomo’s unfamiliarity with Canada’s process-devoted culture and an understandable reluctance by Canadian authority members to let an outsider into the engine room. Reaching across the Niagara River is a serious Cuomo overreach. I don’t see where Cuomo has much leverage. In New York, he can rally allies and coerce enemies with threats or rewards. But his juice stops at the Canadian border.
Beyond that, Cuomo’s complaints about decades of bridge delays ring hypocritical. Most of the Peace Bridge procrastination is traceable to the U.S. side. From the failed push for a “signature” bridge, to project-delaying lawsuits on everything from environmental reviews to attempted neighborhood land-grabs, gridlock is colored red, white and blue.
“The worst thing we can do as a body,” acknowledged American authority member Tony Masiello, “is to send signals that the impasses of the last few months will continue.”
Tell it to the governor, Tony.
The Tappan Zee bridge connects Rockland and Westchester counties. The Peace Bridge spans the United States and Canada. If Andrew Cuomo doesn’t understand the difference, I suspect he is about to find out.