A rare species: the good news crisis

Most everyone ties crises to bad news, a bad event, wrong choices, or often, stupidity. Sometimes, however, good news or smart policy leads to a crisis.

Here’s a perfect example. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has his eyes on the White House. Maybe in 2016, maybe four or eight years later, after Hillary Clinton runs. But his focus is laser-like.

Tom Precious, the Buffalo News‘ sterling Albany reporter, has an excellent analysis of the situation today:


Cuomo, as a presidential hopeful, wants to show a conservative American electorate beyond New York’s liberal borders that he can stand up to public employee unions. He also wants to demonstrate financial reform and expertise to show he can handle the wobbly American economy.

And, his pension reform efforts — which really are not very radical — are long overdue in a state where accelerating retiree pensions and health-care costs drive out business and strangle municipalities and school districts. In fact, if this were Wisconsin or North Carolina, these so-called reforms wouldn’t earn the label.

But as Precious points out, before Cuomo tells the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s voters how tough he was with New York‘s powerful public unions, he must survive as governor for another term or two. That’s a good news crisis.

Cuomo relishes brushing away like lint from an Armani suit what seems obvious to everyone else. In trouble? Moi? He said he ran in 2010 on a platform that included reducing the costs of public employee pensions. Of course he did, because he’ll want to dust off that platform in 2020.

But Cuomo is no dummy. He watches his stratospheric poll numbers. He has a playbook and a timetable and after nearly 18 months in office, he’s pretty much undefeated and cruising through his checklist.

In a state that needs tax cuts and spending limits as much as New York does, he appealed to two big chunks of the New York and national electorates, independents and business-supporting conservatives. These used to be called [Ronald] Reagan Democrats.

Enough about policy, what about crisis management?

There’s a small but crucial line in Precious’ story that indicates how well Cuomo planned in advance to win this crisis, just as he did last June in winning the vote on gay marriage.

In a session in his office with reporters Thursday,…

Cuomo welcomes reporters to his office about as often as Rick Santorum praises Barack Obama’s policies. Wednesday was a big night in Albany, with passage of the first vote on amending the state constitution to permit seven non-Indian casinos and statewide redistricting.

But Cuomo prepared for this crisis in advance — Rule No. 1. He went on two closely followed Albany radio programs the next day. He granted reporters rare access.

In other words, in crisis terms, he anticipated all the criticism and questions and he had effective answers. [Our EMA mentor, Peter Kapcio, loves to quote Henry Kissinger‘s opening line to all his news conferences: “I hope you have some questions for my answers today.”]

Cuomo made himself available and acted transparently; he acknowledged the criticism and moved on; and, most importantly, he again used a crisis as an opportunity to demonstrate transformative leadership.

He’ll probably take a few-point hit in the next poll, but he out-thought, out-planned, out-messaged, out-muscled and out-maneuvered his opposition. Why? So he can say this in 2020:

“Back in 2012, I stood up to New York’s powerful public employee unions. They didn’t want pension reform, but I gave it to them.”

I can almost hear all those New Hampshire voters cheering.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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