This is the way campaigns are supposed to work: A pair of top officials of two of the state’s largest public employee unions are today calling out Andrew Cuomo for his tough-on-labor comments in Sunday’s New York Times. Cuomo was described as “girding for war” with big unions aided by a “more formidable” business lobby. To that end, he told the Times‘ Nicholas Confessore that he had sent union leaders copies of a new book about an old battle that he’d found helpful: “The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975,” by former Brooklyn state senator Seymour Lachman and ex-Newsday reporter Robert Polner.
Not that he necessarily needed our advice, but the Voice commended this fascinating book to Cuomo and other readers in late August when it was released: “The likely future governor will appreciate this dramatic saga of what it’s like to be a brand new occupant of the executive mansion who opens the cabinets to find they’ve been stripped bare,” the item read.
The book describes the efforts to get labor on board to meet the fiscal crisis that threatened to bankrupt both city and state. The challenges of this effort are best described by financial wizard Felix Rohaytn, recruited by then governor Carey as his trouble-shooter. Rohaytn told Lachman and Polner about encountering union leaders wearing sidearms at a negotiating session at a midtown hotel. “Is this the way you guys always do business?” was Rohaytn’s wide-eyed query.
But state teachers president Richard Iannuzzi tells City Hall today that the comparison between the 1970s crisis and today’s problems doesn’t hold up, and not just because he never packs a piece to bargaining sessions. “It’s a different time,” says the teachers’ leader.
Danny Donohue, the usually tough-talking head of the Civil Service Employees Association, had a spokesman tell City Hall that the Carey-fiscal crisis comparison with today’s problems was “some revisionist history.”
Iannuzzi, whose union is sitting out this election, said he received a copy of the book from Cuomo shortly before Labor Day along with a “best wishes” call from the Attorney General. The teachers’ union leader also gives a hint at the problems Cuomo’s going to be up against: He told City Hall that, seven weeks later, he is still reading the 229-page book.