Let’s just say that the pure Democrats are what we call “blue” and the Republicans are “red.” In each of those groups are people who are committed to their respective parties. These are the folks who feel about their political parties the way some feel about their religion. They are confirmed in their political identity. They almost never vote for the other party. But these people really don’t count. No, the way that elections are won in this state or country is by getting the “purples” to vote for you. The idea is to reach those people who see themselves as “independents” or who are most likely to desert one party for another over a particular issue that means a lot to them — more than any other issue, be it guns, or choice, or the really big one, taxes.
For some reason, popular Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino thinks he can beat Andrew Cuomo, who has substantially upwards of a whopping 30 million dollars in his campaign account, a huge popularity base and who has become as close to a purple Republicrat as you can find. Cuomo, who says that he hunts, is hunting the purples in politics. He knew from the start that he had to shed his father’s image as a spender. To the folks of Westchester, Long Island and some parts of “upstate” (whatever that is), taxes trump everything else. Living these days is not easy. Your kids are having a tough time getting good jobs and many are still living in a small house. They are burdened with such onerous taxes that it is tough for them to make ends meet. That is the number one reason for voting the bums out. As one political candidate might have put it, “The taxes are too damn high.”
Who knows about taxes? Andrew Cuomo does. From day one, he realized this was the challenge, the way to get the purples to vote for him. His pollster, Drew Zambelli, is a genius. Zambelli served under Papa Cuomo and knows what you are thinking before you do. So Andrew comes up with things like “tax caps,” combining school districts and anything that looks like he might be trying to tell the purple tax haters that he is their man. To this, Astorino says, “Phooey.” He thinks it’s all smoke and mirrors and says so on every occasion. That’s how he beat a popular Democrat to become county executive in Westchester where there are a lot more Democrats than Republicans.
The whole thing is a wicked political game. Now Astorino has to “turn” those Republicans who like Cuomo but have that one overriding issue of concern to them. He is going after all those people who think guns are more important than anything else, even though the vast majority of folks in New York state are in favor of gun control efforts. For his part, Cuomo has to worry about the liberal, very blue wing of his party who are so angry about his newly-discovered conservative inner self that they are even talking about running a third-party candidate against him. That’s why Cuomo’s advancement of gun control is so important. Cuomo’s recent championing of charter schools and his advancement of the unpopular Common Core has the teachers riled up. The civil servants are equally angry and their leader, Danny Donohue, read them correctly when he called Cuomo a “monkey.” When the more moderate civil service leaders have been replaced, Donohue has survived as the head of the CSEA, the state’s largest employee group. He read his members right.
When a young Mario Cuomo was running against popular New York Mayor Ed Koch for governor, I wrote a column suggesting that Cuomo couldn’t win. To me, Astorino’s run looks like a suicide mission but stranger things have happened in politics. The voters are restless.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/21/14