By Alan S. Chartock | June 12, 2020

The issue that many of my readers and listeners are curious about is whether or not those who are looting and stealing during the ongoing protests should get a free pass. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo certainly doesn’t think so. There has been a major blow up between New York Mayor de Blasio and Andrew and Andrew has taken the position that the head of his largest city is not doing his job. In fact, he went far enough to suggest that he could use his authority as he governor to take over for de Blasio. I asked him about it when I got the chance and he made it clear that he wasn’t going to do so. Nevertheless, it was absolutely clear that from the moment he issued his warning to the mayor, things changed noticeably. The message was received. So why is Andrew putting his law and order credentials out front? He’ll probably read this and he won’t be happy but hey, you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do.

It’s pretty plain to me that Cuomo can be taken at his word that he is not interested in the presidency this time around. But Andrew Cuomo isn’t governor because he has no ambition. On the contrary, he is a politician of the first order. It’s like playing a pinball machine. You know that the game will come to an end and the last thing you want is to see the word “tilt” if you play too hard. But to win a “free game” you go to the end. What’s in it for Andrew? Well, we have a Democratic presidential candidate in Joe Biden who, assuming that he wins, is not expected to run for a second term. That brings us to the election of 2024 and if Andrew is going to be president, that will be his time. Naturally, whichever woman Biden chooses as his running mate will expect to succeed him and Andrew will have to run against her in a primary,

The question is whether Andrew will be the Democratic “law and order” candidate and the Biden VP will be positioned as more of a progressive who may be more tolerant toward window breaking and mayhem. To read the letters I get, you would think that “false equivalency” is the phrase of the day. It all boils down to this: This racist society is responsible for the difficulties of Blacks and Browns. Therefore, why shouldn’t that violence be matched by those who break into stores and appropriate televisions and such. I have no doubt that the people writing these letters and e-mails believe what they are saying. To some of them I have said, “Okay, I believe that peaceful protestors have to be protected and that out of control police bullies have to be constrained and disciplined.” Then I ask each of my friends how they would feel if someone burned down their house. They always say they wouldn’t like it. I ask about all those Black and Hispanic store owners who have lost their life savings because of the opportunists who rob them. Finally, I make it clear that many of those doing the damage are white.

Cuomo is smart. He knows that these movements come in waves. Right now, this country is mourning the murder of George Floyd and all the others who have gone before him as a result of police brutality. Cuomo will get some criticism, just as I have, for suggesting that people’s personal safety is paramount and peaceful protest is exactly the right way to go. But there really is no way around it — people busting into businesses or homes or burning cars is not what America is all about. It takes some courage to swim upstream when it may seem politically counterintuitive to the passions of the moment. But politics is a rough game and it takes guts to do the right thing.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].