The friction between New York City mayors and governors in far-off Albany is centuries old, but rarely have the stakes been so high.

In recent weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been trying and often failing to suppress their mutual animosity with the Covid-19 pandemic claiming almost 22,000 lives in the city, an economically devastating lockdown and now an explosion of rage in the streets.

On Tuesday, Cuomo criticized the city’s handling of widespread looting and violence following protests against police brutality.

“The NYPD and the mayor did not do their job,” Monday night, Cuomo said of de Blasio and the 36,000-officer police department for which he’s responsible. “What happened in New York City was inexcusable.”

Cuomo said he has the power to take over the city and bring in the National Guard, but “I don’t think we’re at that point.” Displacing the mayor “would be such a chaotic situation in the midst of an already chaotic situation,” he added. “I don’t think that makes any sense.”

Happy Talk
The clash over protests of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody was a jarring reversal. Just Friday, de Blasio made a rare appearance at Cuomo’s daily virus briefing via video call, for the announcement of the June 8 reopening of New York City. Cuomo even complimented the mayor’s appearance, and they were friendly, praising each other for hard work.

The two, once tight allies, have been feuding and struggling over power ever since de Blasio became mayor in 2014. The fights have sometimes distracted them from the challenges of governing.

New York governors and mayors have a long history of policy disagreements, particularly in a system that gives the state’s chief executive more power over the city’s authority to impose taxes and enact laws. This fact vexed former Mayors Edward Koch, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg without regard to political party or ideology. In the current environment, disagreements between Cuomo and de Blasio can have fateful impact.

“They have had this bad history together about who’s in charge, and it’s mixed with each leader’s ambitions in national politics, all predicated on the need to show they’ve performed well,” said Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University political scientist. “The mayor is in a better position to know what’s going on in the city. But Cuomo has an advantage because it’s easier to sound like you’ve taken the high ground, and criticize while you’re less responsible.”

Common Enemy
The latest spat over the mayor’s handling of looting and arson Sunday and Monday night may not have had a tangible impact on the challenge of maintaining law and order, according to spokespersons for the mayor and governor. That’s because each opposes President Donald Trump’s threat to send military battalions into cities experiencing unrest. And they agree the NYPD has enough resources and expertise to handle the problem without military intervention.

“They have protected the city before in these situations,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “I believe in the inherent capacity of the NYPD, if managed and if deployed.”

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