Unleashing Cuomo

David Paterson has not had a good time since becoming governor a year and a half ago (article dated September, 2009). He has not engaged in a war on civil liberties and the rule of law in the way that Eliot Spitzer did. It is more a matter of competence. There have certainly been question marks over his integrity – the expenses claims to fund his extra-marital liaisons were a little embarrassing. Overall, though, Paterson’s weakness has been the feeling that he only became governor by accident and is totally out of his depth.

Paterson claims that criticism of him is motivated by racism. That seems unlikely. It is the last refuge of someone who has already lost the argument to resort to cheap abuse of his opponents. Indeed, Paterson’s ethnicity is propping up his crumbling chances of getting to defend his governorship in next year’s election.

For Democrats, the reasoning is clear. Paterson would get thumped in an election by Rudy Giuliani. He is running even with the relatively low profile, but charismatic, Rick Lazio. Since Lazio is almost unknown, he would be likely to gain ground during an election campaign, especially if the wind is behind Republican candidates in 2010, something that is starting to look likely.

By contrast, Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo currently leads Giuliani in the polls. The case for dumping Paterson and replacing him with Cuomo must seem strong to Democratic strategists. New York is the only one of the four largest states that currently has a Democratic governor, and they are by no means assured of gains in the other states. Also, a resounding defeat in the gubernatorial election could bring a coat-tails effect to the Congressional and state legislature elections in the same year. US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is already looking vulnerable. If she has to sit down-ticket of Paterson she could very easily lose.

Cuomo’s problem is with African American voters. He sought the governorship once before, fighting Carl McCall in the Democratic primary. McCall was the first heavyweight black candidate to seek the governorship, and his close ally, Rep Charles Rangel, implied he might not endorse Cuomo’s candidacy if Cuomo won the primary. In the event, Cuomo withdrew his candidacy, but McCall was trounced in the election by George Pataki.
It remains the case, of course, that New York has never elected a black governor. It twice elected McCall to the Comptroller’s office and once elected Paterson as Lt. Governor, a gubernatorial election, if not the governor’s office, has proved elusive. If Cuomo were to challenge Paterson in the Democratic primary it would be his second battle against a black primary opponent. Rangel, a close ally of Paterson’s, as well as McCall’s, would be unlikely to stay silent. If Cuomo won the nomination, but black voters stayed at home on election day, he would lose the general.

President Obama’s apparent intervention in the race, therefore, is significant. Cuomo might feel able to challenge New York’s first black governor if he has the blessing of the country’s first black president to do so. And the White House wants to keep Albany in Democratic hands. While there is a strong chance Democrats will regain the governorship of California, it is not certain. Republicans will hold Texas and, likely, Florida. Democrats are sure to lose Michigan and under pressure in Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania. New York is the party’s best hope for keeping a big state.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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