Union boss Gary LaBarbera is possibly Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s number one fan.
The construction union boss on Thursday called the governor the “greatest” in the state’s history and the best across the United States.
“The greatest governor in this country today! Like none other!” he said to a crowd gathered at the Prince George Ballroom.
LaBarbera has a few reasons to look on the governor favorably. Cuomo’s been a major cheerleader for the construction unions, especially when it comes to the revival of 421a. The new program requires union-level wages on certain large projects that receive the exemption. Leading up to the tax exemption’s revival, Cuomo repeatedly asserted that he wouldn’t sign off on any deal that didn’t include a prevailing wage provision. The governor’s various big-ticket infrastructure projects — like the redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport — are also a boon to union labor.
“Every project, every dollar is union construction,” Cuomo noted, referring to the public projects.
After LaBarbera’s speech, the union-heavy audience broke out into chants of “Cuomo! Cuomo! Cuomo!” That chant would later turn to “Union! Union! Union!” throughout the program. The crowd was gathered for the ceremonial signing of the state’s new $20 billion housing program, which was part of the latest state budget approved last month. Lumped into a bill that lawmakers referred to as “the big ugly,” was the new 421a program and $2.5 billion to create 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing. The new tax break is officially called Affordable New York, but the governor kept referring to the program as 421a.
In a departure from the blame-gaming that occurred during budget negotiations, Cuomo praised Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for fighting for affordable housing and the unions. He said the unions — who have been losing their grip on certain markets in the city to union labor — were at risk of being cut out of all 421a projects.
“Will New York State pass a program that excludes unions from participation? That’s what the discussion was,” Cuomo said. “Carl Heastie said ‘no way no how, not while I’m speaker of the New York State assembly.'”
Heastie joked that Cuomo is perhaps the second greatest governor, following his father. Heastie noted that he’s partial to Mario Cuomo, who spoke at his graduation, while his son did not. Also perhaps affecting the governor’s ranking: Mario Cuomo didn’t blame a Heastie-led Assembly for holding up the first late state budget in seven years.