This past December I offered a “Modest Proposal” for Gov. Andrew Cuomo: I’d help him learn to swallow his pride, hide his disdain for regular people and prepare to run an honest-to-goodness campaign for president, in exchange for money–lots of money.
To no one’s surprise, Andrew never followed through. What a mistake.
Now, Mr. First in the Nation is flailing, as his worst qualities are exposed by Cynthia Nixon, an actress and activist with a small, scrappy campaign and tons of name recognition.
Politicians and operatives long burnt out on Cuomo’s scorched earth politics are sharing the behind-the-scenes machinations Cuomo has made his name on. And Cuomo is saying all the wrong things in public. Maybe he’s out of practice. He hid from the press for a good part of the year as corruption cases swirled around his economic development programs.
It isn’t just that Cuomo is out there trying to label himself an immigrant, convince voters he is a “middle-class guy” (despite having been born into a political dynasty and recently having earned nearly a million dollars for an autobiography that only those on his payroll read), and threaten to crush progressive advocacy groups who have dared to endorse Nixon.
All that stuff is damaging for those who care to look. But what’s really bad for the man who once declared himself “The Government” is that Nixon’s name recognition is drawing national scrutiny to the way Cuomo has actually run the state for the last seven years.
On Wednesday, Nixon appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. After a few jokes, Nixon did actually dive into Cuomo’s relationship with Republicans. Cuomo has kept Senate Republicans in power by backing the Independent Democratic Conference that split from mainline Democrats to give the GOP the votes they needed to control the chamber.
Colbert mentioned the IDC and criticism Cuomo has faced for supporting them (before abruptly forcing them to rejoin mainline Democrats this month). Nixon quickly pivoted to what is perhaps Cuomo’s greatest betrayal of Democrats and voters in general: his decision in 2011 to go against a pledge he signed to support independent redistricting, to prevent gerrymandering by the legislature and make sure blacks’ and Latinos’ votes were not being diluted. “In his first year in office he allowed Republicans in the state Senate to gerrymander their own districts, which suppressed Democratic voters and particularly Democratic voters of color,” said Nixon, adding, “He says he works with Republicans, but frankly often at times it looks like he works for Republicans.”
Colbert asked why Nixon believes Cuomo has governed with Republicans in mind. She made two points. She believes he is pleasing his “big money donors,” and noted that he came up when centrism was popular; she cited Mitt Romney as a representative of that political attitude.
Centrism appears to be on the wain.
On Tuesday, a new Siena Research poll found that Nixon had narrowed the gap in a heads-up contest with Cuomo by 14 points. That does not mean Nixon is anywhere close to a victory. Cuomo currently enjoys a 58 to 27 percent lead according to the polls, but last month Cuomo enjoyed a lead of 66 to 19 percent. Nixon has only been in the contest for three and a half weeks.
The new poll appears to have jolted Cuomo’s PR network into action. Cuomo, who has over $30 million in his campaign coffers and control over the state Democratic Party, is notorious for not letting people ever truly leave his service. During the corruption trial of his best friend and aid Joseph Percoco, it was alleged that Percoco threatened to destroy the careers of administration members if they left for other jobs.
With so many Democratic operatives taking to social media with the same message, it seemed orchestrated, given the Siena Poll’s findings.
This week PR people in various positions across the state, but seemingly not the official Cuomo campaign, began attacking Nixon in unison for her downplaying of Cuomo’s role in securing marriage equality in New York state. They were correct that Nixon’s take in a recent interview about Cuomo’s role was absurdly slanted, but their sudden mobilization spoke to two major issues Cuomo faces: the thinness and inauthenticity of his vocal supporters and the fact that while he can astroturf support from PR professionals across the state–who could quickly be without work if Cuomo were displeased with their efforts–they aren’t particularly effective spokespeople. And shouldn’t they officially be on the campaign payroll if they are doing campaign work?
All those PR professionals are finding themselves in an awkward position, trying to explain why Cuomo allegedly threatened to crush the Working Families Party and other progressive groups who endorsed Nixon. The WFP was made up of influential labor and activist groups–with labor groups providing the bulk of the party’s funding. But according to multiple reports, Cuomo told labor groups to lose his number if they stayed with the WFP when it endorsed Nixon. Last week, on the eve of the WFP’s endorsement of Nixon, labor groups bolted the party.
The Cuomo administration spin is that labor left the WFP of their own accord, without motivation from Cuomo’s threats, and that he is simply supporting them (CHORTLE!).
Asked at a press conference on Thursday whether he was out to “punish” the WFP, Cuomo replied in this totally relatable and not-at-all creepy-as-all hell fashion:
“I’m not going to punish. It has nothing to do with me. Punishment is for God. Who unions should support or not support, that’s up to the unions. Nobody’s going to tell them what to do.”
Also on Thursday was an activist organized protest of Cuomo’s bullying tactics. It wasn’t long before electeds were leaking that they had been pressured by Cuomo’s people not to attend. The New York Times story on Cuomo’s pressure tactics opened with the lede: “Nice rally you have there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.” It was just the thing Cuomo doesn’t need.
There is already a clear enthusiasm gap between Nixon’s and Cuomo’s supporters. Cuomo has relied on major donors to fill his coffers for decades. Nixon is racking up small donations, and with the WFP “under attack,” more progressives are likely to get involved. The more Cuomo flails, the more scrutiny he will attract, the more press conferences he’ll hold, the more TV cameras he’ll find himself in front of, the more reporters asking questions he’ll have to face, and with all that comes the ever-increasing likelihood that Cuomo will say even more bat-shit crazy things.
Let’s not forget that three weeks ago Cuomo surrogate Christine Quinn welcomed Nixon to the race by calling her an “unqualified lesbian.” Given his track record, Cuomo is likely to do worse than that.
But there is good in all of this for the state.
Yesterday Cuomo announced he will issue an executive order to restore voting rights to inmates on parole for felonies. It’s a good step forward for New York on a particular issue that I don’t recall Cuomo’s expressing interest in ever before. Restoring voting rights was not part of Cuomo’s policy book this year.
And then there was the Cuomo administration’s response to the criticism of the executive order from the right. Republicans cried bloody murder, suggesting the move would essentially “pardon” criminals. Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi tweeted that a number of more conservative states than New York already allow paroled felons to vote. So was the move spectacular and groundbreaking? Or late in coming?
Cuomo has not been shy about issuing executive orders in the past; he’s issued them to give the AG authority to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians, to ensure pay equality in state government, to force the state to divest entities supporting boycotts of Israel and a host of other issues.
Cuomo’s recent executive order was so nakedly a ploy to win headlines back from Nixon that even the advocates who welcome the move wondered why Cuomo didn’t act at any other point during his time as governor.
A point about executive orders: they can easily be undone by future governors.