Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meet Andrew Cuomo

Name: Andrew Cuomo

Position: Governor of New York since 2010 (reelection in 2014).

Party: Democrat

Age: 55

Approval RatingQuinnipiac polls: Average of 71.2% over the last five polls, covering 8 months.

Career Arc: B.A. Fordham University, J.D. Albany Law School, worked for his dad, Mario, when he was governor.

New York Assistant District Attorney --> law firm --> Founded housing charity group ---> Chairman of the NYC Homeless Commission --> Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton -- > Attorney General of New York --> Governor of New York:

Progressives love him because:

He was utterly masterful in championing and maneuvering a same-sex marriage bill through the state legislature, and has continued to stump for the cause, claiming that until there's marriage equality for everyone in every state, there's no marriage equality for anyone in any state (he's basically the d'Artagnan of gay marriage).

And he had a mock argument with an opponent of gay marriage in an i/view with GQ:

"I mean, you look at the injustice of the issue. [switches voices, mimicking the opposition] "You can't get married if you're gay." Why? "Well, because you're gay." And? "And, well, you can't make babies." That's the argument. Oh, really? So then we should change the law to say, "Only people who can and want to make babies can get married."

He also picked up some big-time cred on gun control during last week's State of the State address (I love that Newsday cleverly wrote "Cuomo delivers state of the state address to the nation"), and noted that the speech was far more aggressively progressive (guns, abortion, expansion of government) than he's been in the past.

He got particular attention for his portion on gun control and for promising to "enact the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation. Period."

"No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer."

Still, though, Cuomo has said, in the past, that gun laws in New York are fairly impotent unless they're coupled with strict national laws.

So, practically-speaking, he's conceded some impotence, but of course, politics isn't necessarily about practicality; it's also about symbolism, and Cuomo could get some huge props for maneuvering stricter gun control measures through the state legislature.

Progressives hate him because...

He supported some GOP candidates for state senate as a thank you for their support for same-sex marriage; then seemed to tacitly approve of an unprecedented power-sharing agreement that gave the GOP effective control of the state Senate.

He has also pushed to reduce public employee pensions, and supported a 2011 budget that included cuts for loads of social programs.

Progressives also fought him over the millionaire's tax. After Cuomo promised to let the extension lapse, progressives turned up the heat and pounded him. Cuomo eventually conceded, and the tax was extended.

The question, though, is whether he lost some trust in the process? The answer -- probably. Progressives have a complicated relationship with Cuomo, but there seem to be lingering doubts about whether he's really one of them.

Republicans love him because...

He passed a property tax cap and adroitly engineered a deal with a state worker's union that cut benefits but saved over 3,000 jobs.

In 2011, he actually reached a deal that balanced the budget by cutting 2% in spending with no new taxes and big cuts in education and other government entities.

In other words, Republicans would be a lot better off if Andrew Cuomo were Speaker of the House than John Boehner.

Oh, and he also supported doubling the charter school cap from 200 to 460, and happens to believe they play a vital role in the educational system.


A polling beast.

Sure, his current +70% approval rating might be partially due to his handling of Hurricane Sandy, but it's not an anomaly -- he's been cranking out 70% approval ratings for months and months.

In fact, Cuomo's scored a +70% approval rating in four straight Quinnipiac surveys (three of which were pre-Sandy), and even hit a +68% approval rating with Republicans!

And he's not just best-in-breed in Quinnipiac surveys.

He hit a 77% approval rating in a February 2011 Siena College poll, which was 21 months before Hurricane Sandy, back when only Al Gore and some people in Oregon knew the hurricane would hit. 

Sure, he might have bruised some national progressives to get to those numbers with a little centrism here and there (btw, don't you think there needs to be a Political Tinker Bell, who sprinkles centrism with her wand at opportune times and places?), but everyone wants a winner, and if he can strut into the 2016 race with these unbelievably high approval ratings, much can be forgiven.  


Cuomo lives with his girlfriend, the Food Network's Sandra Lee.

Sandra Lee

Sure, shacking up is pretty normalized behavior these days, but it hasn't formally hit the White House yet, and I'm not sure the country would feel great about a First Couple that's not married.

I mean, oral sex with interns is one thing -- parents can explain that to kids -- but formalized fornication at the presidential level is really a glass bed. 

Worse for his ambitions, The NY Mag reports that neither feels the need to marry one another, and it still seems weird for him to run for president and not be married. So at least that's a way you might begin to divine his 2016 ambitions -- whether Lee starts flashing a rock or not.

Lee, by the way, is accomplished, driven, successful, and has largely stayed out of politics -- both during Cuomo's gubernatorial run and ever since.

She created the "semi-homemade" movement in cooking, which has been panned by foodies but loved by her many TV followers.

So does Lee harbor First Lady ambitions?

Andrew's brother, Chris, told NY Mag in 2011:

"I don't think she sees herself in the First Lady capacity at all."

For his part, Andrew seems to like it that way:

"When I go home, the conversation is totally different. And that's actually been healthy."

Yet there is some messy stuff -- NY Magazine reported that Lee had an affair with the married CEO of KB Home who eventually became her first husband (Incidentally, she converted to his Judaism and also had a stint as a Jehovah's Witness as a kid, but later jumped back into the Gentile world with a conversion to Catholicism).

The biggest question is whether Lee actually wants all that stuff out there for her foodie fans and America to see.

Maybe not.

On the other hand, she knows media, she knows public relations, and seems to like being in the spotlight. So maybe she'd be cool with it.

And Americans are a forgiving lot, and it seems especially unseemly to vet the wife or girlfriend of a presidential candidate. My guess is that, after a few news cycles with some sordid details, the media would think better of it and move on.

Oh, and btw, you utterly can't talk about Sandra Lee without watching her make her infamous "Kwanzaa Cake", which she even conceded was a disaster. If you haven't seen it, you've got to watch this devilish angel food cake come to life.

Andrew and Sandra's AWWWWWWW Story:

Lee has described meeting Cuomo at a party in Southampton, thusly.

"This huge muscle-bound man had little girls climbing all over him, and he was very gentle and kind with them."

The "little girls climbing all over him" were from his first marriage to Kerry Kennedy -- daughter of icon Robert F. Kennedy.

The Cuomo-Kennedy alliance lasted thirteen years, formally dissolved in 2005, and produced three children who have dynastic DNA written all over them (Can you believe that -- having a Cuomo for a dad and Kennedy for a mom? Unbelievable).

Fun fact? Lee was able to hook up Cuomo's 13 year-old daughter with an internship at Teen Vogue last summer.


Remember the Catholic Quandary over the pro-choice John Kerry in 2004 -- the whole how can you let a guy who's promoted abortion rights take communion?

Cuomo takes it to an entirely.different.level.

As David Gibson noted last year, Cuomo is divorced, pro-choice, supports gay marriage and lives with his girlfriend, who is also divorced.

It's 3 AM in Vatican City, folks. It's one minute to midnight in Vatican City. Apply your own cliche.

And The New York Times reports that the Catholic Cuomo isn't terribly religious -- even in private, unlike his dad who reveled in romps in the exegetical sack.

By most accounts, religion for Mr. Cuomo is not something to be discussed much in private, either. Unlike his father, who relishes a good theological debate and as governor was fond of quoting the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on the nature of evil, the younger Mr. Cuomo is said to be less verbal on the subject of the soul.


Cuomo, um, well, sort of, kind of looks like a mob boss. He is NOT one. In fact, he was New York's Attorney General, but he just kind of looks like one.

And he sort of talks like one -- he's literally said the following three things:

A. "As my Sicilian grandfather used to say..."

B. "Once he's the guy, he's the guy,"

C. "I make my own sauce my own way."

Let's definitely start a running list of Cuomo mob-boss quotes (If you find more, send them in).

It really sucks that he'll be branded in pop culture with this kind of label, but that's just the way things go.

Romney was one of the most charitable of candidates to run for president in the past 20 years, but he was branded the least empathetic, and and no one seemed particularly interested in correcting the error or pointing out his good work.  

(Btw, Cuomo even kind of looks like Sonny Red in Donnie Brasco).

I'm calling this the elephant in the room, despite the fact that more diplomatic voices will hush-hush Cuomo's uncanny mobsterish mien, but the look is the look, and we're all thinking it, and yes, it absolutely could matter. It shouldn't. But it could.


The death penalty: Opposes. Twenty years ago, this might have really hurt him, but Americans' attitudes towards capital punishment have been changing.

In fact, in 2011, Gallup found support for the death penalty falling to a 39 year low, even though 61% still favor it.

The political danger for Cuomo isn't that he's anti-death penalty; it's that being anti-death penalty fits with the idea he's a liberal Northeasterner who's disconnected from the rest of the country. 

Abortion rights: Strong supporter.

Gun control: We already talked about it, but if he does win the nomination, he'll have take an apology tour through the Midwest for suggesting that guns could be "confiscated."

“Confiscation could be an option. Mandatory sale to the state could be an option. Permitting could be an option — keep your gun but permit it.”


He has one of the strongest records of any governor in the country -- he's done stuff progressives, conservatives, and centrists all can genuinely love and genuinely hate. If you can get away with that in a primary, you can get elected president on it in a general.

And he's a leader in every way that the current president is not -- he's willing to risk the wrath of multiple interest groups to get things done. Indeed, getting things done seems to be his morning-goodnight mission.

Save for Hillary Clinton, he would probably be the strongest fundraiser in the race, and his political connections -- both of birth and his own doing -- could nail down key endorsements fairly quickly. In fact, if Hillary doesn't run, Cuomo is instantly the front-runner. Oh, Biden might poll better to begin with, but that's purely a name ID thing and junkies would instantly put Cuomo at the top of the heap.

So to repeat: he's got record, experience, connections, money, and a whiff of celebrity -- all things you need to win.


Northeasterners don't fare so well in national politics -- Romney, Kerry, Dukakis, Muskie, Rudy, Tsongas, and something tells me George Freaking Pataki wouldn't have exactly lit the country on fire, either.

Unfortunately for Cuomo, he strikes the same elite mien of the guys above, and if Romney vs. Obama taught us nothing else, it's that being relateable means more than being any other "-able".

The big question, though -- can Cuomo's Northeasternism play in the Midwest?

At first glance, no.

But Barack Obama never seemed comfortable in the Midwest, and he owes his presidency to it. That being said, Obama never truly faced a Midwestern-friendly foe in a general election (McCain and Romney didn't exactly scream Dayton, Ohio), and when faced with someone who actually connected with the Midwest, Hillary creamed him.

Speaking of Hillary, the big question is whether Cuomo gets in if Hillary runs. Cuomo's second term runs out in 2018 (although a reader points out he could run for a third or fourth term under New York law), which means a 2020 run would be perfect timing. But what if Hillary wins in 2016, and Cuomo has to wait until 2024? Can he afford that?

Some second-tier names who don't have much to lose (e.g. outgoing Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley) would still give it a go, but a top tier guy like Cuomo who has plenty of years left on his odometer might wait for a more opportune time.


Here's his 2013 State of the State address. Watch a few minutes of it to get an idea of his oratory. 

UPDATE: A reader points out that Cuomo could, legally, run for a third or fourth or even fifth consecutive term.