Governor Cuomo has come up with a new incentive for his staff.
He gives each appointee a lapel pin he designed carrying the seal of the state of New York, the motto: “Performance, Integrity, Pride” and the words: “I work for the people," the News York Times reported.
Will he try to extend distribution of this pin to members of the Legislature? Can he give them an incentive to reform the processes of government under their control? Can slogans change history?
In World War II, after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt told Congress that this day shall “live in infamy” and the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” became the American anthem through the bloody years of fighting and the mobilization of the civilian war effort.
Going back to the birth of the republic, Patrick Henry stirred the country with his words, “Give me liberty or give me death.” And many Revolutionary War flags displayed the slogan: “Don’t tread on me!” Tom Paine wrote: “These are times that try men’s souls.”
Benjamin Franklin was a great sloganeer: “If we don’t hang together, then surely, we will all hang separately.”
John Paul Jones, the Revolutionary War naval hero, told the commander of a British warship who demanded surrender: “I have not yet begun to fight!”
In the War of 1812, another naval officer, Oliver Perry, sent the message: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” In the Mexican War, the Americans, after suffering defeat, coined the battle cry: “Remember the Alamo!”
Cuomo's lapel pin features the great seal of the state of New York as its centerpiece, containing the Latin word “Excelsior” -- Latin for “Ever Upward,” and the ladies, Liberty and Justice, carrying a shield with an American eagle spreading its wings on a world globe.
Albany’s Legislature has distinguished itself in recent years by scandal after scandal. The governor has promised to try to enforce new standards of ethics. He has been engaged in negotiations with the legislative leaders over ethics reform and campaign finance.
Susan Lerner of Common Cause told me it was “too early to tell” how effective the governor is in these areas.
A lapel pin won’t do it. Nor will unilateral action by the governor. In a legislative body that has seen scandal after scandal -- with no sign that the epidemic is over -- we can hope that change is in the wind.
But the entrenched ways of Albany may resist even a resolute new governor as he tries to shake up this world.