In politics it’s never too early to start planning – the 2022 race for governor

The electronic devices that nearly everyone uses today do many, many things.  They keep us connected.  They are our reference library.  They remind us about what we are doing and are scheduled to do.

As great as that help may be, or maybe as bad, in politics planning for regular practitioners is mentally in high drive even before a word is typed or a meeting scheduled on your favorite word processing and scheduling device.

So it is in New York State.  There will be a race for governor in 2022, but already the wheels are turning.  Party endorsements will occur by next January or early February.  Petitioning will begin just about twelve months from now.

The past twelve months have been a very difficult time for the state.  As of March 1, 47,143 of our fellow New Yorkers have died from the coronavirus in the past year.  The sub-set of that tragic story is that 33 percent of those deaths occurred in the state’s nursing facilities. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been the face of the New York’s response to the virus.  For the longest time he received much praise for his work.  Over the past several weeks, however, the reporting about the Governor’s role in management of pandemic issues has come into question.

The State Legislature last year granted extraordinary powers to the governor to manage COVID related issues through April 30, 2021 as well as the operation of the state’s budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ends on March 31.  Bi-partisan efforts to rein in the governor’s powers have been gaining steam, but the end or modification of current arrangements will be easier said than done.

The natural offshoot of the COVID-nursing home issues is a jumping off point for the 2022 election for governor.  If the starter’s flag has not already been waved, it is certainly in her hands.

Governor Cuomo may not announce his intentions to run for a fourth term, or not to run, for many months.  That does not mean that some planning is not already ongoing for that race.

Cuomo, as of January 10th, had $16.8 million in his campaign treasury.  Four years ago, at this stage, Cuomo had $21.86 million in the bank.  In his previous four statewide runs for office Cuomo has demonstrated that he can collect substantial donations for the campaigns.

Andrew Cuomo’s father Mario failed in his 1994 attempt to be elected governor a fourth time.  Would that be a motivation for Andrew wanting to go for four next year?

Cuomo’s polling numbers continue to be strong, although they have dropped some as news about investigations into the nursing facility deaths and public interest in the subject picks up.  Daily headlines about legislators, Attorney General Leticia James, the FBI, and the Justice Department probing the activities of the Cuomo administration have a negative effect.

Then there is the growing controversy about alleged sexual harassment charges against the governor. Three former employees of the governor have come forward. The Albany Times Union this past Sunday also reported on the aggressive, bullying style of Cuomo and his major operatives. The investigation of those serious allegations is taking on a life of its own and will appear regularly in the news media over the next several months.

There’s an expression in politics:  when you’re explaining, you’re losing.  Cuomo is now explaining.

The governor’s problems, of course, lead potentially to Republican opportunities.  While the Cuomo election campaigns have all been blowouts, with Republicans struggling to find a candidate and then struggling to get that campaign going, such may not be the case in 2022.

At this point in time, Republicans getting some attention include:

  • Southern Tier Congressman Tom Reed
  • Albany area Congresswoman Elise Stefanik
  • Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin
  • Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, who was the 2018 Republican candidate for governor
  • Businessman Harry Wilson

None of those names are known to most New Yorkers, but then early in 1994, who ever heard of George Pataki, a State Senator from the Hudson Valley?

The members of the House who may be in the running have all been staunch supporters of the former guy who was the country’s 45th president.  Whether any of them might be the former guy’s prime choice for governor is debatable.

Molinaro ran a credible race for governor, but he was badly underfunded and lost by 1.4 million votes.  Wilson’s name has been coming up every four years for statewide office, but he has never taken up the party on their entreaties.

The only one of the five potential candidates who at this time has an active New York State campaign account is Molinaro, who has $14,675 in his treasury.  The members of Congress would need to set up non-federal accounts.

COVID matters, particularly concerning the nursing facility issues, are probably going to be a leading issue in 2022.  Cuomo is certainly not without accomplishments.  Management of COVID care, testing, and vaccinations can work to his benefit in the election.  There will be other issues like budget management, economic development, education, the state’s infrastructure, etc. that could also come to the forefront, but not necessarily to the governor’s advantage.

If by chance Cuomo decides not to run for re-election the Democratic Party may have to scramble to find the right candidate. Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul might want to take a shot at it. In 2018 she won a difficult primary election for lieutenant governor against Jumaane Williams, who was a New York City Councilmember and is now New York City Public Advocate.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has cruised to victory in his four statewide races.  Attorney General James won by 1.6 million votes against a relatively unknown Republican in 2018.  Democratic House members or local officials such as county executives could be a source of potential Democratic candidates for governor.

New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio has suggested he might run for governor, inspired perhaps by his great results in the Iowa presidential caucus last year.

The problem that each alternative candidate would face, other than perhaps DiNapoli or James, is that as long as Andrew Cuomo remains as the expected nominee of the party it would be hard for them to gain any traction or to do very well in raising money.

Andrew Cuomo has dominated New York State politics for the past eleven years and remains the candidate to beat if he runs again in 2022.  He is now facing the most serious problems of his administration, and things have not been going well.

There is speculation that Cuomo, in the face of his problems, might resign the office, making Kathy Hochul the governor.  Such a move would seem to run counter to the way Cuomo operates.

For history buffs, it should be noted that Ellicott Spitzer resigned amid a scandal in mid-March 2008.  Beware the Ides of March! 

In the meantime the political attacks and posturing will continue and escalate.  Buy some popcorn.  The show is just beginning.

For detailed reporting and analysis of local news, check out the latest articles on Investigative Post, including my Money in Politics reports and podcasts.  This week Geoff Kelly and I cover the campaign financials of Congressman Brian Higgins.

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