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Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner discusses new book, damaging relationship with Cuomo

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)
Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is writing a book about her time as mayor

Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is writing a book about her time in government. What pushes it beyond a dry political tome are the stories, replete with drama, about her fallout with former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Miner, who is now a visiting professor at Colgate University, read an excerpt from the book during a recent campus event and answered questions about what she calls the excruciating years outside the Cuomo orbit.

Initially, Miner, a Democrat elected in 2010 as the first female mayor of an upstate city, was thrilled to work with Cuomo.

"I thought the stars were aligned that we were going to do great work, make great progress, and it was going to be magical,” Miner said.

But after a few years, those magical wheels fell off because, according to Miner, she publicly disagreed with Cuomo on public policy. In 2013, she penned a New York Times opinion piece critical of Cuomo’s plan to deal with the pension crisis cities across the state were facing. The governor’s office tried to quash it.

As a result of the op-ed, Miner’s relationship with Cuomo chilled. She was ignored when Cuomo came to Syracuse, ignored in public by friends with state interests, state officials were sent to town to threaten a state takeover of city government. State funding to the city of Syracuse was impacted.

"We had announcements we were told we would get millions of dollars for infrastructure, and then I was told after the announcement that money would never come until I was no longer mayor of Syracuse,” Miner said. “And indeed the money never came."

Miner attempted a political reconciliation. She recalls the conversation when she agreed to support Cuomo’s 2014 re-election bid, but wanted to strategize how to answer media inquiries about the pair’s relationship.

"He said to me, ‘Stephanie, you’re like the wife who wants to tell the neighbors that the husband has moved back in, and none of the neighbors knew the husband moved out.’ And when he said it, I said ‘wait a minute, am I the wife and you’re the husband? I don’t like this analogy.’ And I said ‘with all due respect, governor, the media knows we have a contentious relationship.’ And he hung up the phone on me."

In the chapter she read during the event at Colgate, she focused on one of the pivotal Cuomo moments in Syracuse, when he took over former County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s State of the County address in 2014 to announce what would become the failed state Film Hub.

“Now who would have ever figured Hollywood comes to Onondaga, right, you would have never guessed,” Cuomo said. “But it has.”

Miner admitted that she joined in the applause, but felt deep down Hollywood wouldn’t come to Onondaga County, and it didn’t the way it was outlined on that cold March night. Miner was disturbed that others who questioned the project and other failed economic development plans, couldn’t speak out, because of the power of the state’s fiscal largesse.

"I heard grumbling that any business, nonprofit or any entity in line for state funding, would remain silent about the governor’s policies for fear of retribution. No one doubted the governor’s team’s desire to punish dissent. After all they had seen what had happened to me."

Much of what Miner experienced, presaged news that has come out this year, as the veneer wore off the Cuomo magic with stories of a toxic administration. And it points to what Miner sees as the reason for Cuomo’s downfall.

"He is smart, he is shrewd, he is a fantastic tactician. But his achilles heel is that he doesn’t care about policy,” Miner said. “He’s not interested in ideas. He’s interested in headlines and sound bites and winning the spin."

As for Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, Miner sees some good things. But she’s also skeptical about whether Hochul’s tactics can weather Albany’s corrupt political culture.

"I do think she’s doing a good job, and has the skills and temperament to continue to do a good job,” she said. “But what about everybody else that’s around Kathy Hochul? Will Kathy Hochul take money from anonymous LLC’s to raise $25 million to run for governor? And there all sorts of ‘near the occasion of sin’ that’s endemic to state politics."

All this plays into what Miner sees as the downfall of good government in New York state today.

“There is no accountability. Part of the reason there is no accountability is the shrinking of the news media, and the sophistication of politicians who are able to raise so much money they are able to knock out that conversation,” she said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.