The feud between the mayor and the governor has expanded from spats on affordable housing and universal pre-K to a macabre form of accountability-gamesmanship over the death of 6-year-old Zymere Perkins, who was beaten to death this past September in Harlem.
Before Perkins’s death, the city had already been given five prior reports about possible abuse, the revelation of which set off a firestorm over the city’s handling of the case. Immediately following Perkins death in September, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the state to look into the death, saying that, “It should remind us all that what government does matters, and when government fails, there are consequences.”
On Monday, Administration for Children’s Services commissioner Gladys Carrión announced her resignation, just days after the death of another child the agency was tracking, 3-year-old Jaden Jordan, who died in Brooklyn.
Following Carrión’s resignation, the state’s Office of Children & Family Services released a report that outlined systemic failures in the city’s ACS in regards to the case, alleging that the city’s work was “insufficient” and “particularly lacking given the family circumstances.” The state then went on to order that ACS install an independent monitor, approved by the state, to “conduct a comprehensive evaluation of ACS’ Child Protective and Preventive services programs.”
But during a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio presented the monitor as his own idea, the Daily News reported. In addition, he said the monitor wouldn’t need to be approved by the state, which the state makes abundantly clear in its report that it does.
To complicate matters further, the city then released its own report on the Perkins death just hours after the state released theirs, showing just how far the city and state are willing to take their rivalry over the welfare of New York City residents.
The city’s own report mirrored the state’s in numerous instances of mishandling the case by ACS, and also revealed that three ACS employees are in termination proceedings. It also outlined fifteen reforms that ACS has already implemented, as well as the need to hire an independent monitor (which the city’s report admits has to be approved by the state).
“Procedures were not followed, common sense was not exercised, and due diligence was lacking up and down the chain of command responsible for Zymere,” the mayor said at the press conference on Tuesday. “I will not accept excuses for this failure and I will not accept the notion that every single one of these tragedies cannot be prevented. The buck stops with me.”
The governor and mayor both jockeying to be the one responsible for sorting through this tragedy is yet another chapter in their strange and painful rivalry, which is now entering its fourth year. What began as the governor essentially intervening and taking credit for the mayor’s Universal pre-K initiative in 2014, has now expanded to include every facet of cooperation between the city and state, from things as vital as affordable housing, minimum wage, and homelessness, to whether de Blasio will even be invited to the opening of the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway (a Cuomo spokesperson now says he will).
By releasing two near-identical reports on the death of a child (only one of which was legally required, the state’s), their feud has now extended to the type of political grandstanding reserved usually for people from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum, not supposed colleagues.
This leads to self-sabotaging by both Cuomo and de Blasio in the form of rival press conferences following explosions, ruminating with the press on supposed “revenge” plots, and an ill-conceived plan on undercutting the governor’s legislative priorities that could ultimately derail de Blasio’s political career.
The mayor still seeks a national profile for his style of business-friendly progressivism, while Cuomo is already being talked up for a run at the White House in 2020, possibly on the same centrist path that Hillary Clinton ran on. Before November’s election, de Blasio’s stock had taken such a dive (mostly due to Cuomo’s seeming mission to embarrass him at every turn) that he was relegated to a nap-time slot at the Democratic National Convention, while Cuomo was given prime time. But one month from a Donald Trump presidency, who really cares?
Now, with the need to unify their party in the face of a truly terrifying threat in Washington, Cuomo and de Blasio remain as embittered towards one another as ever before. In the fallout from Trump’s election, they even held another set of rival speeches. If New York is going to make it through the the next four years intact, it’ll need its politicians to put aside this rivalry and start working together again. Or we can look forward to another sorry spectacle like the two most prominent Democrats in the state turning the death of a boy into political opportunity.