By Tom Allon
Once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has exhibited his highly superior political negotiating skills in securing the Working Families Party endorsement after a fascinating kabuki dance with the left-leaning — and important — group.
That party threatened to run another candidate on its line — a compelling professor named Zephyr Teachout — until Cuomo and his political machine negotiated a last-minute deal to gain the coveted position in November.
The major concession extracted from Cuomo — one that may be hard to enforce — is that he will now work hard and campaign to restore a Democratic majority in the state Senate, something many think he should have done years ago as the titular leader of the Democratic Party of the state.
But now, with the Working Families line hanging in the balance, Cuomo has vowed to turn his back on the Senate’s co-leaders — Sens. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) — and will help the full Democratic conference take over.
There is no guarantee Cuomo can do this, but his vote-pulling power at the top of the ticket will surely help Democrats with whom he campaigns. His Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, is not expected to mount a strong challenge to Cuomo because of the wide disparity in voter registration in the state and also because Cuomo’s $30 million-plus war chest will dwarf Astorino’s.
Cuomo has had a strong track record as governor the past four years, bringing mostly order to the dysfunction that has ruled Albany for a long time. He was elected in the wake of David Paterson’s accidental governorship, when the latter succeeded Eliot Spitzer after he had his ignominious scandal and fall from grace.
So one could say Cuomo did not have huge shoes to fill.
Cuomo is often compared to his widely praised father, Mario Cuomo, who survived three terms in Albany that were largely considered successful. The elder Cuomo is probably best remembered for his incredibly elegant rhetorical skills and his brief dalliance with running for president.
The oft-told tale is that a plane waited on the runway to take him to New Hampshire to campaign but that at the last minute he decided not to throw his hat in the ring.
Cuomo, who virtually grew up in the governor’s mansion in Albany, learned much from his talented father and, while his oratory is impressive, he is most lauded for his tactical and strategic skills and his ability to use the levers of power to effect change.
He did this masterfully early in his term when he got a few renegade Republicans to join the Democrats in the Senate to pass a same-sex marriage bill. I once said to Cuomo that if he does nothing else in his political career — which is still ripe with potential — this will be written about in all his epitaphs and he will be known as the leader who got gay marriage passed against long odds in New York.
But unlike his father, I believe Cuomo has a burning desire to run for president, and this upcoming campaign and his strong push for the Working Families line and acceptance of the Independence Party line is an attempt to amass a huge margin of victory so he has momentum going into the 2016 presidential campaign.
Now I know you’re thinking, “What about Hillary?” Yes, if she runs for president, it is unlikely Cuomo will challenge her in a primary. He learned that lesson from his 2002 challenge of Carl McCall for the Democratic nomination for governor.
But if Hillary decides, for whatever reason, that she does not want to once again endure the long, arduous campaign cycle, then Cuomo will be waiting in the wings, ready to wage battle on the national stage.
And even though it has been a long time since a New Yorker became a presidential nominee — the most recent failed example being Rudolph Giuliani — I would not bet against Cuomo’s chances of being a viable candidate.
He has the record, the drive, the fund-raising skills, the family legacy and the bully pulpit of New York’s media to catapult him to the top tier of Democratic presidential challengers.
Unlike his counterpart across the Hudson Chris Christie, Cuomo has kept his record and his team clean for the past four years and he just has to pray now that Hillary Clinton decides that she’d rather spend her 70s playing in the park with her grandchildren rather than giving speeches in the Rose Garden.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.