As this newspaper went to press Nov. 3, Governor Cuomo appeared on his way to an easy re-election despite the Federal investigation into his administration’s handling of the anti-corruption Moreland Commission and a lack of public-employee-union endorsements that was notable for a New York Democratic incumbent.
His lead in the polls over Republican challenger Rob Astorino, the Westchester County Executive, has never dipped below 20 percent and climbed above 25 percent in two recent polls. A Marist College survey released Oct. 31 showed him with 56 percent of the vote to 30 percent for Mr. Astorino, with Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins a distant third with 7 percent.
The lack of closeness in the contest has led to it drawing less focus among political professionals than the battle for control of the State Senate, which currently is governed by a coalition of Republicans, five breakaway Democrats and another Democrat, Simcha Felder, who made clear when he was elected two years ago that he would caucus with whichever party offered the most help for his Brooklyn district.
Friendly to Republicans
The Governor had previously made clear he was comfortable dealing with Republican Senators, who briefly regained control of the State Legislature’s upper house in the same 2010 election in which he was elected due to a backlash against a Democratic majority that had been tarnished by several corruption scandals involving its leaders and the bolting of two of the corrupt Senators to side with GOP members in June 2009 that created a month-long stalemate at a point when most legislative business normally gets resolved.
The squandering of Democrats’ brief moment as the majority party after 45 years of Republican leadership also propelled what were originally four party members to leave its caucus to form the Independent Democratic Conference in the wake of the 2012 election, which had appeared to give the party a tenuous one-vote majority as Mr. Felder sought to make his own deal. The decision of those Senators to form an alliance with Republicans that gave them joint power over the Senate infuriated other Democrats and led to primary challenges earlier this year to the IDC’s leader, Jeffrey D. Klein, and Tony Avella, who had become the fifth member of the conference. The IDC members mollified many of their colleagues by pledging that if Democrats gained a clear majority in this election, they would return to the fold, and Mr. Klein easily won a primary against Oliver Koppell while Mr. Avella prevailed in a tougher battle with former City Comptroller John C. Liu, who had the backing of numerous city unions.
Hasn’t Really Worked
Mr. Cuomo pledged that he would campaign for Democratic Senate candidates to help the party regain the majority as one of the conditions the Working Families Party insisted on before giving him its endorsement. He has not been nearly as conspicuous on the stump for those candidates, however, as Mayor de Blasio—who has had two key staff members take leaves from their City Hall jobs to assist in the push—and Zephyr Teachout, who mounted a spirited challenge in the primary to Mr. Cuomo after he wrested the WFP nomination from her.
The Governor has been shadowed during the campaign by the perception that he went back on campaign promises to reform government for the sake of political expediency, with one notable example coming at unions’ expense.
In March 2012, seeking to push through a bill imposing a less-generous Tier 6 pension program for new state and municipal workers, he secured the needed votes by promising legislators that he would not pursue his campaign goal of creating an independent redistricting commission that would end the practice of them drawing their own districts in such a way that they virtually guaranteed themselves re-election.
Last year, when legislators balked at his efforts to make good on another pledge during his 2010 run to implement public financing of state campaigns, he created a Moreland Commission to investigate possible corruption in state government. While he insisted it would have the independence to go wherever the whiff of wrongdoing took it, including his own office, the Daily News late last year reported on alleged attempts by aides to the Governor to limit its scope and steer away from groups and individuals with whom he was allied.
Shutdown Stirs Bharara
Eight months ago, as part of a deal on a state budget for the fiscal year that began April 1, he disbanded the commission, which was supposed to continue operations through the end of this year, saying legislators had satisfied his objective by agreeing to the start of a public campaign-financing program, although it was confined to the race for State Comptroller.
When good-government groups protested his action, Mr. Cuomo responded that since he had created the commission, he retained the discretion to discontinue it. But U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has played a key role in exposing and prosecuting corruption by a gaggle of Albany lawmakers, took exception and subpoenaed the commission’s files and took control of the investigations it had begun. After a New York Times article in July provided greater detail than the News had about the ways in which aides to Mr. Cuomo had sought to influence the panel’s work, one of the commissioners—who last year had issued an e-mail bristling at what he felt was unwarranted interference—stepped forward to insist he never felt constrained by the Governor or his aides.
It soon was revealed that he and other members of the panel had been approached by Mr. Cuomo’s longtime aide and campaign manager, Joseph Percoco, soliciting testimonials from them that they had been free to make their own decisions about what the panel should investigate. That prompted Mr. Bharara to angrily warn that he would prosecute anyone who had a role in tampering with potential witnesses or obstructing his investigation.
Astorino Got No Traction
Mr. Astorino has tried to use the publicity about the Governor’s handling of the commission to his advantage in both TV ads and in their one debate, when he infuriated Mr. Cuomo by claiming that it was possible that he would be indicted at some point after the election.
But while the Moreland Commission’s handling may account in part for the Governor’s low job-approval rating—Marist found that 44 percent of those surveyed disapproved of his performance—it has not had a dramatic impact on the contest. Mr. Astorino suffers from both lack of recognition—27 percent of those surveyed did not know enough about him to have a solid opinion about his candidacy—and a low approval rating among likely voters who were familiar with him. He has been hamstrung on the campaign trail by his low standing in the polls, which has led some traditional Republican donors to shun him, or even worse, give money to Mr. Cuomo.
The head of the Republican Governors Association, Chris Christie of New Jersey, publicly declared his candidacy a lost cause, and has been friendly enough with Mr. Cuomo to prompt speculation that they have a secret non-aggression pact that goes back to the lack of criticism from his New York counterpart of his administration’s attempts last year to tie up traffic on the George Washington Bridge for four days to punish a Democratic officeholder who refused to endorse Mr. Christie’s re-election bid.
The Marist poll indicated, however, that while voters strongly favor giving Mr. Cuomo another term, they don’t want it to be a springboard for a White House run: 67 percent of them, including 61 percent of Democrats, said they did not want him to run for President in 2016.
Punishing the Unions
The Governor has antagonized state-employee unions by forcing their members to bear much of the burden for wiping out the $10-billion budget deficit he faced upon taking office in 2011. He used the threat of 9,800 layoffs to prod union leaders into accepting contracts that featured three-year wage freezes and major increases in employee contributions to their health-care costs. Yet the two-largest of those unions have remained neutral in this contest, although the Public Employees Federation backed Ms. Teachout against him in the primary. The Civil Service Employees Association last week attacked Mr. Astorino over what it considers his anti-labor actions in Westchester.
Mr. Cuomo has also stirred the wrath of the state’s Teacher unions. Back in March, he took part in a pro-charter rally organized by Eva Moskowitz, the former City Council Member whose relationship with the United Federation of Teachers over the past decade would be politely described as poisonous. And last week he told the Daily News editorial board that he wanted to encourage the growth of charter schools as a counterweight to the last “public monopoly,” which the unions saw as an attack on their influence in the public schools. But the UFT and its state counterpart, New York State United Teachers, have remained neutral in the contest, and the UFT was one of the key unions behind the decision of the WFP to give Mr. Cuomo the ballot line it had been considering extending to Ms. Teachout for much of the spring.
One carefully watched aspect of the vote will be whether the party gets the 50,000 votes on its line for Mr. Cuomo, which it needs to retain the ballot line in the next election. The Governor has been urging voters who choose him to use the alternate party line he created, the Women’s Equality Party, if they don’t cast ballots for him as a Democrat.
Neither of the other two statewide races on the ballots appears to be particularly close, with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman holding a double-digit lead over challenger Tom Cahill, and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli swamping his Republican challenger, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci.
Besides the battle for control of the State Senate, in which Republicans last week appeared to be holding a slight edge based on polls for several key contests, the other race of interest involves the congressional seat representing Staten Island and a slice of western Brooklyn that is held by Michael Grimm, who is under indictment for alleged fraud committed in his operation of a restaurant but opened a clear lead in a poll last week. He is being challenged by former City Council Finance Chairman Dominick Recchia, who looms as an underdog because he is a Brooklyn Democrat seeking a seat long held by Staten Island Republicans.