Scandal Clouds Andrew Cuomo’s Path to 2020

Take a look at Andrew Cuomo’s tweet stream, and it’s heavy on national issues and attacks on the Trump administration but nearly void of New York state issues — odd since he is the incumbent governor.

After making a somewhat presidential-looking visit to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, he dinged President Donald Trump for not visiting the island earlier and called for state universities to offer in-state tuition to students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

He pivoted to the Las Vegas massacre, tweeting, “Of course now is the time to talk about gun safety,” noting New York already had tough gun restrictions. He asserted he’ll “move heaven and earth” to prevent New York’s 42,000 dreamers, beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DREAM) Act from being deported and declared, “Whatever happens at the federal level, women in New York will continue to have cost-free access to reproductive health care.”

So he couches his talk about national issues with New York, but it's a lousy disguise for a guy who clearly seems to be checking the boxes for a presidential run in 2020, even though he has steep hills to climb, including an ethics scandals, and his own re-election effort next year.

A Sienna College poll last week found 48 percent of New York voters say Cuomo is doing an "excellent" or "good" job, while 50 percent say he's doing a "fair" or "poor" job. Still, 52 percent of New York voters would vote for the second-generation Democratic governor.

A third term would tie him with his father, Mario Cuomo, a liberal lion in his day who likely wouldn't be suitable to the modern Democratic Left. The elder Cuomo had a powerful gift of oratory but was notoriously gun-shy about running for president, a trait his son doesn't seem to have inherited.

Despite the net positive polling numbers, Cuomo will be dealing with the ugly distraction of the "Buffalo Billion" scandal, in which federal prosecutors alleged bribery and bid rigging in costly state-funded economic development projects and indicted a former top Cuomo aide and seven other politically connected developers and construction executives.

The trial for Joe Percoco — Cuomo's former campaign manager and former deputy executive secretary for the governor — will start on Jan. 8, 2018. Percoco was a close confidant of the Cuomo family. Mario even reportedly referred to him as a "third son." (The second or actual real son is, of course, anti-Trump CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.)

Cuomo isn't personally implicated in the scandal but will spend the early days of his re-election year answering questions about his close friend, who is standing trial with one other individual.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni ordered the trials severed. The second trial for the remaining six individuals will start no sooner than May 15, and could begin as late as September of next year, running well into the election season.

It's New York, so chances are better than 50 percent that regardless of what comes out, Cuomo will beat the Republican gubernatorial nominee. However, he's already looking at a whole field of potential Democratic primary challengers.

Names floated as left-wing anti-Establishment candidates are actress Cynthia Nixon, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, former state Sen. Terry Gipson, and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams.

Zephyr Teachout's surprisingly strong 2014 gubernatorial primary challenge against Cuomo turned Cuomo into a different governor.

After winning his first term in 2010, Cuomo was a centrist — maybe even as conservative as some other northeastern Republican politicians. Measuring the mood of the country, he capped property taxes, backed charter schools, reined in state spending on pensions, and was critical of Common Core. He did sign sweeping gun control laws in the first term, but that came in the shadow of the brutal Sandy Hook massacre, when nearly every Democratic governor did the same. After Teachout delivered a scare to him in his re-election bid, he measured the mood of his party's left-wing base and raised the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour, banned fracking, and stood beside Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in pushing free college.

The second term helps Cuomo in the 2020 Democratic primary. And if he survives to the general election, he could tout the first term as a way to triangulate.

Still, there are other questions that will dog him throughout his re-election campaign and likely through a 2020 run.

One potential scandal is tied to Obamacare. The Albany Times Union reported in August that executives and employees of Crystal Run, a health insurance provider, gave $400,000 to Cuomo over a two-day period in October 2013. In August 2016, the New York Department of Financial Services approved a rate hike for the company of 80.5 percent for individual plans and 58.5 percent for small group plans, the highest in both categories for any company on the state's health insurance exchange. The next highest rate approved for individual plans was 29.2 percent, the Times Union reported. Similar to the larger Buffalo Billion scandal, this doesn't directly implicate the governor, but it does ensnare members close to his inner circle and casts doubt on the company he keeps.

Andrew Cuomo is not a chip off the old block. Mario was an unmistakable liberal; Andrew measures the political winds. Mario's critics didn't question his integrity; Andrew's administration is plagued by scandal. But, assuming he survives 2018, the biggest difference certainly appears to be Andrew will actually make the presidential run his father was so reluctant to pursue.

(photo credit, homepage images: Governor Cuomo..., silhouetted with color, CC BY 2.0, by mtaphotos; photo credit, article images: Gov. Cuomo..., silhouetted with color, CC BY 2.0, by mtaphotos)

Last Modified: October 9, 2017, 7:30 am

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