By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
Elections results usually reveal answers to political questions. Last week’s Democratic primaries did that, but also raised a raft of new questions, some of which will determine the course of important policy issues next year.
Governor Andrew Cuomo defeated his rival Cynthia Nixon with nearly two thirds of the vote. Usually that would be cause for celebration in the winning camp. But the noticeable muted response from the Cuomo campaign speaks volumes.
In vanquishing his opponent, Cuomo outspent Nixon by almost 10 to 1, depleting his considerable campaign war chest. And along the way he made some bad gaffes which may come back to haunt him. Moreover, his political strategy over his first eight years in office of maintaining control over the state legislature seems to be coming to an end.
By tacitly supporting the breakaway Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) for years, Cuomo enabled the Republican Party to maintain control over the State Senate. The Republican leadership in turn kept a lid on a number of progressive pieces of legislation emanating from the Assembly including tenant protections, health insurance reforms, tax policy, education spending and political campaign contributions.
That is the way the governor liked it. In so doing he could decide which progressive items would advance into law and which could be avoided to protect big business and to insulate himself from having to take sides. Seemingly this is about to change. Based on the defeat of almost all the IDC members last Thursday, and voter turnout, the Democrats now seem poised to win back control of the State Senate in the General Election.
Should that be the result Cuomo will be faced with the dilemma of whether to support the progressive agenda, which could finally end vacancy decontrol as well as permanent Major Capital Improvement rent increases and so many other controversial positions that New York Democrats are clearly embracing, or somehow try to remain a “centrist” governor which he believes is the path to the White House in 2020.That road of course travels through the more moderate states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio. All states won by Barack Obama but lost by Hillary Clinton. Those five states will determine who wins the presidency in two years.
That brings us to the Cuomo gaffes. In the last weeks of the campaign, worried about his margin of victory, Cuomo’s campaign sent out an inflammatory flyer falsely accusing Nixon of being an anti-Semite. That nasty last minute literature drop was reminiscent of the attack on Ed Koch’s sexual orientation when Mario Cuomo was running against Koch decades ago. That campaign was managed by a young Andrew Cuomo. It is tactics such as those that earned Andrew Cuomo the reputation as a Machiavellian, opportunistic political operator. That image has been reenforced once again. He then curiously ruled out running for president when publicly asked by a reporter. When Cuomo inevitably tries to wiggle out of that declaration it will be a pretty disingenuous spectacle. But he will not have been the first to say he was not running for higher office only to turn around and do so. But it is never pretty.
So unless little known Republican Marc Molinaro can pull a monumental upset of Andrew Cuomo in November, the succeeding twelve months will be fascinating. Which Andrew Cuomo will return to Albany in January? The fiscal conservative and centrist or a newly minted crusading social reformer? Cuomo is smart enough to know that the energy and passion required to win the Democratic nomination for president is with the progressives of his party right now.
Then again Cuomo might shock us all by saying that he told the truth when he said that he would “under no circumstances” run for president in 2020. That would be the biggest surprise of all.