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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s last act


Like Vaudeville’s great performers, the Empire State’s lead actor took the stage last week amidst navy blue curtains and precisely draped flags. An emblazoned golden seal ensures all eyes are on the set. The supporting cast awaits. They’ve rehearsed the script, and sit poised to sing the chorus in unison from behind their cardboard nameplates.

The governor is playing the part of a liberal, convincing the audience that he’s been a champion of progressive causes.

{mosads}If the audience had any doubts of the lead’s sincerity, the scene’s theme is written on a placard in front of his microphone, and duplicated on a pair of televisions above the cast’s heads. It reads, “New York Stands With Immigrants,” and it’s just one of many designed to make the case for Cuomo as a progressive leader.

Whether its trumpeting progressive talking points in Brooklyn or unveiling a grant program in Buffalo, the stage, the sequence, the props, and the smoke and mirror illusions of grand announcements are all the same. There are sporadic costume changes into casual windbreakers, and on occasions when math and statistics are required, the TVs are equipped with PowerPoint. This type of press conference has long been the norm for Andrew Cuomo; but since Cynthia Nixon entered the race for governor, the tempo of these comedic operas has gone from adagio to allegro.  

Driving this motivation is the growing accolades the actress and activist has received from the state’s liberal critics. Most notably, the Working Families Party — the apparatchik of New York’s left wing — has endorsed the Nixon over the incumbent, citing Cuomo’s not-so-progressive record as the cause. This almost ensures Nixon will be on the ballot not only in the September primary, but also in November; possibly serving as a spoiler for Republican Marc Molinaro, whom I have endorsed.

In 2014, Cuomo’s primary opponent leveled many of the same charges, but he had much higher ratings going into the race. Fifty-seven percent of New Yorkers had a favorable view of Cuomo in a Siena poll from April of 2014; this month, the same survey has him down to just 49 percent, while Nixon gains ground.

Cuomo is facing all of the standard problems generations of Albany politicians have faced before: 1) Morally superior rhetoric on ethics as corruption convictions rack up on his top aide; 2) Old fashioned apparent pay-to-play; and 3) Out-of-control tax and spend policies causing people to flee.  

He has weathered these bad reviews and the audience never caused him to blink, let alone show stage fright. Until now.

Cuomo has tried to maintain an ability to adapt to every political scene. His first term was marked by Clintonian centrism, trying equally to appeal to the two distinct populations of New York: its rural upstate, and its urban liberals.  As a result, some of his biggest flops were comedies: There was the one where he dressed up as a fiscal conservative, and its sequel when he tried to save the upstate economy.

His real problem is with New York’s progressives. As the Democratic Party moves left, the governor is increasingly being exposed as a recovering moderate.

Thus began Andrew Cuomo’s latest show; scheduled to run until the Democratic primary election Tuesday, September 13.

His first act was entitled “Victory for New York Families,” and heralded the state’s adoption of a $15 minimum wage; yet nowhere in the script was any mention of Cuomo’s flip-flop on the issue, once calling a quick raise “chaotic.”

In a second act, Cuomo was joined by a familiar cast of Democrats, running through their “best-of” list of Trump bashing and GOP blaming.  However, at no point during the “NY Stands with Puerto Rico” episode do any of the characters acknowledge their own failures after Superstorm Sandy. The governor railed against the federal response to Hurricane Maria, but ignores his own power restoration and resiliency challenges on Long Island; the fact that thousands of New Yorkers were still not in their homes five years later; and that some of the needed M.T.A. repairs have yet to begin.

Sandy wasn’t the only thing Governor Cuomo appears to have forgotten about from his first term.  After campaigning against medical marijuana and warning of its “dangers” in 2010, he had a change of heart just before the Democratic primary in 2014 at a press conference dubbed “Providing Relief.”  Now four years later and facing another reelection, we’re all in for a remake. Coinciding with his need to move left, he claims to be reconsidering his position on recreational marijuana, just a year after telling Politico he was opposed to the “gateway drug.”

In another recent episode, Cuomo reminded us that “New York Stands with Labor,” despite the fact that some of the same labor leaders on stage had previously made the governor their punching bag. This approach marked change from his 2010 approach, which then headlined as “Cuomo vows offensive against unions as Governor.”

The governor has also tried to play the role of an environmentalist; but his green suit was ill-fitting. Despite a cameo by Al Gore, most progressives don’t buy his act that he’s “Leading the Way on Climate Change.” It’s hard for them to forget that he opposed a plastic bag ban just 14 months before he proposed — with standard Cuomo fanfare — a plastic bag ban.

Pomp and pageantry are the governor’s hallmarks (he hired a jazz band to trumpet his opening of a subway station). But Cuomo is still not going to win any daytime Emmys for his performance as a progressive; he’s simply unconvincing. Nonetheless, New York audiences should expect should expect a steady run of this show until the September primary, and perhaps beyond to 2020 when it tours all the major cities.

Joseph Borelli is the minority whip of the New York City Council, Republican commentator, professor and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance. He has also been published in the NY Daily News and Washington Times and appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN and HLN. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC

Tags Al Gore Andrew Cuomo Cuomo Cuomo family Cynthia Nixon Mario Cuomo Working Families Party

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