Andrew Cuomo is Not Your Savior
If Cuomo is the failsafe, Democrats may be worse off than we thought.
Bernie Sanders is down 300 delegates. Joe Biden is stuck at home trying to learn how to open PDF. It’s likely that there won’t be another primary contest until May, at the earliest. The Democratic Primary, like the rest of the country, is caught in an unprecedented dilemma. Is it over? Will any of the 23 states yet to vote have a chance to have their say in the primary? We’ll return to that in a bit. In the meantime, in the midst of the chaos, there’s been one name on everyone’s lips, a man who’s been showing extraordinary leadership in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. He’s been on TV nearly every day, and been receiving more media coverage than either of the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination. The flavor of the month: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In some ways, in the age of streaming and digital news, what Cuomo’s been able to do is extraordinary: With his daily updates on the state of the state, Cuomo has garnered a captive audience that has viewers statewide tuning in, eyes glues to the television, as Cuomo delivers the facts, the plans, his opinions and medical advice from New York state’s top medical authorities. Cuomo’s daily conferences have garnered him a national profile as a steady and tough executive working hard and smartly in the epicenter of the pandemic outbreak.
Now, why exactly is this relevant to the 2020 race? It may well not be, and quarantine may have given us all cabin fever, but consider this: Biden, the presumptive nominee, has largely been nowhere to be seen over the past week, and we have no idea if the primary will have a normal or legitimate conclusion, given that at least a dozen states have postponed their primaries, with several more considering doing the same. The rest of the primaries may be conducted strictly through mail in ballots, some of the states may face delegate penalties for holding their primary outside of the designated window set up by the DNC, and some of them are in complete limbo. For example, on March 28th, Governor Cuomo officially moved the New York primary to June 23rd- I think that’s a smart decision, as holding the primary on the original April 28 date would put millions of New Yorkers at risk. However, Tom Perez has warned that states that hold primaries outside of the primary window (ending the first week of June) may face delegate penalties at the DNC in July. Much like the rest of the DNC’s rulebook, there is not much clarity as to what a “delegate penalty” entails. There is either an end to the primary on the horizon, or we’re standing on the horizon right now.
The discussion around Biden’s cognitive ability is a touchy one, although, if we’re going to be electing the leader of the free world in November, it’s one we’re going to have to have. It’s not a stretch to say that over the past few years, Biden has lost a step, and any side by side with 2015 Biden with 2019 Biden makes that clear. If, and again, we’re getting into hypotheticals here, so it’s a big if, Biden’s cognitive decline (as well as newly a unearthed sexual assault allegation, which has been strangely ignored by the mainstream media) becomes an unavoidable problem for the Democrats, there may need to be a plan to gently nudge him to the side and replace him at the top of the ticket. Will that happen? Probably not. Or maybe it will. We can’t safely predict what will happen in a few hours at this point, so saying with any presumed certainty what will happen in July is pointless.
Perhaps you can see where this is going. The rumor mill has been whirling online that if Biden is replaced at the convention in July, Democrats already have their failsafe, and it’s Cuomo. In this hypothetical situation, the shoe fits: Biden does not have a devoted following like that of a Sanders or a Clinton, and given that polling shows that Democrats’ overwhelming concern in 2020 is getting Trump out of office, it’s possible that Biden’s triumph in the last few weeks of primaries could have been a result of voters hitting the “Default: Generic Democrat” button in the ballot booth rather than vote for a riskier Sanders nomination. If Biden is replaced in Milwaukee, there would probably not be millions of Biden Bros taking to the streets demanding President Joe. If anything, some of the people who voted for him may be a bit relieved.
And why Cuomo? Think of the upsides: weeks of free media painting him as a capable and tough leader, a growing national profile, and no nationally known baggage that would drag him down in a general election. “Electability” is a nebulous term with no real definition, but if you pressed a voter concerned with electability as to what they want, they would probably describe a moderate white man with charisma and strong leadership. Bingo! Cuomo is 15 years younger than Biden at a ripe 62, is about as politically moderate as a New York Democrat can get, and his steady leadership in the face of a global crisis has already impressed some Democratic voters enough that they’re ready to hand him the keys and forget about Iowa through Florida.
So, in this purely hypothetical situation that probably won’t happen but also absolutely could (what better way to describe the last 4 years of American electoral politics?), Cuomo is the nominee and Democrats are saved, right? I’m here to deliver the bad news. Andrew Cuomo is not our savior, and no amount of free airtime will change his anti-labor, pro-business, corrupt record. Let’s dive into the life and record of America’s new crush.
At least Biden has created an pro-labor aesthetic that, while not backed up by any legislative or material evidence, gives him some credence with labor unions and blue collar voters. Cuomo came into office in 2011 with the promise to take on “special interests” in New York that were hurting the state’s economy, which, to him, meant freezing wages and cutting pensions for public sector workers. When the state legislature passed those pension cuts in 2012, Cuomo lamented that the cuts did not go as far as he wanted. Originally, Cuomo had wanted to offer state employees the option to forgo a pension entirely and sign up for a “defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k)”. This part of the deal was dropped, but Cuomo still managed to pass his pension cuts, and got the seal of approval from a man familiar to those following the 2020 Primary: Mike Bloomberg, who lauded Cuomo for not caving to labor unions in trying to save money for the state. According to the New York Times, in 2011, Cuomo threatened the CSEA with layoffs if they did not accept wage and benefit cuts, an effort on Cuomo’s part to, again, save money for the state. Cuomo now boasts that he has a rosy relationship with labor, having received the endorsement of AFL-CIO during his run for a third term, but many teachers, firefighters, police officers and state workers alike remember how Cuomo prioritized their needs in his first two terms.
But, if Cuomo is so intent on saving money, isn’t New York home to one of the most highly concentrated sectors of wealth in the world, Wall Street? Wouldn’t that be a good place to start if you were looking to find money across New York? It’s no secret that Cuomo is very cozy with Wall Street and venture capitalists in New York, having accepted million in donations over the course of his political career, and his ties to power brokers on Wall Street range from immoral to criminal. Just to scratch the surface, former top Cuomo adviser Joseph Percoco was sentenced to six years in prison after accepting over $300,000 in bribes by Competitive Power Ventures and COR for favors in prioritizing their projects in real estate development. Percoco, who had been with the Cuomo family since Andrew’s father, Mario, was Governor, was considered by Andrew to be a third Cuomo brother. A task force set up by Cuomo to investigate corporate corruption in New York State was shut down by Cuomo once they got a little too close to some of his allies- wonder what that’s all about! A pattern began to emerge in Cuomo’s New York that those with money, particularly lobbyists and real estate developers, would have easy access to the Governor. While putting a higher priority on companies who could lend a little financial aid to Cuomo’s allies, industry upstate began to erode and benefits were cut, and the price was paid not by the wealthy, but by public workers and middle class families, who pay some of the highest taxes in the country.
This portrait of Cuomo, as a fiscal conservative who often tussled with labor and has concerning ties with corrupt lobbyists and allies who are now in prison, was pretty well known throughout New York before COVID hit and he became a media darling. However, from a progressive perspective, the prospect of a Cuomo candidacy gets even more harrowing when you delve into exactly how the Governor has dealt with progressive agendas. This article from Sean McElwee, founder of Data for Progress, for the Daily Kos, details perfectly how Cuomo has been, in McElwee’s words, “the single biggest obstacle to moving New York in a progressive direction”. He is against the legalization of marijuana (or at least was, until being primaried hard from the left by Cynthia Nixon), has failed repeatedly at enacting real criminal justice reform, has swept a plan to implement a single payer system in the state under the rug, fought hard against a $15 minimum wage, and is currently trying to cut Medicaid to the tune of $400 million to save the state money during the pandemic. He has refused to implement a rent freeze in New York, where, especially in New York City, tenants pay some of the highest prices for housing in the country, and several hundreds of thousands are newly out of work. One of Cuomo’s primary moves is a bait and switch- he’ll make a promise or suggest that he will pursue some sort of progressive legislation, and then, magically, it will disappear. Just ask the Working Family’s Party.
How would this play electorally? If Cuomo were the nominee, would he not be hit relentlessly by Trump for essentially making hand sanitizer through slave labor in prisons, or return any allegation of corruption against himself with an equal allegation of corruption against Cuomo? Would his history of fighting with labor go down well in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states Democrats badly need to win back in order to win the presidency? As an added bonus, I’m sure that having a nominee whose brother is an anchor for CNN would help strengthen public faith in the media. In the fight against the exploitative wealthy class and the working class, Cuomo has picked his side, and there’s no point in pretending he would be a champion for the people.
One final point, and it’s an important one: New York is short on beds. Really short. The state’s capacity for hospitalization is about to fall short of what is necessary to combat COVID-19, and those who become sick will suffer as a result. Why are we so short on hospital beds? Well, in working with the Berger Commission set up by former Governor Pataki, Cuomo oversaw the closure several public hospitals, most of them in low income neighborhoods (the Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital, Peninsula Hospital Center, The University Hospital of Brooklyn at LIC Hospital, and Sheehan Memorial Hospital alone closed during his first term. Beth Israel at Mount Sinai announced it was closing in 2016.) and was part of a long line of governors who threw out 20,000 hospital beds over the past two decades (Not to mention that before he came to power in 2011, he was the State Attorney General, so he wasn’t exactly absent during the closures that occurred before his tenure as Governor). Many of those former hospitals are now condominiums. Go figure. Go Cuomo!