Want to understand what Andrew Cuomo is doing? It’s simple–he’s running for President. The only way to interpret his actions is to see them in that light.
His father, Mario Cuomo, infamously left two planes waiting at the airport, all ready to fly him to New Hampshire to announce his campaign. But he vacillated, earning the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson”, before finally deciding not to run. Andrew Cuomo has made it clear that he will not face the same charge and all indications point to him going for it and running for President.
Notice what was in the budget?
- Cuomo’s big “free college” program, the Excelsior Scholarship.
- A new affordable housing program.
- A new immigrant defense legal program.
- Raising the age so that 16-year-olds are no longer tried as adults.
- There were also tax breaks for union members, which one important labor operative hailed:
Hard to overstate what a big deal this is symbolically and practically for labor. While Rs are moving Right-to-Work bills, Cuomo sends a msg https://t.co/UV8jjF4xdh
— Neal Kwatra (@nealkwatra) April 8, 2017
All of those may be good policy but, importantly, they create a record that Cuomo can run for President on. In Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early states, he can point to that record and say that he delivered on Democratic priorities.
Cuomo is becoming more liberal to run for President
The new-found liberalism is a change from his past record. As the New York Times observed:
Many of those moves were a departure from the early years of Mr. Cuomo’s first term, when his centrist tendencies saw him stray from the liberal platform, often to the chagrin of his own party.
“I had good friends in this area who couldn’t distinguish him from a Republican,” said Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College in Westchester County, the well-to-do area where Mr. Cuomo now lives.
But after a surprisingly difficult primary challenge on the way to his re-election in 2014, Mr. Cuomo’s leftward tilt began, including support for a tiered $15 minimum wage — an idea he had earlier dismissed — in 2016.
The election of President Trump brought about another adjustment to Mr. Cuomo’s political compass. He began positing that a socio-economic disconnect was the reason Mrs. Clinton lost, arguing at a fund-raiser that the election had proved to Democrats that “there is a middle class that we have not been attentive to, and it’s a middle class that’s been suffering for a long time,” The Daily News reported.
So Why Not Other Liberal Priorities?
Cuomo is carefully calculating what he needs to do to attract support for a Presidential run. However, he hasn’t completely abandoned his earlier moderation, or as defenders might put it, pragmatism.
In an Easter Eve reception, Cuomo told reporters that ethics reform and the DREAM Act weren’t going to happen this year because they wouldn’t pass the state legislature. Of course, if Democrats controlled the State Senate, those bills might pass. However, Cuomo is calculating that the costs of fighting for those bills or Democratic control of the State Senate are just too high.
In fact, for Cuomo, having Republicans run the State Senate might actually be advantageous. It means that liberal Democrats in the state legislature can’t pass bills and force Cuomo to take potentially unpopular positions. Whenever there’s a politically-risky issue, especially one that might alienate wealthy financial donors, Cuomo can just point to the Republican state Senate as an excuse.
Draining the Swamp? Cuomo is a Creature of It
Donald Trump campaigned on a promise of “draining the swamp” and fighting against the corrupt establishment, which he argued Hillary Clinton represented. While Trump does not seem to be interested in making it anything more than a campaign talking point, he struck a nerve, as did Bernie Sanders with his similar rhetoric. Unfortunately for Cuomo, he is about as entrenched as Hillary Clinton.
Cuomo, known as a backroom operator, has spent most of his life in politics and actually served in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet. He’s famously feared for his negotiating abilities and intimidating power–useful for running the state as Governor but much less effective for building the widespread support necessary for a long-shot Presidential bid.
Many of his closest supporters and aides also have Wall Street ties. He’s raised millions for his campaigns and a large number of those donations came from donors connected to Wall Street banks and companies with state contracts.
His former Secretary (the top aide), Bill Mulrow, who worked for the private equity firm Blackstone before serving in government and is going back to Wall Street. Mulrow’s successor, Melissa DeRosa is the first woman to be Secretary but amplifies concerns about Cuomo’s entanglements. Her father and brother are some of the top lobbyists in Albany and her husband is a spokesperson and lobbyist for Uber. While DeRosa pledged to recuse herself from any issues where relatives had a stake, the perception of this web of connections can’t help Cuomo when an opponent in Iowa makes hay out of it.
So How’s It Look?
While Cuomo appears very likely to run for President, he’ll almost certainly face an uphill climb between his Machiavellian impulses and ties to financial donors.
Today’s Democratic Party increasingly appears to lean towards Bernie Sanders’ view that challenging economic domination is the key issue today. Cuomo can claim a higher minimum wage, free college, and other achievements but he’s always going to be aligned with the Wall Street wing of the party. And his political expertise in backroom-dealing might have been an advantage in another era but it’s probably not going to be something to brag about it 2020.
Those weaknesses may doom any Presidential campaign for Cuomo but look for him to try anyways.
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