The Divide: Race for governor heating up

The Divide: Race for governor heating up

Now that this dud of a state legislative session is over, it’s time to turn our attention to the 2018 gubernatorial and lieutenant governor elections.

Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse, just threw a monkey wrench into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bid for a third term. Ms. Miner has launched an independent run for governor on the Serve America Movement Party line. She joins actress Cynthia Nixon, the Working Families Party nominee and Democratic primary challenger to Cuomo, Marc Molinaro, the Republican Party choice, and Howie Hawkins, running again, on the Green Party line. The divide between one-time allies, Cuomo and Miner, has grown so wide, that Miner has taken the unusual step (but, not unheard of, see Carey-Krupsak, 1978, below) of challenging the top Democrat in the state, even if her campaign has the potential to cost the Democrats the governorship.

But first thing’s first. Before taking on Molinaro, Hawkins, Miner, and Nixon in the general election in November, Cuomo must first defeat Nixon in the Democratic primary in September. (Of course, that is contingent upon Nixon getting the requisite 15,000 signatures from registered Democrats to even get on the ballot in September.) According to recent polls, Cuomo is leading all potential challengers by a comfortable margin and he also has a huge war chest to fund his re-election campaign. None of the other announced candidates for governor can match Cuomo dollar-for-dollar, and they will have to depend on grassroots, feet on the ground, campaigning to have a chance of upsetting Cuomo in November. However, this is where Miner’s entrance into the governor’s race has the ability to change the dynamics of the race.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume Nixon gets the 15,000 signatures and forces Cuomo to run in the September Democratic primary. The polls prove correct, and Cuomo wins the primary and heads the Democratic ticket in November. Nixon, for her part, decides to stay in the race and actively run on the Working Families Party line. So, now you have Cuomo facing off against two women and the Republican Molinaro. The very liberal leaning Nixon, like Cuomo, has roots in New York City, and could pull the left-of-center big city voters from Cuomo’s camp into her own. Now add in upstate-based, and centrist candidate Miner, running as an indepent, getting votes from the more conservative Democrats and independents, and a path–granted, a very slim path at best–opens up for Molinaro to be the victor in November.   

Some political pundits are positing that the governor’s race could be the “anyone-but-Cuomo” (ABC) election. While ABC will be a factor, I don’t think it will be the driving force in the governor’s race. I see it more as a race where there are so many different dynamics at play, that an upset is possible, but not probable. Will the two downstate candidates, Cuomo and Nixon, both claiming to be progressives, split the New York City vote enough to give the suburban, rural, and upstate voters more of a say on who wins the election? For, usually, if you win the New York City vote, you win the election.

Who will win a majority of the women’s vote? Will men vote for either of the two women running in large enough numbers to affect the outcome of the election? Will the celebrity status of Cuomo and Nixon be a help or a hindrance to their respective campaigns against two relatively unknowns in Molinaro and Miner? Will Molinaro’s flip-flopping on whether to run or not (no in January, yes in March) hurt his standing with upstate Republicans who wanted state Senator DeFrancisco, Onondaga County, to be the party’s nominee, so much so, that they stay home on Election Day? Or, will these same upstate voters give their support to Miner, of Syracuse? Who will the union members vote for, Democrat Cuomo or Working Families Party Nixon? Will their votes be split, thus allowing Molinaro to win with less than 50 percent of the vote? Who will the ABC voters support: independent Miner, WFP Nixon, or GOP Molinaro? Is there even enough of these voters to swing the election from a Cuomo win to a major upset?

I am also following closely the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor. This contest pits the incumbent, and Cuomo endorsed Kathy Hochul, against New York City councilman Jumaane Williams. Hochul is a white female from Buffalo, while Williams is a black male from Brooklyn. Williams is no stranger to beating a sitting elected official in order to win public office. In 2009, he won the Democratic primary against then councilmember Kendall Stewart and went on to win the council seat in the general election. I have met Williams at a couple of progressive leaders’ conventions, and am very impressed with his energy and commitment to progressive values. Williams has been out front acknowledging that he has Tourette syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder that is characterized by motor tics, but has not let Tourette’s stop him from being a public figure nor from running for elective office.  

What would be most interesting in this primary would be if Williams, a Cuomo critic, upsets Hochul in September. Should Williams win, and Cuomo wins as expected, Williams will be sharing the ticket with Cuomo in the general election. In New York State, the governor and lieutenant governor do not run as one in the primary, they are separate contests. But, in the general election, the winners of the gubernatorial and lieutenant governor’s primary election, run as one entity. Thus, if this scenario comes to pass, Williams wins the primary and Cuomo wins re-election to a third term as governor, it would be fun to watch how these two interact over the next four years. For those of us old enough to remember, could the pairing of Cuomo and Williams be a repeat from forty years ago of the Carey-Krupsak political disaster? After serving as Gov. Carey’s lieutenant governor from 1975 to 1978, Mary Anne Krupsak decided to challenge Carey when he ran for re-election.  She lost the primary, but it sure did make for some interesting political theater.

Political junkies can only hope that this year’s gubernatorial election gets some excitement going and Stephanie Miner’s entrance into the race just may be the spice needed to heat things up.

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