ALBANY, N.Y. — After years of journeying to the state Capitol for reliable doses of Republican rejection, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, on his first trip here under a new Democratic regime, was likely prepared for at least some agita.
Sure enough, there were plenty of signs of small-bore friction: Democratic senators from Long Island, for example, asking about sharing tax money with the Long Island Rail Road, and Democratic senators from the city's Queens borough questioning his administration for luring Amazon with tax incentives.
There were Democrats concerned about how congestion pricing might harm Staten Islanders, and the dearth of subway service in the Bronx. And finally, there was a certain Democratic governor who scheduled a last-minute news conference during de Blasio’s testimony to give an update on the weather and a 14-month-old tax bill.
Yet for all of that, de Blasio seemed remarkably sanguine when he arrived Monday, buoyed by November’s power shift: Democrats, by flipping the state Senate, won one-party control of state government for the first time in a decade, greatly empowering the New York City legislators who have been among de Blasio’s strongest (and at times only) allies here.
In the past month, lawmakers have passed many progressive policies the mayor has backed, including new election laws, protections for transgender people and expanded reproductive rights. And for the most part, members of the Democratic majority gave him a very different type of reception.
“Let’s say it was a tad warmer,” the mayor said afterward. “Definitely a more pleasant experience.”
Yet there were still signs of political tension inside the party ranks around two major issues involving big money in New York City: using congestion pricing to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the question of whether Amazon belongs in Queens.
De Blasio has been hesitant to heartily embrace congestion pricing, preferring a multipronged approach to the problem of rebuilding the city’s crumbling subways, including a millionaires tax on high earners — an idea New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dislikes, but the mayor has called the “biggest, best piece of the equation.”
If congestion pricing were instituted, the mayor indicated he would be in favor of some people, including the poor and elderly, receiving hardship exemptions.
Assemblyman Robert Carroll, D-Brooklyn, who represents the mayor’s voting district, promptly attacked de Blasio for that stance, arguing that any carve-outs would weaken a plan that would already fall short of the MTA’s revenue needs.
“To be perfectly blunt, I think it is disingenuous to say you would support a congestion-pricing plan and then talk about the number of carve-outs that you’ve suggested today,” Carroll said.
That was immediately followed by a critique from state Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, who said that many of her constituents, as well as residents of transit-starved sections of the Bronx and Queens, drove because they did not have the luxury of a one-seat ride via public transportation.
“Not everyone who drives to work is rich,” Savino said.
De Blasio’s testimony also took place amid simmering tension between Cuomo and the Democratic-led Senate over the issue of a plan to put a corporate campus for Amazon in Queens, using billions of dollars in state and city tax incentives. On Friday, Cuomo accused the Senate of “governmental malpractice” in its approach to the plan, particularly the proposed appointment of a prominent Amazon critic, state Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat, to a board with potential veto power.
De Blasio found himself repeatedly defending the deal in the face of questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including state Sen. John Liu, another newly elected Democrat who wondered aloud why Amazon was being given tax breaks potentially worth $3 billion when tech companies like Google have said they would expand their workforce without such incentives.
De Blasio countered, saying the Amazon deal was pro forma. “The vast majority of the subsidy that Amazon got was standing incentive programs,” he said.
At another moment, state Sen. Jessica Ramos of Queens, a Democrat and former aide to de Blasio, suggested the most logical option for a progressive leader would have been to raise taxes on Amazon, rather than to give it tax breaks.
And so on. (De Blasio pointed out several times, seemingly to no avail, that state lawmakers, not he, had the power to make the changes they were requesting.)
Then, too, there was the small issue of Cuomo, de Blasio’s most prominent and powerful critic here. De Blasio’s remarks made it clear that there were conflicts in his wanting more funding for education and the city’s decrepit public housing.
Both have been political flashpoints between the two men.
But if he was hoping Cuomo was listening to the entirety of his pleas Monday, it would have to be through transcripts or perhaps later on YouTube. As de Blasio answered questions from legislators, the governor was addressing reporters about a scheduled meeting on Tuesday with President Donald Trump (that had been planned a week before), the oft-repeated ill impacts of the president’s 2017 tax bill on New York and an approaching winter storm.
“What would the week be if we didn’t have to worry about a storm?” Cuomo said. “I don’t know what I would do with myself.”
Such ripples of rivalry notwithstanding, de Blasio planned to meet with the governor and legislative leaders Monday, and seemed hopeful about the chances for a banner year for the city — and his party.
“We’re Democrats, right?” the mayor said. “We’ve never been a party that believes in everybody in lockstep.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.