11/8: Governor Cuomo: Take Two

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

It’s Election Night in New York State.  The winds of change are strong as the Attorney General has just been elected governor by a wide margin.  The promise:  shake up the system and clean up the government.  Of course, the year was 2006 and the newly elected governor was Eliot Spitzer.

miringoff-caricature-430But, the 2006 vote also represented the improbable first step in the political resurrection of Andrew Cuomo.  Cuomo came off the canvass that night, following his political debacle of 2002, and was elected to replace Spitzer as New York’s Attorney General.

Following Spitzer’s abrupt exit in 2008, slightly more than one year into his term, then Lieutenant Governor David Paterson assumed the top position.  But, Paterson’s messy appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the unexpired term of Senator Hilary Clinton, while the economy teetered and the budget gap widened, made his stay in the governor’s mansion short-lived, as well.

How low is low?  Paterson’s approval rating during his time as governor even fell below what Spitzer received during that troubled, sex scandal plagued week that ended in his resignation.  So, Paterson declined to run sparing New Yorkers and Cuomo the unpleasant prospect of a primary.

If ever there was an opportunity for the GOP to make inroads statewide in New York, 2010 was the year.  The winds of change were still blowing strong but, with the Democrats nationally and in New York State as the party in power, the gusts were swirling in the opposite direction.  Voters in New York were experiencing a dual nightmare.  Not only was the economy in dire straits but the state government, often characterized as a circus, was viewed by voters as totally dysfunctional.  Approximately 3 in 4 New York voters thought the state was headed in the wrong direction.  A similar number proclaimed major changes were needed.

Demands for change in New York ironically echoed 1994 when three-term Governor Mario Cuomo was defeated.  It’s easy to see why Andrew Cuomo, despite being the most popular elected statewide official in New York, might have been concerned.  The national GOP tidal wave trickled down to the congressional level in New York but statewide the water still had a decidedly blue tint.

Then, there’s round 3.  Enter Carl Paladino, the baseball bat swinging businessman from upstate.  Imagine, the GOP nominated a candidate who was even less shy than Andrew Cuomo.  Voters quickly found this candidate from Erie County to be, well, let’s say it, eerie.  The emails, the tussle with New York Post legend Fred Dicker, the off-the-cuff and often offensive comments all contributed to voters concluding that Paladino was not fit for state office.

The voters had had enough… a TKO after three rounds.  The winner:  Andrew Cuomo.

This is not to take away from the practically errorless campaign Cuomo ran this election cycle.  As is said, you need to be prepared for luck.  To his credit, Cuomo earned the title of, “The Great, Political Comeback Story of 2010.”

Still, New York voters are dismayed over the condition of the state and its government.  The tasks Cuomo faces as governor are daunting.  Will voters find Andrew Cuomo a tough guy who matches their desire for tough leadership?  Will the direction of the state, long a source of voter angst, reverse itself under Governor Cuomo?  Will Andrew Cuomo reach the levels of popularity enjoyed by his father for much of his years as governor?

Although premature for this “The Son Also Rises” governor, there’s already talk between Albany exits 23 and 24 on the thruway of a possible presidential bid down the road… or, if history beckons this time, down the tarmac.