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NYSNYS NEWS: After heckling in 2016 and threat of a boycott in 2017, Cuomo reboots staid, stodgy and slightly stale State of the State ritual.
By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 30) -- New York's staid, stodgy and slightly stale State of the State ritual is getting a reboot in 2017, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo shifting his target audience from Albany insiders to the general public at six different locations around New York.

Cuomo hasn't released details or exact locations of the regional speeches that will take the place of one speech delivered to a joint session of the Legislature. But the speeches are likely to be smoother running productions than his last speech in January 2016, when he was heckled by a legislator and shouted back from the podium while the man was quieted down.

The 2016 heckling and calls by some legislators this month to boycott or walk-out on the 2017 speech is thought to have prompted Cuomo's change of plans. Some lawmakers blame Cuomo for blocking a pay raise they expected to get as of January 1.

"The State of the State is an opportunity for the Governor to lay out the state’s priorities for the upcoming year, and this year we plan to do it a little differently," Governor Cuomo's Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa said in announcing the change this week. "Our efforts have focused on regional development strategies across the state and we want the opportunity to lay out regional accomplishments, goals and challenges. Next month, the Governor will bring his message directly to communities statewide, announcing regional initiatives and groundbreaking proposals he will advance in 2017. The Governor looks forward to articulating his vision for a stronger, brighter New York in the weeks ahead."

The decision is not being greeted kindly by all, with Assembly member Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville) promising to introduced a bill to mandate one speech in Albany when he is sworn in to his new office as a state Senator on January 1.

"NY is one state," Tedisco posted on Twitter this week. "New Yorkers don't need a 'Hunger Games' style State Of The State!"

"Let's hope no President decides to deliver the State of the Union Address in our 4 different time zones. We're one Nation and one State!!!"

Tedisco was referring to the "Hunger Games" nickname given to Cuomo's regional competition for state economic development grants.

DeRosa said the speeches will be delivered the week of January 9 in New York City, Western New York, the Hudson Valley, Long Island, the Capital Region and Central New York.

The locations correspond to six of the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) Cuomo created to involve local leaders in state economic development funding decisions. There are another four councils in regions where Cuomo is not so far scheduled to speak: The Finger Lakes, the Southern Tier, the Mohawk Valley and the North Country.

Cuomo has never delivered the traditional speech in the Assembly Chamber since taking office in 2011, preferring to use the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

The Assembly Chamber would squeeze in all 213 members of the Legislature as well as judges of the Court of Appeals, state officials and invited guests. The convention center comfortably seats a larger crowd and can accommodate a multi-media video and PowerPoint presentation, a standard feature of many Cuomo public speaking events.

The Constitution requires the governor to deliver a written message to the Legislature at the start of each session. For nearly 100 years, governors have also given a speech to a joint session of the Legislature, usually on opening day. But speeches are not required.

Cuomo has challenged many Albany traditions in his six years in office, including curtailing detailed public presentations on his budget plan and dispensing with regular press conferences with reporters covering state government.

For the past two years, Cuomo has not traveled to Albany for the opening day of the legislative session.

Last January, Assembly member Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) interrupted Cuomo's State of the State speech with heckling, shouting about state aid to education until he was quieted down by Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle (D-Irondequoit). He told reporters afterwards that he was upset because Cuomo was giving too rosy a portrayal of the condition of the state and that poor schools were not getting enough money.

Barron heckled Cuomo in the same hall in 2011, when the governor spoke at a dinner of the Black and Puerto Rican legislative caucus, prompting the governor to stop appearing at the annual event. At the time, Barron was a New York City council member coming off a losing race for governor in 2010, the contest Cuomo won.