However the 2012 elections turn out, it's not too soon to be thinking about 2016 - because you know there are politicians already out there making calculations and positioning themselves to be ready. The 22nd Amendment has the effect of making any president who gets reelected a lame duck from day one of their second term - and has everyone thinking about the 'succession'. Both parties have names already on a short list.
For the GOP, the usual practice is to have some foofaraw in the primaries - and then go with the runner-up from 4 years earlier. The Democratic side is usually a little less hierarchal - but there's still a short list of names. Andrew Cuomo, current governor of New York State is on that list. It behooves us therefore, to look at where Cuomo is coming from, and his track record so far. There are indications that a Cuomo run for the White House should give Democrats serious pause.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Andrew Cuomo comes from a distinguished political family - his father Mario Cuomo was governor of New York and Andrew has a lot of practical experience in the nitty-gritty work of campaigning and governing. At one time he was married to Kerry Kennedy; they divorced in 2003 and Cuomo is currently in a relationship with Food Network host Sandra Lee.
He's already run up a record of public service, notably as head of HUD for President Clinton, and as Attorney General for New York State before being elected to the governorship following the fiascos of the Spitzer melt-down and the subsequent Paterson shambles. Of note is the episode of the Gang of Four, a group of Democratic State Senators who wrecked the first Democratic majority in the state senate in years in a grab for personal power. The resulting dysfunction in state government handed control of the senate back to the Republicans and effectively ruined Paterson's ability to run for the governorship in his own right. (Of the gang of four, three have left the senate on various criminal charges and convictions; the fourth, Democrat Ruben Diaz Sr. remains as a staunch opponent of abortion rights and same sex marriage.)
Cuomo's run for the governorship in 2010 was far more successful than his 2002 run, where a gaffe about then governor Pataki hurt him badly with the public, as did his contesting for the nomination with Carl McCall, who was both popular and widely favored. McCall eventually lost and many in the Democratic base (including African Americans) blamed Cuomo for the defeat.
Cuomo's 2010 run was aided by the Republican nomination of Carl Palladino, a tea party candidate who quickly established himself as a bomb-thrower, mud slinger, and overall extremist. (New Scientist has a fascinating footnote on his campaign - he may have tapped a basic human drive to get the nomination - arousing disgust makes people tend to vote conservative.) In any case, Cuomo won the race with 62% of the vote. (The wikipedia map of voting by county shows Cuomo managed to win quite handily in upstate as well as NYC - downstate areas.)
As NYS Attorney General, Cuomo had already racked up some positives with some high-profile activities. He forced universities to stop sending students to 'preferred' lenders for loans which saved them from higher interest rates and generated some rebates. He went after some major ISPs, forcing them to take action against child pornography. He handled a delicate political scandal when it became known that then governor Spitzer had been using the State Police to track movements of then Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who had become notorious for using state helicopters and other state resources for travel, often combing 'official' business with fund-raising activities. Spitzer and Bruno had long been at odds; Troopergate was a serious setback for Spitzer. (Bruno eventually left the State Senate; he's currently facing retrial on corruption charges.) Cuomo forced Spitzer to apologize; but no other penalties were assessed....
Cuomo's election to governorship in 2010 has seen a number of successes. The contrast with Spitzer, Paterson, and Palladino certainly didn't hurt. Cuomo followed up by getting state budgets done without the usual months-long delays the New York State Legislature is notorious for, made serious inroads on the state's budget gap, and was able to get same sex marriage through the legislature. He's managed to avoid bruising fights with the legislature while still getting things done, and has been rewarded with high approval ratings from New York Voters.
A Democratic governor from a Blue state with a solid liberal agenda trophy (same sex marriage) but also with a reputation for fiscal responsibility and high approval ratings would seem to be a natural for a White House run at first glance. But even New Yorkers have some doubts.
At the core, the question is, who is Andrew Cuomo working for?
Every politician makes the calculation "What's good for my base, what's good for me?" in deciding what policies to pursue, what acts to take. Defining those 'goods' (and who the base is) is critical - as is understanding how the politician balances them, because they don't necessarily line up together. When looking at the record, it's also just as important to look at the things not done, the fights not waged, as it is the successes - and the failures. One measure of character after all, is how willing someone is to risk failure, and for what ends. How they cope with failure is another. We need answers to these questions if we are going to evaluate whether or not Andrew Cuomo should be the standard bearer in 2016.
Cuomo's profession is obvious: he's a career politician. With few exceptions, his life has been about serving in government and running for office. That's not a bad thing in and of itself. If there is going to be government, there has to be people willing to serve in it. Cuomo has ambition, he has talent, and it's also the family business. The question is, how much of his motivation is based on a desire to do well for one's self while doing good for the public, and how much of it is driven by the desire for power?
Political dynasties are always problematic for democracies because family connections can offer real advantages to candidates for political office - money, endorsements, favors - that trump real ability or fitness for office. You have only to look at Mitt Romney or George W. Bush to see how toxic the effects can be. (And there's plenty of examples on the Democratic side.) How much of Cuomo's political muscle is based on who he is, versus who he's related to?
It's instructive to look at his actions as governor to date. While he pushed for same sex marriage and got it through the legislature, New York State isn't the hardest place to have done that, and it's not something that would be a big problem for most of his base. On other issues, the record is mixed.
He was able to balance the state budget (mostly) - but he did it by throwing state employee unions under the bus and going after their pensions, along with budget cuts to state programs, education, fee hikes, etc. And while he was doing that, he was strongly resisting a millionaire's tax despite widespread public approval for one.
The fight over state employee pensions in the name of a budget fix is especially nonsensical, in that the proposed changes do nothing to close the gap now - only years down the road. But, it plays well with voters unhappy about taxes and resentful of state workers whose union membership makes them a target because they actually get something out of it. And when it comes to raising the minimum wage in New York State, Cuomo is strangely ambivalent, despite the clout his high ratings should give him. It seems a clear indication Cuomo is primarily a business friendly Democrat, and just who he thinks matters in his base.
Other troubling matters are fights he didn't wage, promises he broke. Cuomo had campaigned on cleaning things up in Albany - not surprising how many scandals have taken place recently. So, despite the wishes of a majority of New Yorkers, it was a surprise when Cuomo signed off on letting the state legislature continue to gerrymander its districts, the only thing keeping Republicans in control of the state senate. (Details here - they are unbelievable. Alan Chartock weighs in with an analysis of Cuomo's rationale.)
Part and parcel of how Cuomo measures up when it comes to taking serious action to make the legislature accountable for the endemic corruption among its members is the latest travesty passing for ethics reform. New York State has long had a reputation for breeding toothless watchdogs when it comes to policing the highest levels of state government, and crafting elaborate loopholes in the regulations; Cuomo has traded political peace for meaningful reform.
Perhaps even more troubling is the growing awareness that the Cuomo administration is obsessive about controlling information; transparency is NOT a hallmark of the state under Andrew Cuomo. State Agencies are now far less able to respond to routine inquiries by the press; the governor's office insists on clearing everything.
The Albany Times Union has been in an escalating battle to obtain what should be public information; Cuomo's people are going all out to restrict access. Of particular interest is exactly what Cuomo did while attorney general during the Troopergate investigation. It's not merely that Cuomo was investigating a sitting Democratic governor and political ally, it's also that he was investigating a political rival, and the way the state uses its police powers through an office Cuomo already had his eyes on. The Times Union's efforts to look at the records from that time are encountering some real resistance.
While the governor took office vowing to run an administration that is "the most transparent and accountable in history," he and his team are noted for their meticulous management of information.The efforts by Cuomo's staff to control access to records has been noted by the NY Times; an editorial makes some critical assessments.
This tendency appears to extend to the Archives. Lacewell, a top deputy to Cuomo at the attorney general's office, removed several documents from the case files after reporters had seen them. She extracted the daily calendars and notebooks of Ellen Biben, who managed the attorney general's Public Integrity Bureau for Cuomo before becoming the state's top ethics watchdog this year, even though many of the items in the schedules appeared to be mundane. Lacewell even pulled a presentation on how to improve traffic on the office's website.
The governor's press secretary, Josh Vlasto, joined Lacewell at the Archives when he and Lacewell were contacted after reporters photocopied some documents that had been authorized for public viewing after Lacewell's initial screening.
We have long experience of seeing Mr. Cuomo — any politician really — try to protect the privacy of internal debates where public policy is created. But the Cuomo inner circle seems determined to write these debates out of history by causing any record of them to disappear instantly and permanently. The governor does not use or encourage e-mail. He and his staff communicate with what they believe are untraceable BlackBerry messages. A new policy essentially describes electronic documents as unworthy of preservation, saying they “are not records and are therefore suitable for immediate destruction.”The Times Union weighs in today.
It was a tumultuous chapter in the state’s recent history: open warfare between a governor and a legislative leader (both soon to be disgraced by other scandals), with multiple investigations — including one by an ambitious attorney general with eyes on the governorship himself. It cries out, even now, for detail.Conclusions
Yet here’s Mr. Cuomo’s office, insisting virtually everything besides already-released press releases or reports is “attorney work product” or protected by attorney-client privilege.
That’s a stretch. These attorneys — Mr. Cuomo and his staff — worked for the public. It’s the client, not the lawyer, that attorney-client privilege is supposed to protect. We don’t hear the public calling for the records of a long-closed investigation to be kept secret.
While 2016 is still four years away, it's clear any consideration of Andrew Cuomo for a run for the White House has to deal with some serious questions. His union bashing and tax policies should be real red flags for anyone concerned about the fate of the middle class, working people, and the vast inequality afflicting this country. The corrosive power of money in politics is destroying our democracy. It's not clear Andrew Cuomo would be on the right side of that issue.
His accommodation with 'politics as usual' when it comes to ethical reform should also be a warning sign. We're already seeing the consequences of 'not looking back' at some truly egregious legal and moral lapses in government. The last thing we need is more of the same.
If the Democratic Party is going to attack a Republican candidate for lying about and concealing records about his taxes, his business career, his role in the Salt Lake City Olympics, and his one term as a state governor, the shoe is definitely going to be on the other foot if Cuomo is the candidate in 2016. That alone should sink a Cuomo run for the Oval Office.