Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1856 Sun, 15 Jul 2018 22:50:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7649:marc-molinaro-and-the-trump-question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7649:marc-molinaro-and-the-trump-question marc molinaro ggbreakfast

Marc Molinaro, left, and Chris Gibson (photo: @marcmolinaro)


The presumptive Republican nominee for governor of New York did not vote for the Republican president of the United States.

One question Marc Molinaro was asked most often in the early weeks of his campaign to replace Governor Andrew Cuomo is whether he voted for Donald Trump in November 2016.

“I did not, I voted for Chris Gibson,” Molinaro told reporters in Albany on April 2, the day of his official campaign launch, naming the former Congressional representative who is now chair of Molinaro’s gubernatorial campaign. It was the second time that day Molinaro, currently Dutchess County Executive, had been asked the question, the first coming in the village of Tivoli, where he grew up, became mayor at the age of 19, and held his first launch event. Both times he answered quickly, and briefly, ready to move on to the next question.

A follow-up question, though: why didn’t you vote for Trump?

“I had significant differences at the time, I didn't vote for him, I voted for Chris Gibson, who would have made a fine president,” Molinaro said in Tivoli. “And this is what I tell people, and I believe it, for those that admire [Trump], they believe he says it the way he sees it, and so do I, but when he doesn't do what is in the best interest of New Yorkers, and New York families, I’ll say it, and when America and the federal government does something in the best interest of New Yorkers I’ll say it too.”

In several iterations of the same answer over the course of weeks, Molinaro has not explained the “significant differences” he had with Trump that led him to write in Gibson.

Molinaro has mentioned two incidents where Trump has disappointed him since taking office -- the president’s response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and the federal tax overhaul that severely limits state and local deductions -- but has not provided details of his issues with Trump during the campaign. A Molinaro campaign spokesperson said she thought he had been clear in his answers about Trump and did not provide more detail when Gotham Gazette inquired.

The campaign spokesperson also declined to answer repeated questions about who Molinaro voted for during the Republican presidential primary in New York, in April 2016. Gibson, meanwhile, has been a fairly outspoken critic of Trump, though he said he did vote for the Republican nominee over Clinton because he thought Trump was more likely to clean up Washington, D.C. Gibson has told the Albany Times Union, however, that Trump has not lived up to his promise to “drain the swamp.”

In August 2017, Gibson condemned Trump’s “both sides” response to the Charlottesville rally and counter-protest, writing in the Poughkeepsie Journal, “In moments like these, leadership can make all the difference. We were all counting on President Donald Trump to help us understand what happened, condemn by name the racist organizations involved, mourn the losses, and bring us together to heal. He utterly failed us.”

Molinaro’s lukewarm approach to the president does not seem to have had an impact on his ability to garner the support of key New York Republican leaders in his bid to earn the party nomination and take on the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Cuomo is being challenged from the left by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, both painting themselves as essential anti-Trump forces.

The Trump question could continue to prove tricky for Molinaro, who appears to want to discuss virtually anything else. There is no question that his Democratic opponent will attempt to tie him to the president and members of the media will want to know what he thinks of various Trump actions.

On the day Molinaro entered the race, Cuomo said, "They want to run a Trump mini-me in New York -- good luck.”

That same day, Geoff Berman, the executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, released a statement saying, “it's clear that the New York GOP is intent on pushing an ultra-conservative Trump agenda, and a candidate that has the same positions as Trump with a different hair color.”

While he didn’t vote for Trump, Molinaro is loathe to explain why and hesitant to criticize the president. While Trump is deeply unpopular in New York overall, he retains strong support from Republicans in the state (Democrats hold a significant voter enrollment advantage across New York). Trump, a New York City businessman and television star, won 46 of 62 New York counties in his election against former New York Senator Hillary Clinton, though Clinton still won the state handily, 59 to 36.5 percent, thanks to dominating the population centers, including New York City.

A February Quinnipiac poll showed Trump underwater in New York at 30 percent approval and 65 percent disapproval, though it was actually a slight increase in approval for the president. Within those numbers, though, Trump had a 79-15 percent approval rating among Republicans, and a 5-93 percent among Democrats.

It looks as though Molinaro will not be forced into the difficult task of having to hug Trump in a Republican primary to then distance himself in a general election, where he almost certainly will need to win over many independents and some Democrats to win.

The Dutchess County Executive, who has held a handful of different government positions over more than 20 years in elected office, appears to have secured both the Republican and Conservative Party nominations, and their ballot lines in November. Throughout the process of seeking the backing of different county chairs of each of the two parties, Molinaro has had to answer the Trump question in public and in private.

Asked if he supports the president on the Joe Piscopo Show on AM970 radio, Molinaro said, “I support America, and when the president does something good, I’m going to stand up and say it. A lot of people say this about him and that is, he says it the way he sees it, well so do I. So when he does or says something that I can’t stand for, I have to say it as well. I did that when he spoke out, I think inappropriately, after Charlottesville. I didn’t vote for him last November, but my position is that we need America to succeed and we need New York to succeed.”

He then pivoted to criticizing Cuomo, whom Molinaro has repeatedly said “displays the very attributes he demonizes,” as he tweeted recently about Cuomo and Trump, pulling up just shy of criticizing the president while still being able to take a shot at Cuomo as a hypocrite.

Despite his coolness toward the bombastic president, the seemingly even-tempered Molinaro -- who is basing his run in part on the quality of his character, his ethics, values, and willingness to work across the aisle -- has continued to gain support from Trump backers.

“The bottom line is that I would have preferred him to vote for Donald Trump,” said Mike Long, state chair of the Conservative Party. “Marcus Molinaro’s positions on the issues are in sync with conservative Republicans, and therefore I overlooked it.”

Long said he’s spoken with Molinaro about his lack of support for Trump. “What I found out was: number one, father of young children, he at the time, what was going on in the campaign, he wasn’t comfortable voting for Donald Trump, and he felt his vote in New York wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome here,” Long said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

“The meter is different, but on the issues they mostly see eye to eye,” Long said of Trump and Molinaro, who says that as governor he would lower taxes, rein in state spending, return more power to localities, clean up rampant corruption in state government, and improve management at the MTA. While he holds many conservative positions, Molinaro has also expressed some more moderate stances on immigration and campaign finance reform.

“Marcus is refreshing, he’s energetic, and I think he can give New York a fresh start,” Long said. “Some people may be disappointed he didn’t vote for Trump, but they’re not going to vote for Cuomo.”

New York City Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island, was an early endorser of Trump in the presidential race and continues to strongly back the president. He is also vehemently behind Molinaro for governor.

“He is a pragmatic executive, willing to work with all sides, and has a reputation as a problem-solver,” Borelli said in a statement endorsing Molinaro. “Most importantly, he has good character and a strong moral compass that guides his decisions.”

“New York City could benefit from someone like him at the helm of our state,” Borelli also said.

On whether he thinks Trump will be involved in the race personally, Long said he doubts it. “I don’t see the president getting involved at any part of the campaign. I don’t see any need for that happening. The president has his hands full dealing with the anti-Trumpers around the country,” Long said.

“Would he help Marcus? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it’s necessary that the president get involved.”

[Read: In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument]

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question Tue, 01 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified to be Governor? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7631:is-cynthia-nixon-qualified-to-be-governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7631:is-cynthia-nixon-qualified-to-be-governor twitter cynthia nixon1

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)


In 2016, leading up to the presidential election, Democrats criticized Republican candidate Donald Trump’s lack of political and governmental experience while heralding Hillary Clinton’s long career in politics. This year, New York Democrats face a somewhat similar situation within the party given the primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon to incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Since Nixon announced her candidacy in March, questions of qualifications and experience have been raised repeatedly. Is an actor, even a highly-regarded and award-winning one, with a history of political activism qualified to run the third-most populous state in the country with an annual operating budget of nearly $170 billion?

Nixon has never held any elected office or worked in government, though she has been an outspoken advocate on several issues, most frequently public education funding, and an unpaid spokesperson for the Alliance for Quality Education. Meanwhile, Cuomo has been involved in politics most of his adult life and worked in government on and off since joining the Clinton administration in 1993. His father was, of course, governor of New York, from 1983 through 1994, and Andrew Cuomo got his start in politics working to help get Mario Cuomo elected.

Many have quickly asked if New Yorkers, especially Democrats who largely despise Trump, have any appetite for a celebrity candidate for governor. Nixon and her surrogates have said that character and values matter more than government experience, that Cuomo only got into government because of his famous father, and that all of Cuomo’s experience hasn’t resulted in good policy for New Yorkers. Albany needs an outsider, they argue, and virtually all high-level elected Democrats have too much to risk by going after the powerful incumbent governor.

Cuomo and his camp point to his long political resume and record of achievements.

Ultimately it will be up to voters to decide whether Nixon is qualified to be governor, and whether they think she could do a better job than Cuomo.

“The Democratic reaction – revulsion if you will – to Donald Trump, one of the elements, not the only element, is this notion that Trump was entirely unprepared to be president, with no governing experience and that’s showing,” said Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory. “It’s a consistent jab at the eye of Republicans. ‘How could you put forward somebody with no experience?’ Now the question will be, how will Democratic voters react to Nixon on that scale?”

Nixon’s campaign is courting more liberal Democrats who are dissatisfied with Cuomo’s sometimes more centrist policies. She was recently endorsed by the Working Families Party, an influential group of left-wing activists that came close to backing Zephyr Teachout’s primary challenge against Cuomo in 2014 before New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped in and the group ultimately endorsed Cuomo. The WFP will now aim to help Nixon court the more progressive wing of the party, led by advocacy groups but not labor unions, which have largely sided with the incumbent.

Nixon backers, including those in the WFP, are among those being asked the qualifications question.

“Experience can be good,” tweeted WFP Director Bill Lipton. “But character and values: priceless."

As she has done a round of initial interviews, Nixon has been asked several variations of the question about her qualifications and whether, given Trump, anyone should be seeking another “political amateur” or “celebrity candidate.”

“I think first and foremost Donald Trump was real estate developer, and he inherited his money and his company from his father. That could not be more different from me,” Nixon said during a recent appearance on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “I grew up here, in a single bedroom, five-floor walk-up, with a single mom. I went to public school. I started acting when I was twelve, in order to pay for my college, because my family couldn’t afford to.”

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with celebrity in politics,” Nixon continued. “It gives you a platform, but it’s what you choose to do with that platform. Do you choose do give yourself and other one-percenters a massive tax break that they don’t need, or do you choose to advocate for important things that need your voice, like LGBTQ equality, or women’s rights, including women’s right to choose, or better public schools, which I have been advocating for, and fighting for, for the better part of 20 years. I think that’s exactly the kind of progressive resume that a progressive leader of New York should have right now.”

Nixon has previously said that Cuomo was able to become governor because his father had been governor and he had a famous name, a charge the incumbent and his allies pushed back on, pointing to Andrew Cuomo’s experience in the administration of President Bill Clinton and tenure as New York attorney general.

Over the past 80 years, every governor of New York has had some political or government background. Most served in government on the federal level, in the state Legislature, or as state attorney general.

Not only is the governor responsible for outlining and negotiating a state budget every year, but, as the chief executive of the state signs or vetoes bills passed by the Legislature, runs the executive branch of the government that implements laws that pass and oversees local governments, makes appointments to a variety of courts, authorities, and boards, issues pardons, and calls special elections, among other powers.

The governor is also the face and voice of the state in many respects, both formal and informal. By state law, the governor must simply be at least 30 years old, a United States citizen, and a New York resident for at least five years. The governor is elected to a four-year term, and there are no term limits.

Teachout -- a law professor also running without government experience -- was seen by many as a protest candidate with no real chance of winning the 2014 Democratic primary against Cuomo, but ultimately forced him to support more liberal policies and won 34 percent of the vote with limited resources and name recognition. It appears Nixon will have neither of those problems, and she is already polling close to where Teachout finished.

“Obviously Andrew Cuomo starts in a very strong place. He’s been elected statewide three times, he’s got $30 million in the bank, and Democrats like him,” said Steve Greenberg, founder of Greenberg Public Relations. “Nixon has certain challenges. The real tough part for Nixon…is that she has to convince voters who are inclined to like Andrew Cuomo, who do like Andrew Cuomo – she’s got to give them a reason to not like and support Cuomo and come to her side.”

A Siena College poll released April 17 showed Cuomo is favored by 62 percent of Democrats, while 33 percent supported Nixon. Though Nixon may not be a household name like actors-turned-political-candidates Trump or Arnold Schwarzenegger, her celebrity status gives her name recognition, fundraising potential, and widespread media buzz Teachout lacked. But can she translate intrigue into confidence and convince enough voters to believe she is the right person to be the next governor?

“Donald Trump struck a chord with certain voters because of the issues he talked about, whether it was building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it or ‘Lock her up’ or getting us out of TPP, at least for a year. Donald Trump may have been a celebrity, but he talked about issues that appealed to voters,” Greenberg said. “(Nixon’s) been talking about a variety of issues and the question is, are the issues she’s talking about going to break through and motivate people to vote for her and how many people vote for her.”

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, who retired in 2017, was for a time a possible Republican gubernatorial candidate for this year, and now chairs the campaign of Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, the likely GOP nominee. While Gibson had decades of military experience, before running for Congress he had no background in electoral politics before he was elected in 2011.

“I was a soldier for 29 years, so when I was elected to the Congress, I had no political experience,” Gibson said. “So, I think as long as one is committed to listening and learning and committed to service, I think with aptitude you can really make tremendous strides, so I don’t think it’s the case that if you’ve had no experience, you can’t be effective.”

Gibson stressed that a potential candidate with no government experience does face more challenges than those that have some, but with a humble temperament and being a good listener, a candidate can overcome those challenges.

“I think for any leader the most important attribute is being a good listener. If you’re going to be an executive, it’s vitally important to understand the people you’re going to lead and where they’re coming from,” he said. “I think you have to have a real temperament of humility to understand how much you need to learn. I think that’s an important feature here.”

Gibson said he did not know much about Nixon personally, but sees her participation in the gubernatorial election as a positive thing.

“The hallmark of democracy is vibrant debate and I think her being in the race will be a plus for the state, because she’s really going start this debate on what kind of leadership we want going forward and towards that end, I think it will hold Cuomo accountable,” he said.

Nixon has argued that she would govern very differently from Cuomo, whom she and other critics of the governor see as someone more focused on his own power than on being collaborative -- a charge also being made by Republicans like Molinaro. Both Nixon and Molinaro have already sought to portray themselves as in better touch with average New Yorkers than Cuomo.

Some Republicans have pointed to Molinaro’s resume as including a strong blend of legislative and executive experience, with limited time spent in Albany, where he was a member of the state Assembly for a handful of years, that gives him credibility as an outsider who will shake things up in the capital. Nixon has advocacy and organizing experience, but has made her career as an actor, with no formal executive experience, something that other political outsiders running for office, like Trump and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could offer from their business empires.

Along with her advocacy work, Nixon talks up her experiences as a public school parent, regular subway rider, and nearly life-long union member, given the early age at which she began her professional acting career. On her campaign website, Nixon also boasts of her efforts to travel the state and the country pushing elected officials on a variety of issues, and raising money for her favored causes: education equity, LGBTQ rights, and women’s reprodutive freedoms.

She has appeared to acknowledge early in the campaign that she has a lot to learn about issues facing New Yorkers and communities across the vast state, and stressed the importance of listening to people. It is unclear how familiar she is with the details of state government and the nuances of the job she is seeking.

Above all, it seems, Nixon and her supporters are offering her as a candidate with the right values, character, and approach to decision-making.

Generally, Republicans, including those in the Molinaro campaign, have celebrated Nixon’s entrance into the race, believing that it will help their candidate prevail in the general election, either over a battered Cuomo or over Nixon after a shocking primary victory.

“Governor Cuomo’s record of progressive accomplishment is unmatched – from delivering a $15 minimum wage, marriage equality, the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, free college tuition, paid family leave, a record $27 billion in funding for education and sweeping measures to protect new York’s environment,” said campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We’ll put that record up against anyone, anytime.”

Along with some of those policy accomplishments, Cuomo is running on his work as an executive, including what he and supporters have described as getting New York state government functioning again, perhaps best exemplified by Cuomo’s record of overseeing passage of eight straight on-time or nearly on-time budgets -- a break from Albany tradition when the spending plans were at times passed months late.

On the other hand, Cuomo promised to clean up state government and has not been successful in doing so, with a continued parade of ethical and legal violations from those in and around state government, including Cuomo’s former top aide, Joseph Percoco, who was recently convicted of multiple federal corruption charges.

Nixon is not only running on criticism of Cuomo for not instituting sweeping government ethics and campaign finance reforms, but a variety of liberal positions, including the legalization of recreational marijuana and a promise to strengthen rent regulations, increase education funding to poorer school districts, and more.

All political observers Gotham Gazette spoke with stressed that at the end of the day, voters determine their own criteria and Democratic primary voters will decide whether Nixon is qualified to be governor.

“It really is not up to the pundits. It really is not up to the media. It is up to the voters to determine whether a candidate is qualified for the office he or she is running for,” said Greenberg. “Talking heads can say all they want…but voters get to decide.”

***
Ashley Hupfl is a freelance journalist. On Twitter @AshleyHupfl.
@GothamGazette

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified to be Governor? Mon, 23 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Will for Water Contamination Hearings Nearly Vanishes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6299:will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6299:will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal cuomo hoosick

Cuomo tours a water filtration area in Hoosick Falls (photo: Governor's Office)


A number of state legislators once eager to hold hearings into drinking water contamination by a cancer-causing chemical in the small town of Hoosick Falls now seem loathe to even discuss the matter. The change in tune by some seeking to hold the Cuomo administration accountable and ensure a public discussion of the issue appears to have accompanied the passage of the new state budget.

The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, announced in February that hearings would be held into the matter in April. Assemblymember Richard Gottfried of Manhattan, chair of the health committee, and Assemblymember Steve Englebright of Long Island, environment committee chair, were set to oversee them.

Several lawmakers stressed the importance of using the hearings to discuss the state’s decaying water infrastructure and dealing with and preventing the kind of contamination found in Hoosick Falls, a village in Rensselaer County not far from the Vermont border. Others were interested in examining why it took the state a year to warn residents about the safety of their water after being contacted by concerned residents and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The topic of drinking water protection and infrastructure was put forward by some Assembly Democrats and their allies as one of the issues that needed more funding and could be provided for by the millionaire’s tax being proposed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

With the budget resolved at the end of March and April nearing an end, hearings have not been scheduled and lawmakers who were supposed to be involved don’t want to discuss them. The offices of Gottfried and Englebright failed to return inquiries into the status of the hearings. Neither did the offices of Senate health committee Chair Sen. Kamp Hannon of Long Island nor Sen. Kathy Marchione, who represents Hoosick Falls.

A number of legislators and advocates are concerned the hearings were traded away in a budget deal, a concession won by the Cuomo administration. The Hoosick incident has proven embarrassing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his team - the administration was slow to respond and has sought to downplay criticism of how it handled the matter. The Cuomo administration did not respond when Gotham Gazette asked if the governor supports hearings.

Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin, a Republican who represents Hoosick Falls and surrounding areas, originally pressed for hearings and said he is concerned the hearings and, in turn, his constituents were used during budget negotiations. “I told them in February: ‘Don’t use my constituents as leverage,’ and it looks like that is exactly what happened.” McLaughlin said he wouldn’t be surprised to see federal hearings on the matter before the state takes action because Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson represents the area. Gibson’s office did not return an inquiry into whether he would support federal hearings. (Gibson has indicated he exploring a run for Governor in 2018.)

Concerns were raised in 2014 about the possibility of contaminated drinking water leading to increased cancer rates in Hoosick, a town of about 4,000. Emails obtained by The Times Union and Politico New York show that the state Department of Health resisted pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to warn residents about the safety of their water for nearly a year. It wasn’t until December 2015 that the EPA issued a warning to residents notifying them that their drinking water was testing well above acceptable levels of a chemical known as PFOA. The state declared it a disaster area and has since begun installing filters on local wells. Residents, meanwhile, are still scared that they face an increased risk of cancer.

Cuomo has lashed out at the EPA, criticizing the agency for not establishing the amount of PFOA safe to consume over the long-term. "Just pick it, you have the scientists, EPA," Cuomo said on March 14 during his first visit to Hoosick Falls since the water crisis began. "We want a national standard because this shouldn't be a question for anyone.

Cuomo came under considerable criticism for failing to visit the town for months after declaring its water unsafe to drink. Then, his Sunday morning visit was only announced to the press a few hours ahead and local officials were left in the dark.

“If this happened in Westchester there wouldn’t have been any hesitation to hold hearings,” said McLaughlin, who said he plans to press the Assembly to reschedule hearings immediately. “This is just shameful. I may just hold hearings myself. I don’t know who would show, but it can’t be ignored.” McLaughlin said he hasn’t been told directly the hearings are not happening. Heastie’s office did not respond when Gotham Gazette asked if the speaker still supports holding hearings. In February, Heastie’s spokesperson told Politico New York that the Assembly was planning April hearings.

McLaughlin’s counterpart in the Senate, Marchione, is considerably less troubled by a lack of hearings. She told Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Pressroom radio program in February, “We will discuss that [hearings] because whether the state didn’t move quick enough or whether they thought they moved fast enough, sometimes you have to hear from the other perspective why they moved slowly, when did they actually know?”

Marchione told Politico New York last week that she doesn’t want hearings until the Department of Health completes blood testing of Hoosick Falls residents. Her message echoes that of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who said in February he thought hearings should wait until after the problem is fixed. Fixing the problem is more important than figuring out who to blame,” Flanagan told Politico New York.

Flanagan’s office did not return request for comment on whether the majority leader still supports hearings.

McLaughlin said he is dubious of assertions that hearings should not be held while the problem is being solved. “The people of Hoosick Falls deserve clean water, but they also deserve the truth,” McLaughlin said.

Advocates say New York could lead on what has become a national focus by setting new drinking water standards, and holding hearings to examine the events in Hoosick Falls to determine how to best prevent and respond to contamination in other areas of the state.

“There is no doubt government needs to be held accountable,” said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York. Senator Marchione publicly called for hearings and now she says we don't need them. This is very high stakes for her constituents and they will hold her accountable.”

In a March op-ed in The Times Union, Moran’s group wrote that ”Public hearings can also address the root causes behind such contamination: America's broken chemical policy of calling things safe until someone gets sick, and the lack of strong regulations and enough cops on the beat to keep people safe.”

While Moran said she is disappointed by the lack of hearings, she noted that the state budget does include some items that deal with the overall issue of ensuring clean, reliable, and safe drinking water across the state.

“Water safety is definitely something that is in the spotlight because of Flint [Michigan]. It is much more on the minds of New Yorkers,” Moran told Gotham Gazette, with an additional nod to Hoosick Falls. “There are lines in the budget to provide funding to detect water quality and a grant program to help repair aging water infrastructure. More can always be done but it's a positive step.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Will for Water Contamination Hearings Nearly Vanishes Mon, 25 Apr 2016 02:03:03 +0000
Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6274:cuomo-s-2016-wins-shaped-by-progressive-forces-electoral-lessons http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6274:cuomo-s-2016-wins-shaped-by-progressive-forces-electoral-lessons cuomo clinton et al celebrate

Gov. Cuomo celebrates new progressie policies (photo: Don Pollard, Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched himself onto the national political stage this month by orchestrating a budget deal that made New York the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program. With Vice President Joe Biden at his side the governor pushed family leave; weeks later, Cuomo signed the package of “economic justice” legislation at a celebratory rally with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He was subsequently congratulated by President Obama.

All the while, labor union members cheered the governor who had, finally, made their agenda his.

Unlike other major policy wins from earlier in his tenure that sprung the governor into the national spotlight, like marriage equality and gun control, the minimum wage and family leave bills speak directly to socioeconomic issues that some of the state’s liberal base felt Cuomo, a Democrat, had been insensitive to. Cuomo had indeed rejected as flights of fancy those very policies only months before announcing campaigns to support them, first saying that they would be non-starters with Republicans controlling one house of the Legislature, then pursuing them with the intensity Cuomo has given to his must-wins.

Cuomo’s path to his moment as progressive trailblazer on economic issues was a winding one, mystifying some, including those calling political opportunism, while others point to the influence of four powerful figures: Mayor Bill de Blasio, gubernatorial challenger Zephyr Teachout, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Democratic voters who could deliver the governor a third term in 2018.

On the way to a second term, Cuomo found himself in positions generally foreign to him: out-leveraged and outworked. First, Cuomo was humbled by the Working Families Party as it sought a 2014 alternative to a governor many of its members felt had betrayed their union members and progressive mission. Aided by de Blasio and making promises many now feel he did not intend to keep, Cuomo convinced the WFP to call off its third party challenge from Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout.

But then, the unknown, liberal Teachout, took Cuomo on in the Democratic primary, where the incumbent governor lost 30 counties and took home only 60 percent of the vote. Cuomo entered term two significantly weakened.

For Cuomo, known for crippling his rivals and bullying major organizations into submission, these were positions he never wanted to be in again.

It's a situation that insiders, pundits, and elected officials see as having given birth to the 2016 political environment in which Cuomo would fully embrace the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign and launch his own paid family leave push, invoking the name of his recently deceased father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in both efforts. Cuomo traveled the state in an RV plastered with the Fight for $15 slogan, picking up the mantle of an effort led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its labor and liberal allies that Cuomo has often distanced himself from on economic issues.

“The original policy rests with de Blasio,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of a liberal agenda. “The timing coincides with Teachout. But it leads to the governor deciding to tack left.”

Critics, even some supporters, see the governor’s leftward lurch as evidence of political opportunism.

“He doesn't give a damn about getting people out of poverty,” said Ed Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “He cares about his own power. He had to do it to secure his political power, but in the end that kind of governing comes back to bite you.”

Cox is speaking at a time when state Senate Republicans went along with Cuomo’s minimum wage program, albeit a “calibrated” one, as Cuomo called it, where they were able to lengthen and regionalize the phase-in.

Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who has announced an exploratory committee for a 2018 gubernatorial run, also noticed the governor’s very public change of opinion. “You would have to talk to him to understand his motivation, but arguably the most persuasive critic against a $15 minimum wage is Governor Cuomo five minutes ago,” Gibson said.

As Gibson prepares a potential bid to unseat Cuomo, the governor appears to have a clearer picture of the base he needs to withstand such a challenge.

In Spring 2014, heads of the union-backed, left-leaning Working Families Party were ready to hand the powerful incumbent governor their endorsement but they had underestimated rank-and-file party members, activists turned off by what they saw as a fiscally conservative, transactional governor who cozied up to Senate Republicans, tussled with public employees unions, and generally thumbed his nose at the Democratic base.

The governor appeared by video during the WFP convention in late May 2014, acceding to a list of party demands in an endorsement deal brokered by de Blasio. When party members weren’t satisfied Cuomo was forced to follow up with a phone call promising to back a Democratic Senate, a higher minimum wage, and a push to enact the DREAM Act.

Cuomo looked forward to an easy reelection, whether he actually planned to follow through on his pledges to the WFP or not. But Teachout and many in the WFP didn’t get the memo, and the Democratic primary that followed was bruising and embarrassing for Cuomo as his campaign took on a bunker mentality while Teachout worked the base across the state.

“If you needed any more evidence that in New York state leaders of organizations have no control over their followers you just need to look at that situation,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The governor thought he was dealing with an interest group and he had won their support, but a lot of their members weren’t happy with the governor and in fact an awful lot of voters shared their view.”

And what was that view exactly? “People’s lives aren’t good and they want them to be better,” said Sherrill, referring to working class voters.

It was a message that Cuomo appeared slow to pick up on - he backed a variety of wage increases but balked at de Blasio’s plan to raise the minimum wage and allow the city to set its own in February of 2014, saying it would be “chaotic” to have different wages across the state. “God bless them — shoot for the stars,” Cuomo said sarcastically in March, 2015, dismissing the Assembly Democrats’ plan to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. During a public cabinet meeting in February, 2015, Cuomo said the Legislature had “no appetite” for paid family leave.

Cuomo ran in 2010 as a leader who could provide competence to a capital that had seen one gubernatorial term split between Eliot Spitzer’s partisan bickering and scandal and David Paterson’s chaotic tenure characterized by a power struggle in the Senate and more scandal. The state was still reeling from the financial crisis and accustomed to late budgets and tax increases. Cuomo used his first term to prove he had a firm hand on the state’s finances and operations, negotiating tough deals with unions, delivering on-time budgets, instituting a property tax cap, and even delivering on socially liberal policy like marriage equality. But pundits say Cuomo missed a sea change in the electorate.

“There's some academic research that indicates legislators misestimate their constituents’ thinking,” said Sherrill. “They tend to believe they are more conservative than they really are. So when confronted with public opinion from their district they are shocked how further left [constituents] really are. I think that’s what happened to the governor. He had no idea public opinion had shifted the way it had - and it was not just the governor. The good politician that he is, he made a wise strategic adjustment.”

Howie Hawkins, who challenged Cuomo on the Green Party line in both 2010 and 2014, said he agrees with Sherrill. “I generally think constituents are more liberal than their representatives think, and I think the poll in this case being the votes in the primary and general elections showed [Cuomo] his mistake.”

Cuomo’s “adjustment” involved a change in agenda and messaging. Suddenly the governor who was known for dismissing the “poetry” of campaigning that his father so embraced took to the stump using lines from his father’s famous speech from the 1984 Democratic National Convention:

“But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”

The younger Cuomo used the speech excerpt in a television campaign for his wage push, leading to the official Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, launched by Cuomo and labor leaders. The language and imagery mirrored the “Tale of Two Cities” motif de Blasio used for his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Hawkins, who told Gotham Gazette he is prepared to run for Governor again depending on the circumstances, said he doesn’t believe Cuomo has changed his general approach to governing. “I think he’s making gestures, but look at the budget - it is still fiscal austerity, especially cities and towns. There are unfunded mandates and lack of aid from the state, and while he has provided more money for education it is less than the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement,” Hawkins said, referring to the 2006 court decision by which New York City is still owed billions according to advocates. “When [Assembly Speaker Carl] Heastie proposed a slightly progressive income tax he just rejected it. So he is not dealing with basic fiscal structure.”

Hawkins said he believes Cuomo’s action on minimum wage and paid family leave will protect Cuomo from a challenge from inside the Democratic Party if the governor runs for a third term in 2018. Hawkins, who performed best in the Capital Region where Cuomo went to war with public worker unions early in his term, said he isn’t so sure the anger is going to be there again in 2018. “I don’t know that people are going to be that upset with him,” he said.

Cuomo’s Republican opposition sees the governor’s support of the $15 minimum wage as a political calculation designed to undercut his Democratic rival, de Blasio, while boosting his national standing. They imagine the governor has sapped de Blasio’s momentum and hopes to use it to land the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention this year, or perhaps even the Vice Presidency or a major cabinet position.

Political analysts call these scenarios unlikely. Cuomo has gone on the record saying he plans to win and serve a third term as Governor, unless, he says, he keels over from a heart attack induced by the Albany press corp. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

“In 2010 he understood he had to run as a fiscal conservative,” said Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “In 2013 Bill de Blasio wins saying he is the progressive leader of the free world. In 2014 Cuomo’s running in his own primary and he has to beg to get the backing of the Working Families Party and he only gets 60 percent as a sitting Governor in his own party’s primary.”

Cox said that Cuomo slowly began taking on de Blasio’s positions, “just as Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton has done with Bernie Sanders.” And eventually “adopted the SEIU’s ‘Fight for 15’ campaign whole hock” to “avoid insulting his very important constituents in labor.”

Meanwhile, Cox points out that Cuomo made a number of his major policy announcements alongside Vice President Joe Biden, who was very much thought to be a presidential contender at the time.

Cox believes the governor’s minimum wage plan that embraces different phase-ins across the state - in direct contradiction to his previous statement calling such a system “chaotic” - will not only hurt the economy but leave the governor vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Rep. Gibson, the most likely such challenger at this point, said he would have liked to see a less “politicized process” that tied the wage to inflation and focused on growth across the state. “When my dad was out of work it was devastating,” said Gibson. “People want to work. But I believe this wage increase will prevent people from working. It will kill jobs.”

Noting that a number of counties in his Congressional district border other states, Gibson said he believes businesses will soon flee across the border to avoid new mandates. Asked if he would look to slow the increase of the minimum wage should he be elected, Gibson said, “I need to look at any kind of action like that. I think it’s important to listen and to get the facts.”

There are still some Albany observers who believe Cuomo is looking past re-election and is ready to enter the national scene on the back of his victories on minimum wage and paid family leave. Cuomo has embraced the praise of both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who commended the passage of paid family leave. “There’s no doubt he has national ambitions, he wants to win with big numbers and not be embarrassed in his primary,” said Sherrill. “So he is relocating himself, perhaps more to his own feelings or maybe not. It is very difficult, especially with [U.S. Attorney] Preet Bharara watching, to satisfy the Senate Republicans he helped elect and his Democratic base.”

Cuomo remains opposed to tax increases - he beat back an Assembly proposal for a new millionaire’s tax, passed a series of tax cuts this year, and is extremely sensitive to the notion that New York has some of the highest taxes in the nation. But Sherrill believes by being on the forefront of a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave the governor is part of a developing national trend that gets big business to pay without actually raising taxes. The paid family leave program also rests upon employee contributions.

“Cuomo, like his father, supported very big liberal policies that don’t cost money - marriage equality, gun control doesn't cost money,” said Sherrill. “He chalks up these kind of wins in an age where you can’t raise taxes.”

“A substantial number of voters want politicians to make their lives better, but they can't raise taxes,” Sherrill continued, explaining the broader political climate. “At some point the sheer number of voters outweighs the people with lots of money. You can't raise taxes, but you can do other things to make the wealthy pay, like raising the minimum wage. However, a lot of programs de Blasio and Cuomo are advocating are in fact ways to get money into people’s hands while raising the cost on the people who refuse to pay taxes,” said Sherrill. “At some point I think the business community just asks for its taxes to be raised because it will be better for them.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons Tue, 12 Apr 2016 03:52:05 +0000