The implications of a Cuomo run for governor

Time’s a wasting.  Just 90 days to primary day in New York State.  With both the Democrats and Republicans facing primaries for governor it’s going to be a pretty busy three months.

Both parties, in choosing their endorsed candidates, were able to block anyone other than the favored nominee from having direct access to the ballot.  So, for the Democrats that means Kathy Hochul’s opponents, Jumaane Williams and Thomas Suozzi, are out hustling signatures on petitions.  Lee Zeldin can spend his time and money on actual campaigning, while Harry Wilson, Rob Astorino, and Andrew Guiliani are paying people to take care of the petitioning.

And then there is the question of the hour:  is Andrew Cuomo running for governor?  If he is, will it be in the Democratic primary or as an independent candidate in November?

Cuomo has recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on two TV ads.  The first one proclaimed his innocence of the charges of sexual harassment leveled against him by eleven women.  The second ad touted things that he had accomplished as governor.  He also gave a couple campaign style speeches (teleprompter included) in New York City.

Siena College published a poll yesterday reporting that Cuomo trails Hochul by eight points in a Democratic primary; the margin was four points in an Emerson College poll two weeks ago.  The Siena poll also noted that only 33 percent of Democrats want Cuomo to run in the primary, and only 32 percent thought he did not sexually harass multiple women.

Some points about the recent Cuomo activity and press attention are worth noting:

  • The Emerson poll was taken immediately after Cuomo had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV claiming that he had been exonerated of all charges against him.  One screen shot from the ad included a portion of a New York Daily News editorial headlined “An Innocent Man.”  The editorial actually notes that all the District Attorneys who had investigated Cuomo found the charges against him credible but they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him in court.
  • The ads and speeches came in a vacuum.  If Cuomo at the time had been involved in an actual political campaign, the arguments he presented in the ads and speeches would have immediately been attacked by other candidates or their surrogates with their own ads and press statements.
  • While there were some nodding heads in the audiences where the speeches were presented, his commentaries failed to elicit any identifiable public support.
  • Among the issues that Cuomo is promoting are changes in the state’s bail reform legislation.  That is ironic considering that he signed the current law as governor.

The inside politics of a potential Cuomo candidacy is that he must move rather quickly if he intends to run this year.  For the primary, non-party endorsed candidates need to collect at least 15,000 valid signatures distributed across at least 13 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.  To play safe a candidate needs to collect thousands of signatures beyond the 15,000 legal requirement to ensure they stand up to any challenge from opponents.  Petitions for the party primaries must be filed by April 7th.  There has been no evidence thus far that any Cuomo petitions are in circulation.

To qualify as an independent candidate in November a candidate needs 45,000 valid signatures.  The first day for circulating those petitions is April 19, and they must be filed by May 31.  Cuomo has said that he had previously created an independent party line.  He may have been referring to the Women’s Equality Party that was created for the 2014 election and disappeared after the 2018 election.  The legwork for that effort was undoubtedly handled by people associated with the state Democratic organization.  Also, Women’s Equality Party probably would not work for Cuomo this year so he would need to come up with some other catchy name.

Cuomo, plus his brother and whoever else is among the unnamed advisors he is consulting, if they can rationally assess his candidacy, might come to the conclusion there are multiple roadblocks to his candidacy.  Consider this:

  • He is not well liked by the public, with various polls overwhelmingly reporting that voters don’t want him to run again or to serve as governor again.  Cuomo said in one of his recent speeches that God is not through with him.  That may be, but it seems clear that the voters of the State of New York are through with him.
  • The women who have said he harassed them are not going away.  As a candidate he would practically invite a constant barrage of criticism by those women and those who support them.
  • The issue concerning nursing home deaths will not be going away any time soon either.  State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli just last week issued a report criticizing the way the Cuomo administration handled COVID death reporting.
  • The currently constituted Joint Commission on Public Ethics is ramping up its efforts to recoup the $5 million Cuomo received from his book deal.
  • The State Assembly Judiciary Committee concluded with a damming report about Cuomo last summer but stopped short of impeaching him because he resigned.  Some might view that as some sort of plea deal.
  • Cuomo likely still has a campaign treasury in the range of $13-14 million, but an independent campaign will be expensive and his ability to raise more money is not very good.

It seems that, as of the end of March, Cuomo may decide that he cannot win the Democratic primary.  If he did run he would most likely draw black voters away from Jumaane Williams and centrist votes away from Tom Suozzi, splitting the non-Hochul voters.

As to the possibility of doing independent petitions, Cuomo has the time to organize such a run and the cash to do the petitioning. The practical effect would be to draw some votes away from Hochul, but that might be balanced by the possibility that his candidacy would serve to confirm Hochul’s stance that she was an outsider in his administration; therefore a Cuomo candidacy could provide a counter benefit to her. There are 3.6 million more Democrats than registered Republicans in the state, so Hochul, with overwhelming party support, would still stand in a good position. The consequence of an independent Cuomo candidacy would be to, at least for the next two years, add another minor party to the list of recognized parties; such an effort would probably push the Cuomo party ahead of the Working Families Party on the ballot line. The WFP will need to figure out a way to survive should Williams lose the Democratic primary. And imagine the next two years. Would any candidates for local office or the State Legislature seek out support of the new Cuomo Party, no matter what name is attached to it?

An argument can be made that Cuomo’s recent advertising and speechifying are nothing more than the efforts of a frustrated former officeholder who is just trying to assert his relevance.  A political ego is hard to turn off.

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