One topic raised during New York’s gubernatorial Democratic primary debate was the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. The candidates were asked about the name as well as the future of tolls on the new bridge that connects Rockland and Westchester Counties.
The questions surrounding the new $4 billion bridge came about halfway through the hour-long debate. First came a question about toll increases on the new bridge, to which Governor Cuomo responded:
“The toll is going to be the same through 2020,” Cuomo said.
“And then what?” asks Marcia Kramer.
The Tappan Zee Bridge, well then it’s going to depend on the finances overall of the state and the finances of the transportation system,” said Cuomo.
He reiterated that the bridge is on time and on budget. As for the name, there was a lot of pushback during the legislative session that ended in June. Before that, a Port Chester lawyer started a change.org petition that has garnered more than 100,000 signatures to, at first, omit Governor Andrew Cuomo’s late father’s name from the bridge, and then, allow for a compromise to call the new bridge the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge. Republican Mahopac Assemblyman Kevin Byrne said the compromise name, which appeared in legislation he sponsored, was a way to honor the late governor and preserve history. And here’s how Cuomo answered when questioned about considering the hybrid name.
“When the legislature acted, Marcia, this was not even a discussion at the time,” said Cuomo. “And, but the point was, it’s a new bridge; we would give it a new name.”
“I think he did a good job walking around the question and not giving a direct answer,” says Byrne. “I think the fact that he said, it seems like four or five times, he said the word Tappan Zee when the question was point at Mario Cuomo Bridge, him calling it Tappan Zee makes me think he recognizes that a lot of people call it Tappan Zee.”
During the debate, Nixon delivered her answer about the name.
“What I think with the Tappan Zee Bridge, what happened was this was really pushed through in the dead of night without discussion in the community,” Nixon said. “I think people are understandably upset about the name change.”
“Cynthia Nixon, while I disagree with her on a lot of different things, she is right. It was rammed through in the dead of night, close to 1 o’clock in the morning on an omnibus bill. What she didn’t point out is the governor used his message of necessity powers, which is part of his executive powers as the governor, to have it get rammed through without it aging on a calendar three days,” Byrne says. “And I think that’s significant, voting on it at night but voting on it without any real public input or opinion on it.”
The legislation Byrne introduced in the Assembly was sponsored in the Senate by Republican John DeFrancisco.
“It passed the Senate overwhelmingly 40-to-20 with both the Republican and Democrat Senate leaders, Andrea Stewart Cousins and John Flanagan, both voting yes to reinsert the name Tappan Zee,” Byrne says. “And I think that’s very significant. It shows that it’s not a partisan issue. And the governor should get on board and openly support it.”
Nixon alleged Cuomo lacked transparency during the bridge project.
“There is not a lot of transparency,” Nixon said. “A lot of things happened behind closed doors, and that people are unhappy that have not been able to weigh in while the thing was in process.”
Cuomo fought back.
“In terms of transparency on the Tappan Zee Bridge, we said from day one it’s $4 billion; it’s on time; it’s on budget, and the tolls would be frozen for, until 2020," Cuomo said. "Everyone knew that.”
Meantime, if re-elected, Byrne says he will introduce legislation again only if he feels there is momentum and buy in from the governor.
“Ideally, I’d like the governor to see our side, listen to the people of Westchester, Rockland County and the Hudson Valley and say, you know what, my father valued the Tappan Zee name so much that when he rededicated it after Malcolm Wilson he kept the Tappan Zee, and it would be a great honor to do the same thing with my father,” Byrne says.
Governor Cuomo earlier in the week toured the eastbound span of the new bridge, announcing that the new roadway will open in September. The first span opened one year ago. Debate audio is courtesy of CBS-TV New York.