Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The NY Election: Andrew Cuomo Finally Enters the Spotlight, and What Do We See?


Luckily for Democrats, the Republicans are 
bound to nominate even worse candidates.

I was born in New York; raised there too. Went to SUNY Stony Brook. Even after I came back from living overseas for nearly seven years, I moved right to Manhattan. One of my sisters lives in Brooklyn, and one lives on Staten Island. I had an office in NY for many years and split my time between New York and California. Ken lives there. So do dozens of other friends and relatives. One of them asked me to publish this anonymously so as not to be the target of any retribution. -- Howie

The NY State election has finally come out from the shadows into the open
Andrew Cuomo, the "Big Guy," has finally come out from self-enforced hibernation in the AG's office. He's the son of the Liberal Lion; he's the one who, when you close your eyes, you don’t know if it's his or Mario Cuomo's voice.
But he is going to campaign and govern in his own voice. And he too, like many other Democrats-- too many other Democrats-- thinks that the electorate is anti-incumbent rather than anti-ineffective. So he's designed for the moment to exempt himself from that incumbency by having an ambivalent relationship with his own party.
He has also pushed for things that many parts of the traditional Democratic coalition do not support. Like more charter schools, which use public money to support schools that "succeed" because they cherry-pick the kids who can succeed and leave the tough cases to the public schools. Stacking the deck has always increased the odds of success in your favor.  
When David Paterson was still running for reelection, he decided the only way he could get reelected was to run against his own Democratic legislators. To some degree-- for the moment?-- Andrew has charted the same kind of course. 
Given the situation with Paterson, Andrew Cuomo’s popularity as AG has been a godsend for Democrats. He has been a fine AG, continuing the broad view of the office begun by Democratic AG Bob Abrams in the '90s, and the driven, aggressive and principled voice of Eliot Spitzer when he was the best AG in America.

Democrats have been hoping to use that to help elect Democrats all up and down the ballot. It is crucial in this cycle to not only help the Senate stay Democratic but to enlarge its majority. Had a larger Democratic majority been elected in 2008, the June 2009 coup, the one that put the Senate's competence and "corruption" on display, would never have happened.
If Andrew Cuomo continues to run against his own party, it would make winning more seats in the Senate much harder. Many thought that triangulation was a '90s tactic, not one for the new millennium. 
Andrew Cuomo’s choice as lieutenant governor, Pat Duffy (the new Democratic mayor of Rochester), a former policeman and a former Republican, is very popular in his own hometown. Although a longer Democrat than Kathleen Rice, she has found success in Nassau County, traditionally a bastion of Al D’Amato Republicanism. Duffy is pretty new to political life, and that is supposedly a valuable commodity in this election year. 
The Attorney General's race is the one to watch
There are five candidates running for an office that wasn’t technically vacant until Andrew declared for the governorship. (Liz Holtzman’s candidacy wavered in the interim.)
The five candidates are:

State Senator Eric Schneiderman is a progressive voice on many issues. This session, with Eric as chairman, the Codes Committee finally dealt with the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. In office since 1998, he was such a thorn in the side of the Republican majority that they not only redistricted him into a neighborhood he wasn't supposed to win, but they literally denied him pencils and paper for his office. As the only candidate from New York City, he may have an advantage, because NYC provides more than half the vote in any statewide Democratic primary.
Richard Brodsky is another assertive liberal. He has gone after the MTA on their budget. He is the author of the broadband extension and Net Neutrality bill in the Assembly. He ran in 2006, but quit the race to donate a kidney to his sick daughter. Brodsky is from Westchester County, which has been trending Democratic until the 2009 local elections, when there were setbacks in suburban races.
Sean Coffey is a tall man with an engaging personal story and a charismatic speaking style. He's trial lawyer, with that kind of presence, and seemingly on the good side of litigation. He was the lead attorney (according to his stump speech) in the WorldCom case. He got money back for the shareholders and himself. He will self-fund. He has never held office... but he has expressed himself in a populist manner.

Eric DiNallo has the distinction of having been in Eliot Spitzer's AG office. Di Nallo's claim to fame was that he brought up the Martin Act, a 1921 law that gives the attorney general extraordinary powers to fight financial crimes traditionally regarded as federal matters. Eliot Spitzer used the Martin Act to do what the Bush SEC and DOJ wouldn't do. He's the ex-insurance commissioner of NY.
D.A. Kathleen Rice of Nassau County was enthusiastically supported in her 2005 race for against 31-year anti-choice incumbent D.A. Dennis Dillon, and by winning made a lot of friends. She was reelected by a large margin in 2009, a bad year for Democrats on Long Island. Tom Suozzi, Nassau County chair, lost. She sees her D.A. role as a model for her AG. role: a crime fighter. She has a less expansive view of the office than Schneiderman, Di Nallo and Brodsky. Rice is, however, Andrew Cuomo's candidate in the race. It was a whisper campaign that just before the convention became very loud. 

Initially it was planned to have Rice box out every other nominee by getting 51%. But the day before the convention it was decided that the party would place all five candidates on the ballot by the Party, sparing them having to go the expensive petition route. It had begun to look bad that the gubernatorial nominee was trying to control who the Attorney General was going to be. The AG is an office that is supposed to be independent. Even Eliot Spitzer did not intervene in the AG race in 2006.
Third-party endorsements in the general election: What will happen to/with the Working Families Party? 
NY has third parties, but it also has cross-endorsements. Third parties can endorse the nominee of the larger parties. The crucial number here is 50,000 votes. In order for a party to maintain its ballot line all over the state for the next four years, it has to get 50,000 votes for governor in a gubernatorial year.
Theoretically, the Conservative Party could endorse anyone, but they usually endorse the Republican, thereby pulling the Republican Party even further to the right.
The Independence Party has a very checkered history, and no ideology to speak of-- at the moment it is the personal province of billionaire Tom Golisano. Andrew Cuomo has already accepted their nomination through their executive committee, even though the party's actions in financial matters are under investigation by the NY County DA, Cy Vance.
The Working Families Party (WFP) was founded as a representative of those elements in the Democratic Party that are progressive-- like the unions, from the SEIU to the teachers' union and others.
Andrew Cuomo has not yet said he would accept the WFP's endorsemen. He ran on their line in the 2006 election, but this year he is pushing the unions close to the WFP in terms of the budget. While he has not stumped against them-- yet-- he may be using them as a foil. He is expecting other Democrats to fall in line with his agenda, a "do it my way or get out of the way" stance. He has said that there is some concern with the investigation of the WFP by the U.S. Attorney, but of course the Independence Party is also being investigated.
Staying in the cocoon of the AG's office allowed Andrew to emerge fully formed. It had the added benefit to him that it did not give any hint to either the press or the party to actually know what his postions are on important matters confronting the party and the state. He was anointed long ago as the electoral savior, but it turns out nobody knew what his plans for governing the state are.
If Andrew doesn't take the WFP's endorsement, and they can't find someone with enough name ID to get 50,000 votes, they are dead. Why would the future Democratic governor of NY countenance that? Son of a liberal icon. Some wonder if it's just political pressure, or whether it fits into a longer agenda to go toward the so-called middle of the political spectrum.

There is some speculation that Andrew would agree to take the WFP line if they endorse Rice or at least don't endorse Eric Scneiderman, whom everyone thinks has the inside track. It's a terrible dilemma for the WFP: extinction, or not helping a real friend and supporter win.

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