But the governor’s presence in Brownsville last Thursday, like his recent moves to the left on a range of policy fronts, suggested he was fully aware of the threat posed by the energy of progressive activists. With multiple campaign stops in Brownsville and surrounding neighborhoods, Nixon has tried to make in-roads with African American voters, who were key to Cuomo’s primary victory over Zephyr Teachout in 2014. This section of Brooklyn is far from the high-priced areas swamped in recent years by white professionals and Hollywood film crews; this is the Brooklyn still plagued by gun violence, food deserts, failing hospitals, and struggling schools. And so Cuomo had come bearing an expensive gift: $1.4 billion in funding for a comprehensive revitalization program encompassing health care, housing, education, youth recreation, and job training. It was, state Assemblywoman Latrice Walker boasted, the largest ever public investment by the state in central Brooklyn.
Yet if this was an election-year present for a key constituency, it had already been unwrapped. The state legislature approved the money a year ago, officials acknowledged. Held before an invitation-only audience of elected Democrats and members of a local SEIU affiliate supportive of Cuomo, the Brownsville event was a campaign rally masquerading as a formal gubernatorial announcement. The gathering was not aimed so much at announcing the program, Parker told me, as it was in making sure the community was aware that Cuomo “was the one responsible for it.”
In speech after speech, the governor and his validators did just that. “It is a great testament to Governor Cuomo’s commitment to central Brooklyn,” Walker said by way of introduction. “He understands the challenges we face and is working with us to lift up Brooklyn families. The fact is, there is no stronger friend or advocate for central Brooklyn other than Governor Cuomo.”
Letitia James, the New York City public advocate whom Cuomo recently endorsed in her bid to be the state’s next attorney general, paid a similar debt of gratitude. “He’s not talking about it. He’s getting it done,” she said of the governor. “It was because of his leadership, and this is exactly what we need.”
The Brownsville rally was in some ways an illustration of the advantages Cuomo has that Crowley did not. Both are long-serving incumbents, but by virtue of his office and his powerful hand with the state legislature, Cuomo can point to specific deliverables, a more tangible record of accomplishment to reassure a restive base. By the time he lost, Crowley had been in the House minority for the last seven-and-a-half years, his recent record a series of votes taken in opposition and fights waged in defeat.
Yet the subtext of Cuomo’s speech—and those thanking him—was an acknowledgement of his own shortcomings, of his own responsibility for the neglect of neighborhoods left out in Brooklyn’s well-documented revival and hurt by the gentrification that came with it. “This is something we’ve been talking about doing for a long, long time. But it’s never really happened,” the governor, who along with his late father, Mario Cuomo, has ruled New York for 20 of the last 38 years, said of the $1.4 billion infusion known as Vital Brooklyn. “Central Brooklyn has been overlooked for decades,” Cuomo said at another point. “For decades. For decades.”