New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Is He The Great Pretender?

Amidst all the attention and hard work being invested in helping those who have had their homes destroyed by Super Storm Sandy, the election process continues on its march towards Election Day.  Along that march, there’s an under-reported story unfolding up the Hudson River from New York City. Voters who care about progressives with integrity, or the lack thereof, should know about it.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is widely rumored to be positioning himself for a 2016 run for President. And while he agreed to stump around the country for Obama, Cuomo is not actually supporting Democrats in the key races that will determine control of the State Senate in New York. In some races, he’s even backing Republicans.

Now if you have been involved in New York State politics at all, you know that there has been a monumental effort for years by party and progressive grassroots activists to finally wrest control of the Senate from the Republicans. The Democrats won it briefly in 2008, passed some good legislation in that period, but lost it in 2010 in the Tea Party tsunami. The result is that little genuinely progressive legislation comes out of Albany, despite the national reputation of New York as a liberal state. The New York Times reported this morning, however, that the Democrats are within striking distance of regaining control of the State Senate.

It’s hard to fathom, but the main obstacle to the Democrats gaining control of the Senate may be the Governor himself. Some progressive leaders and activists in the Empire State have long whispered that their prominent Governor’s commitment to progressive values is not even skin deep. His actions this fall only underscore that concern.  Recently, nearly 10,000 New Yorkers signed a petition to the Governor calling on him to support Democrats running for the Senate.  But with just hours before the polls open, Cuomo has kept silent, as he has since the summer. The head of the Democratic Party in New York, weird as it may sound, is not supporting the members of his own party who are struggling to reverse the 2010 Tea Party takeover of the NY State Senate.

As the Albany Times Union reports, Democratic activists are particularly frustrated with Cuomo’s refusal to help his fellow Democrat in one crucial State Senate race in the Hudson Valley. The Governor’s actions are especially vexing, because the role of money in politics has become a flashpoint in the district.  The Democrat – a woman making an unexpected surge in a district that was drawn as a safe seat for Republicans – is backing the Governor’s plan for public financing of elections. The Republican millionaire running against her has flooded the airwaves with materials calling the proposal a tax on the middle class. This shouldn’t be a hard decision for the Governor, if he earnestly wants to pass his plan.  The big question is: Does he? 

It’s the kind of moment of clarity many yearn for in politics: an election in which a clear upset victory would give an immense boost to a crucial issue.  It’s a moment that cries out for leadership, for using the bully pulpit, and the person who could do it is Governor Cuomo – the most popular Governor in America according to all polls.  All he has to do is support his fellow Democrat, who is supporting the Governor’s own position. How hard is that?

Apparently, pretty hard. What’s really going on? There’s seems to be only one plausible explanation: the Governor prefers conservative Republicans to progressive Democrats. I know it’s hard to figure.  But actions speak louder than words. To Cuomo, it may be true that it is more important to keep Republicans in control of the Senate so that he never has to face strong pressure from the left. This tactic, according to key players in New York politics, is an open secret.

Were the Democrats to win back the Senate, inevitably it would mean that they would pass some bills that reflect the interests of their constituents -- against hydrofracking, for raising the minimum wage, on gun control, on school aid, on the incarceration society. That’s not what Cuomo wants as he prepares a 2016 presidential campaign in which his theme will be “I can bridge the partisan divide.”  It’s baloney and he knows it. By bridging the divide, he means forcing Democrats to accept a softer, gentler Republican view of the world.

Yes, you can say it is a cynical strategy. The Governor who Cuomo most resembles is not the great liberal who was his father, but rather his neighbor, Chris Christie, in New Jersey.  Sure they have differences on gay marriage and some social issues, but on key policies they have been almost indistinguishable, though Cuomo it seems, before Hurricane Sandy came along, has the better touch. But when it really counts, the Governor of the great state of New York is missing in action. You could call him the "Great Pretender." 

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