New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration appears to have offered the contractor working on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge incentives to finish the bridge before the New York Democratic primary, according to documents first reported by the New York Times .
This news comes just days after Cuomo held a ribbon cutting ceremony where he drove across the new stretch of the bridge in a 1932 Packard formerly owned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The original planned date for the bridge to open was the Sunday after the ceremony, but engineers raised concerns about a “potentially dangerous situation” involving the old Tappan Zee Bridge’s structural integrity that caused delays, according to the Times. The new section is now slated to open as soon as next Tuesday.
Cuomo’s challenger Cynthia Nixon and others seized on the news, with some accusing Cuomo of putting his campaign before the safety of drivers, a charge Cuomo denied.
“We didn’t make the decision on the opening of the new span. The contractor did,” Cuomo said at a press conference on Sunday. He described the arguments of critics who pointed to possible political motives as “nonsensical” to him as saying “the world is flat.”
But a July 18 letter obtained by the Times—which was sent by Jamey Barbas, the official at the New York Thruway Authority who oversaw the bridge’s construction, to Terry Towle, the president of the contractor—showed Cuomo’s administration was involved in negotiations about the bridge’s opening date.
Barbas told the Times that the original completion date set for the bridge the year before was August 15. She said it was apparent in July that it would take longer, and called the 10-day extension “my good-faith effort to help them get there.” Per the newspaper:
Some administration officials disputed the notion that the concessions amounted to incentives, and Ms. Barbas described them as part of the normal give-and-take between the state and its contractors.
“The reality is the incentives didn’t go,” Ms. Barbas said, explaining that no additional costs were incurred as the bridge was completed by early September. She later said that her letter did not “suggest incentives.”
During her interview with the Times, Barbas would not say whether she was in contact with Cuomo’s administration about the bridge opening. Later, she told the paper that she acted “without advising or in consultation with anyone in the governor’s office.”
Others in the government deny that Cuomo sped up the process to open the bridge:
Matthew Driscoll, the executive director of the New York Thruway Authority, which has responsibility for the bridge, called that a “black helicopter conspiracy theory” that is “wholly disproved on the facts.”
“The contractual date of Aug. 15 was set years ago before any thought of a Democratic primary ever existed in any rational mind,” he said.
A few days before the bridge’s aborted opening, Cuomo told reporters he was pushing to get the new span of the bridge open.
“We’ve been accelerating the second span. And Jamey [Barbas] and Matt [Driscoll] and the entire team have been doing everything they can to shave time because the sooner we open the bridge, the sooner the traffic comes down,” he said. “And the sooner people get to enjoy what we’ve done.”
None of this looks particularly good for Cuomo, who has also dealt with the fallout over the last few days of a mailer sent by state Democrats implying Nixon is an anti-Semite. But as the Thursday primary nears, the latest polls still show him up by 41 points.