Andrew Cuomo 2020? Democrats should say 'Fugetaboutit'
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Democratic voters have one major takeaway from the 2016 election: avoid anointing flawed candidates with limited progressive values, shaky ethics, and a penchant for scandals.  

That’s why it’s odd that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is being touted as a potential 2020 threat to President Trump.

This month, the governor hoped to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment and emerge as an early frontrunner for the nomination by hiring prominent former Clinton staff and fundraisers, taking well-publicized trips abroad, and asserting himself as a national voice against RyanCare.  

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Granted, Cuomo has a tremendous ability to raise money, stemming from both his father’s legacy and his connections to the Clintons and their donors. Yet beyond this prowess, Cuomo is a vulnerable candidate with a questionable record of progressive success.

 

Cuomo began his governorship with a promise to clean up Albany.  By announcing his campaign at the Tweed Courthouse, (named for the corrupt “Boss” Tweed) he attempted to paint himself in the image of a man on a mission to end corruption in the Empire State.

In that, he failed.  

While other New York Democrats like Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE lamented the loss of Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney who held Albany’s feet to the fire by convicting the state’s most powerful leaders, the governor had reason to remain silent.  

Bharara had Cuomo in his crosshairs, after indictments pierced the highest echelons of the governor’s world, including his enforcer and right-hand-man, Joe Percoco, who was charged with taking more than $300,000 in bribes.

Not just any staffer, Percoco was a trusted confidant since the 1990’s and was someone who Andrew Cuomo referred to as “his father’s third son.”

Given the proximity, it won’t be easy to sweep this under the rug in a 2020 race; nor is it the only problem.

The broad investigation by Bharara’s office also brought charges against another longtime friend, Todd Howe.  Beyond the personal relationship, his alleged crimes transfigure one of Cuomo’s signature initiatives, the “Buffalo Billion,” into the marquee albatross of his second term.

Billed as the salvation of depressed Western New York, the Buffalo Billion sent taxpayer money into the hands of Cuomo donors, with little-to-no benefit to the public.

Bharara also opened an inquiry into the governor’s own “commission to investigate public corruption,” which, in his vintage Cuomo panache, he launched with as much self-congratulatory fanfare as possible.

But when commissioners he appointed began to look at potential wrongdoing in his own administration, Cuomo strong-armed the panel before abruptly disbanding it.    

Not exactly the behavior of a champion of ethics reform, and nor does it end the list.

Watchdog groups and the press had long been critical for recurrent evasions of transparency rules. For example, instead of using emails or standard text messages, the governor used a non-recordable blackberry messenger app to communicate with senior staff.  He’s also known to use obscure state agencies to hide how many people are actually on his Executive Chamber payroll.  

Ethical challenges predate his governorship, going back to his stint at HUD, when he’s alleged to have given a developer a favorable settlement in a kickback investigation in exchange for a lucrative job upon leaving the post.

Disapproving of Cuomo has become a bi-partisan hobby. Both his Republican opponent and Democratic primary challenger held joint press events in 2014 to denounce what they called a “growing corruption crisis.”  

In fact, it’s the ghosts of the 2014 Democratic primary that are more likely to come back to haunt him in 2020 for two reasons: First, because criticisms from the left on his attempts to appease rural conservatives are largely accurate; second, the exposure of his vulnerability from the left forced him into taking positions which may cost him in a general election.

Still, if 2020 is driven by similar issues to those of last year, Cuomo’s biggest liability may be the dismal flop of his economic agenda.  

New York has long been one of the most heavily taxed and over-regulated states, and under Cuomo’s watch, it’s only gotten worse.  It now ranks 49th in the Tax Foundation’s 2017 business climate index.

When the governor first ran, he pledged to turnaround the upstate economy, as the region north of New York City had long mirrored the rust-belt decline of neighboring Ohio and Pennsylvania.  While downstate resurged, this area saw just 10,000 jobs created since the recession, with some areas once known for housing industrial giants continuing to hemorrhage.

To combat this, Cuomo touted his Start-up NY program as a “game-changing” panacea to “supercharge” the economy.  But after creating just 408 jobs in its first two years, the press now calls it “pathetic.”   

As a state audit proved, the most egregious part of StartUp NY wasn’t even its failure. Rather, it was the governor’s $200 million outlay of public money on ads touting the program’s, and his own, success.

Overall, New York is now known for exporting its most valuable resource, its taxpayers.  More middle and upper-middle class earners leave this state than any other, with 2014 seeing a record 126,000 tax filers emigrating.

These aren’t statistics that can win back critical Democrats-turned-Trumpers in the nearby Great Lakes swing states, nor is this the story of someone who’s genuinely comfortable with the revitalized liberal and ideological wing of the party.  

Democrats should pass on a smoke-and-mirrors governor.

Joseph Borelli is a New York City council member, former state legislator, Republican commentator, professor and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance. He has been published in the NY Daily News and appears on CNN, Fox News, and BBC. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CUNY ISLG.


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