A Northeast governor gets elected in large part on a promise to “clean up” the corruption in his state. He quickly dives into his mission, claiming high-minded interest in restoring public trust in government. Tough and savvy, his popularity increases as he appears to make strides in combating unethical behavior. His national profile grows along with his political ambitions.
Then it all comes to a screeching halt.
A scandal hits. Allegations of potential abuse of power swirl. Investigations are launched.
If this sounds familiar, it should, because it applies to not one, but two northeast governors. This is where the similarities end, though. One governor has taken a beating in his standing with the voters. The other one has not.
One of the big reasons for the discrepancy? The governor with the sliding poll numbers is a Republican; the one skating with the public (so far) is a Democrat.
If there were ever a case of classic leftist media bias, the treatment of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is it.
You’ve probably heard of “Bridgegate.” In September 2013, aides to Mr. Christie ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge under the guise of a “traffic study” but allegedly as political payback against perceived political opponents. The closures caused massive traffic tie-ups, causing tens of thousands of commuters grief. The powerful metropolitan press went wild, and it wasn’t long before the national media mobilized, accusing Mr. Christie of abusing his power by personally ordering the closures.
Mr. Christie’s response was textbook leadership. He held a lengthy news conference, in which he claimed no advance knowledge of the closures and announced that the aides who had ordered them were fired, effective immediately. He then stayed at the podium for more than an hour as he took every question from the media.
No evidence has been produced to tie the governor to the closure order, and yet the mainstream press continues to pound him. It’s true that “Bridgegate” isn’t the only reason Mr. Christie is less popular — the state does have some economic problems. However, the constant drumbeat on the issue has played a leading role in denting his seeming invincibility.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 49 percent of New Jersey voters approve of his job performance, while 47 percent disapprove That number is still pretty good, given the relentless attacks — and it’s about 10 points higher than President Obama’s current job approval. Still, it’s Mr. Christie’s lowest approval rating in three years.
The poll also found significant distrust of the governor regarding the scandal, and 49 percent now do not think he is “honest and trustworthy.”
Meanwhile, across the state border in New York, Mr. Cuomo is hip-deep in a scandal that could have serious legal and political ramifications.
Last August, he announced the formation of the Moreland Commission to root out corruption statewide. With great fanfare, he proclaimed that the commission would be “totally independent” and be given a free hand to investigate anybody in state government — including himself. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said.
In retrospect, it was not unlike Sen. Gary Hart’s dare to the press when confronted with rumors of extramarital affairs: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious,” Mr. Hart said. So they did — and that was the end of his presidential dreams.
The New York Times first reported that Mr. Cuomo had “deeply compromised” the work of his own commission, alleging he intervened to halt its investigations when they got too close to him or individuals close to him, or threatened to expose things that “might reflect poorly on him.”
In a “Saturday Night Massacre”-like move, Mr. Cuomo suddenly terminated the commission, and now federal prosecutors, including the hard-charging U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, are investigating.
Unlike Mr. Christie’s immediate take-charge response, however, Mr. Cuomo hunkered down in radio silence for days. He later emerged with a ludicrous “explanation”; namely, that since the commission was “appointed by and staffed by the executive,” he could not have possibly interfered with it. Huh?
A Democrat running for re-election this year, Mr. Cuomo has benefited from scant press coverage of the scandal, with the notable exceptions of The New York Times, The Politico and a few other outlets. The story has not gotten anywhere near the wall-to-wall attention, though, that the far-less-serious Christie story has gotten — and continues to get.
As a result, Mr. Cuomo is doing swimmingly with New Yorkers. In a Siena Research Institute poll released this week, two-thirds of the state’s likely voters — presumably those paying the closest attention — were unfamiliar with the Moreland Commission and knew nothing about the scandal and investigation.
Since the story broke, his favorability rating is down just four points, to a still-high 57 percent, and he enjoys a 32-point advantage over his Republican challenger.
New York’s Democratic chief executive is at the center of a major political and legal storm of his own making, with the U.S. attorney circling him like a shark, and that gets largely cursory coverage. New Jersey’s Republican chief executive takes responsibility for his subordinates’ unethical behavior and terminates them — and that generates months of never-ending criticism.
We just marked the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s resignation. When I spoke to him about Watergate during the last years of his life, he once said to me, “One of my biggest mistakes was not realizing that there was a standard for Democrats, a standard for Republicans, and then there was a standard for me.”
Not much has changed in 40 years — except that the press has gotten even more ideologically activist, more protective of Democrats, and less inclined to even the pretense of fairness. A great republic can remain neither great nor a republic with such corruption among those charged with reporting the even-handed truth.
Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.