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How two New York rivals can capitalize on Cuomo’s bad 2018

How two New York rivals can capitalize on Cuomo’s bad 2018
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In handicapping the Democrats’ field in 2020, it is impossible not to include New York’s Andrew Cuomo among the top contenders.  He governs a large blue state with many delegates and influential superdelegates, has a fundraising prowess on both coasts, touts his progressive values with gusto, and, in a party that loves star power, has a harem of hip celebrity friends he can conjure at a moments notice.

Unfortunately, the biggest antagonist of #Cuomo2020 and his well-manicured national reputation is #Cuomo2018, as the governor is about to embark on a tumultuous re-election year and face attacks from the right and left.  

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First, he’ll likely face a challenge in a Democratic primary.  New York governors essentially reign over two ideologically different states: liberal New York City, and rural, conservative, Upstate.  As a result, Cuomo will be knocked for “talking the progressive talk,” but not always “walking the progressive walk,” especially when it’s clear that he’s responsible for Republicans maintaining control in the State Senate.

As he endeavors to grow his national profile, his Republican opponent will use the opportunities to expose his weaknesses for all to see.  Cuomo will rail at the GOP tax plan, while his challenger is on cable news pointing out the mass taxpayer emigration that already happened under his watch.  Soon, all of America will be familiar with his economic development flops: a “Shark Tank” charade grant competition; and a jobs scheme that created just 408 jobs in two years while spending $50 million.

New Yorkers will be spending their morning commutes watching all this play out as they wait for late trains to roll through crumbling subway tunnels. Last New Year’s Eve, Cuomo made it know who was the boss of the MTA, hiring a brass band to trumpet his role in delivering an over-budget and late subway line. This winter, the Cuomo train has left the station as he shirked blame, ducked reporters, and passed the buck on why the city’s transit infrastructure he is responsible for has failed.

If that wasn’t enough, the tabloids will be full of sensational stories of corruption within Cuomo’s administration as his right-hand man faces bribery charges, and a series of trials involving the governor’s signature “Buffalo Billion” program.

So whose stock could rise as the governor’s drops?

Bill de Blasio

Traditionally, New Yorkers love their pizza and loathe their mayor, and Bill de Blasio is no exception.  But after a strong finish in his re-election battle last year, there can be no doubt that the mayor will be eager to hit the Sunday show circuit and use his platform to move the Democratic Party further to the left.

De Blasio envisions himself carrying the baton of progressivism forward through the next decade. It doesn’t hurt that Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Why does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Congress can protect sacred Oak Flat in Arizona from mining project MORE (I-Vt.) just swore him in to his second term, and nor is it bad that he’s been direct in his criticism of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Republican legislators target private sector election grants How Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 MORE, channeling much of what rank-and-file politicians have long thought, but afraid to say.

Still, the broader Democratic establishment seems to dislike him, a lot; and some of it may be his own doing.  He can come off as ivory-tower preachy, his critics call it condescending; and as Democrats fight for their own voice in the era of Trump, they despise getting a lecture.   

Bill de Blasio will struggle to hide a smile every time Cuomo stubs his toe this election cycle. Yet if he wants to capitalize on the governor’s pain, he should consider using 2018 as a moment of personal rebranding.  

He is the true progressive… we get it.  Beyond that, he should look at how the stars aligned to give his two predecessors their national profile.  For both, it stemmed from a well-known narrative of how they changed the city for the better and in-line with their broader political beliefs.  For Giuliani, think crime; for Bloomberg, think the economy and environment.  Being a little more scrappy on local issues and a little more savvy telling the story could boost de Blasio’s chances of finding a date to the 2020 dance.

Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandJon Stewart accuses VA of being 'an obstacle' to burn pits medical care Family policy that could appeal to the right and the left 2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet MORE

Backbenching in the shadows of Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHolder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda Rep. Andy Kim on Asian hate: 'I've never felt this level of fear' MORE (D-N.Y.) has its benefits: it’s kept Republican attack dogs off her back, and let her fly relatively under the media radar for seven years, limiting her exposure to puffy profiles in Vogue, et al.  

All that changed this fall, as major newspapers from the East coast, West coast and in between were all forced to ask, “Who is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)?”

What’s her voting record? What is her top issue, her major legislation, etc.? Who cares? She is the soup du jour, the next leader of the Democratic Party, whose “moment has arrived.”

She stepped into the media spotlight and won praise from the rank and file in late 2017, as she was one of the first critics of Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart Franken#MeWho? The hypocritical silence of Kamala Harris The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate Dems face unity test; Tanden nomination falls Gillibrand: Cuomo allegations 'completely unacceptable' MORE (D-Minn.), and said Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonA leadership menagerie of metaphorical scapegoats How Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 Biden is thinking about building that wall — and that's a good thing MORE should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair.  

Yet perhaps nothing catapulted her to the head of the Democratic table as earning the gold medal of progressive politics, a coveted Trump-attack tweet, which came in December after she had demanded his resignation.  

All this has enhanced her profile, but the real test of politics of one’s ability to attract voters. Conveniently, Gillibrand is on the same ballot, on the same day, in the same state as Andrew Cuomo.  If each garners roughly the same percentage as their last outing, a 20-point win by the senator, especially if she bests him in precincts both in progressive Brooklyn and the rust belt towns of Western New York, she would be the talk of the Empire State and jump ahead of the governor nationally.

Joseph Borelli is a New York City council member, 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 has appeared on CNN, Fox News, and BBC. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC