How New York voters in 2018 might send a message about Albany corruption

New York State is in the midst of a statewide election for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller. All but the comptroller’s position are seeing hard-hitting, aggressive campaigning.

Overshadowing the elections is a new wave of corruption scandals, trials and convictions involving state officials. For the past ten years or more state residents have seen these occurrences in the offices of governor, comptroller, attorney general, multiple members of the state Assembly and state Senate and a variety of people who held appointive positions with the state or who did business with the state.

So the question that keeps coming up is, how will the scandals affect the elections? The question is probably most relevant for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has seen several appointees and associates involved in state business indicted and convicted. One of the appointees, Joseph Percoco, not only held major positions in the Executive Chamber and in Cuomo’s campaigns, but was also a close personal friend – sometimes described as the third son of the late governor Mario Cuomo.

Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, has been hitting hard on these issues, as has the Republican candidate, Marc Molinaro, and independent candidate Stephanie Miner. Newspapers across the state have joined in on the attack on corruption and on Cuomo’s perceived connection to those problems.

But what about the voters?

Well, first you need to consider who those voters are, or more importantly, who they might be in September and November of 2018. Don’t expect big turnouts in the Democratic primaries.

The upcoming Democratic contests for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general will be the featured events on September 13th. In November the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, chosen in the primaries, will run as a ticket. The winner of the Democratic primary for attorney general will move on to challenge Republican-Conservative candidate Keith Wofford.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on July 18th poll sheds some light on how things are going so far this year with eight weeks left until the primary election.

In the Democratic primary for governor, the poll (with a margin of error of 6.2 percent among Democrats) has Cuomo continuing to maintain a very large margin of support, leading Nixon 59 to 23 percent, with big leads in all major subgroups. The University’s poll in May had Cuomo leading 50 to 28 percent.

In the general election contest Cuomo leads as follows:

  • Cuomo         43 percent
  • Molinaro     23 percent
  • Nixon (on the Working Families line)     13 percent
  • Larry Sharpe (Libertarian )       3 percent
  • Howie Hawkins (Green)     2 percent
  • Stephanie Miner (Serve America Movement)   1 percent

Whether Nixon would run a serious campaign on the Working Families line if she loses the Democratic primary remains to be seen. There is talk of moving her to an Assembly seat so that the Working Families folks could give their line to Cuomo. In terms of moving up the pecking order in the list of minor parties, which is based on the parties’ gubernatorial vote, the Working Families Party would probably be better off sticking with Nixon. The ever-conniving Working Families group won’t hesitate to throw someone under the bus if they think they can gain something.

Both the primary election prospects in the governor’s race as well as the potential general election results seem to indicate that the scandal issues are already baked into the cake and that voters, for whatever reason, are looking past those issues. Things can still change over the next one hundred days until November 6, but it appears that all the negative press about the scandals – and there has been a lot of it – has not hurt Cuomo in any significant way.

There has been no public polling in the race for lieutenant governor between incumbent Kathy Hochul and Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams. There is one set of numbers, however, that does offer some measure of the competitiveness of that election. In the recent campaign financial reports Hochul, as of July 12th, had $1,244,516 in her treasury while Williams had $45,502. That $45,000, however, may not be there anymore since it was determined last week that Williams had collected $50,000 from one corporation, and the legal limit for annual corporate donations is $5,000. Williams was forced to return the excess donation.

Quinnipiac’s poll also included numbers on the Democratic primary for attorney general:

  • Undecided     42 percent
  • Letitia James   26 percent
  • Sean Patrick Maloney   15 percent
  • Zephyr Teachout     12 percent
  • Leecia Eve   3 percent

There are two general conclusions that might be drawn from those numbers: (1) voter preferences in the poll are mainly drawn from name recognition. James is the New York City Public Advocate; Maloney is a Congressman; Teachout ran for governor four years ago; and Eve is making her first run for office; (2) Democratic voters may not particularly care about who the candidate for AG is going to be.

Geography should help James in the primary since she holds office in the largest municipality in the state. The other three candidates are likely, for the most part, to divide the upstate vote, with Maloney doing best in the Hudson Valley, Teachout leading in the Albany and North Country areas and Eve doing best in Western New York.

Turnout in the Democratic statewide primaries four years ago was better upstate than in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, and there is no reason to think that it will be much different in 2018. That gives votes in upstate a bit more weight, but that will probably be counter-weighted by having three candidates dividing the upstate vote.

In a four-way race, whoever the winner is, the results will be muddled, with no overwhelming winner and no great enthusiasm for the candidate. Factor that with some voter interest, such as it is, about the corruption scandals.

So into the picture right about the date of the Democratic primary, enter the Republican-Conservative candidate for attorney general, Keith Wofford.

At the moment Wofford can afford to fly under the radar, letting the Democrats fight things out, leaving the eventual party nominee somewhat wounded. Wofford can spend the next several weeks honing his message, organizing his campaign, and raising money. And as the recent campaign financials show, Wofford has already been very good about raising money. As of July 12th he had $1,023,848 in the bank. He can marshal his resources while the Democratic candidates burn through their cash.

One million in the bank, plus whatever he will raise before November, automatically makes him a credible candidate. Wofford is a Harvard educated attorney who grew up in Buffalo and now lives in New York City, working for a major law firm.

Wofford is well positioned to capitalize on the public’s revulsion with the scandals that have plagued state government. Cuomo has issues to deal with such as the scandals, an anemic upstate economy and problems with New York City’s subways. Despite those negatives he still seems well positioned to win the Democratic primary and the November general election handily.

But someone running as an outsider, not having run for or held a public office, will gain credibility in the campaign for attorney general. Add to that, the public could have an interest in a Republican attorney general keeping an eye on the likely return of a Democratic state administration. Such a candidate will be able to speak effectively to the issue of bringing ethics and good government to the state.

Please do not take what I am writing here as some sort of endorsement for Wofford. My choice for attorney general is Leecia Eve, an outstanding candidate with vast experience that would work well in the office of attorney general. Eve, however, faces long odds in the Democratic primary.

It is quite conceivable that Keith Wofford will turn out to be the messenger that voters will choose in 2018 to tell Albany “STOP, we’ve had enough.”