With Hillary Clinton at his Side, Cuomo Dedicates the New Bridge to His Father—but Eastbound Span Remains Closed

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by Barrett Seaman – 

Bridges can be useful metaphors—especially for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at the dedication of the bridge he has now built and named after his father in a year he is running for re-election.

The ceremony at the peak of the bridge’s eastbound span, which begins opening to traffic overnight Friday into Saturday, September 7-8, was not unlike that held a year ago when the westbound span first opened—flags, bands, local dignitaries, lofty speeches packed with encomia to organized labor and political allies. Except this time it was more personal and politically pointed.

“People are afraid,” said the governor. “At a time when the President is obsessed with building a wall, this bridge is a symbol of acceptance.”

Echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 Berlin call to Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall,” Cuomo said: “Mr. President, stop your quest to build a wall and start building bridges.” He meant, of course, not only the literal bridges Trump had campaigned on with his unfulfilled trillion-dollar infrastructure campaign but also the figurative bridges needed to unite a fractious nation.

His guest of honor, Hillary Clinton, whom Cuomo introduced as “the person I believe should be sitting in the Oval Office today,” picked up the metaphor in only a slightly more obtuse way.  “If you can build it here, you can build it anywhere.”

The former New York Senator, Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate also took care to recognize the people who actually built the bridge: the 7,000 workers who put in 11.5 million hours of construction, using 220 million pounds of American steel with the help of 847 New York businesses awarded contracts to work on the bridge.

With most of the Cuomo family (save CNN anchor Chris) present, plenty of attention was paid to Governor Mario M. Cuomo. His widow, Matilda, rode, albeit reluctantly in the passenger seat, while her son the governor drove the 1932 Packard Phaeton that Franklin Roosevelt had gifted to succeeding New York governors when he went to Washington.

In unusually personal remarks, the governor recounted how, in his father’s final days, he had drawn up the courage to ask his father, “Do you love me?” Seemingly taken aback, Mario Cuomo replied, “I love you so, so, so much,” which Andrew Cuomo then repeated back to his father before dedicating a plaque and cutting a blue ribbon to make the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge official.

Not so Fast, Governor

The plan was for the bridge to begin opening Friday night, lane by lane so that all four auto lanes would be operating by the end of the weekend. Traffic on the westbound span would take longer to clear, since the temporary Jersey barriers first had to be removed and lines painted.

Then late Friday, engineers noticed that work dismantling the adjacent Tappan Zee Bridge had rendered some areas unstable. Thruway Executive Director Matt Driscoll issued a statement early Saturday explaining a delay in the traffic transfer.

“In continued disassembly of the old Tappan Zee Bridge last night, a potentially dangerous situation developed where a piece of the old bridge has become destabilized and could fall. Given its proximity to the new completed span, out of an abundance of caution, motorists will remain in the current traffic configuration until a thorough evaluation by Tappan Zee Constructors is complete,” Driscoll explained.  “Once finished, it will be ready to open to traffic as soon as the Thruway Authority is assured there is no risk to the new span.”

Governor Cuomo’s political opponents pounced on the glitch like Roger Federer on a loose volley. “Safety has to come above all else,” lectured his primary opponent Cynthia Nixon. “The governor needs to be fully transparent about what happened here,”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro went further, calling for an investigation. “There are real, reasonable questions about whether this bridge span opening was accelerated to aid the governor’s campaign,” he said in a statement.

Stay tuned.

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