Andrew Cuomo is a man of many talents: governor, dog owner, ex-boyfriend, and occasionally, artist. The duly elected leader of the state of New York has dabbled in graphic design from time to time, as Spectrum News reported on Thursday, designing the odd poster to celebrate his accomplishments. But he may have outdone himself with his latest creation. To commemorate his State of the State address, Cuomo’s new design is inspired by several historical sources, including a famous campaign poster for William Jennings Bryan:
Cuomo’s design may have some historical basis, but it’s still in a class of its own. The human eye can barely find a place to rest without discovering new mysteries to contemplate. There is a schooner, a stand-in for the government of New York. There is an octopus, borrowed directly from Bryan, meant to symbolize corporate influence. But do not confuse the octopus with the kraken of government incompetence, propelled onward by the squalls of hate. Above the dreaded sea creatures rise the Palisades, a beautiful landmark preserved by the efforts of wealthy New Yorkers, the sort of people who otherwise ought to be in the sea with the kraken. In Cuomo’s vision, the Palisades are “the steps to Progress,” the foundation for marriage equality and a $15 minimum wage and free college tuition. A small and profoundly unsettling portrait of Cuomo’s face looms above it all, our very own Oz the Great and Powerful.
It’s an ambitious vision. But even great artists get some things wrong. Here are a few notes Cuomo might want to take into consideration before he begins his next project.
Fix the MTA
I can’t even begin to imagine which creature would best represent New York City’s subway system. A dying whale, maybe, or a sailor in the process of falling overboard. But the MTA and all its problems — its dysfunctional trains, its chronic lateness — largely lie with Cuomo. Rather than give the MTA the money it needs to function as though it actually belongs in a large and developed city, Cuomo uses it to start fights with New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio. Be the captain New Yorkers need, Cuomo. Fix the MTA. You can put it on next year’s poster, somehow.
Make It More Honest
Perhaps facts would make for a less interesting poster. But New York under Cuomo’s watch is not quite the progressive bastion the poster makes it out to be. Take “free tuition,” which sits on “the steps of progress.” The Center for an Urban Future reported in August 2018 that the Excelsior Scholarship program, which offers free tuition at CUNY and SUNY campuses to qualifying students, had benefited “barely 4,000 of the 242,000” students enrolled in public community colleges and universities in New York City. The nonprofit attributed the low numbers to the scholarship’s “heavy credit requirements,” which may have overburdened low-income students who needed the program. So yes, Cuomo passed a “free tuition” program, but the reality is messier than his poster.
And then there’s women’s rights, yet another step toward progress. The Reproductive Health Act did pass in 2019, and it did expand access to abortion in the state of New York. But it would have passed years ago were it not for the obstruction of the Independent Democratic Caucus, a now-defunct breakaway group in the State Senate. Cuomo tolerated the IDC for years, even though its existence blocked an important piece of reproductive-rights legislation. (It disbanded only in 2018, after Cynthia Nixon challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary from the left.) So much for progress against the squalls of hate.
No governor is going to pass out an unflattering portrait of himself to voters, literally or in any other sense. But maybe next time he could refrain from calling himself “a fighter for the people” on his art projects.
Or maybe there’s an alternative.
Just Add the Dog
Dogs are not typically understood to be seagoing creatures. But art expands our imaginations. Cuomo’s dog, Captain, does not seem to like him very much, at least in photos.
But the name, chosen by Cuomo’s daughters as an alternative to Excelsior, the governor’s own insanely sad pick, fits the sea theme. As a bonus, the dog is cute. Swap out Cuomo’s portrait for one of the dog. The people of New York demand it.