Will ‘purple’ voters buy into the two-cities philosophy?

You’d have to be lacking the usual senses not to see the fight unfolding between the Andrew Cuomo forces in New York and the followers of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo is a centrist who believes that New Yorkers pay too much in taxes and de Blasio is what we have come to call a “progressive” who appeals to the left of the party. Cuomo’s remarkable pollster, Andrew (Drew) Zambelli, says that people are unhappy about paying too much tax and thus are not going to be happy voters. As a result, Cuomo has become a passionate tax cutter. It’s good politics and it puts the governor in the center part of his party.

Despite denials, it’s obvious that Cuomo wants to follow his old boss, Bill Clinton, into the presidency. If he can demonstrate that he lowered people’s taxes and brought rejuvenation and relief to New York, he will appeal to all those citizens who believe that they are being strangled.

However, there is another group of Democrats. These are the Democratic leftists or progressives. The divide became clear during the recent mayoral election in New York. The “public advocate,” Bill de Blasio, emerged from the crowded Democratic field based on his philosophy that there was great inequity in America. He resorted to the old Mario Cuomo line that the senior Cuomo used so well, speaking eloquently of the “Two Cities on the Hill,” a reference to the inequity between the rich and the poor in New York. He called for universal pre-Kindergarten and made the point that if we want to give everyone a chance, pre-K is the way to go. Of course, Andrew Cuomo says he has always been for pre-K and the Speaker of the Assembly, Shelly Silver, has always made clear his commitment to the idea. But de Blasio pushed the concept and it resonated with the people to the point that he won the mayoral primary. It was his signature proposal. He made it his.

This is where it gets interesting. Centrist Cuomo was moving relatively slowly on the idea of pre-K. He now found himself looking over his shoulder at the progressive faction of his party and announced that while he was for universal pre-K, he opposed Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on New York City residents who earn more than five hundred thousand dollars a year in order to pay for it. This was dangerous to Andrew the tax cutter who is the ultimate chess player. He tried to head de Blasio off at the pass, saying in his State of the State message that the state will pay for pre-K and that it won’t be necessary to raise taxes on the rich. It would seem that de Blasio had won his pre-K but then de Blasio signaled “nope,” insisting that he wanted the pre-K program paid for by taxing the rich more. And here we have it, the centrist Cuomo versus the progressive de Blasio. Pre-de Blasio, New York City was run by Bloomberg and the centrists and the rich prevailed. Along comes Mayor Bill and the paradigm shifts. New Yorkers, mostly Democrats, say, “Enough is enough.” Suddenly everybody’s talking about de Blasio and progressives like Elizabeth Warren. This cannot be good news for Governor Andrew who risks getting outflanked on the left. It raises the question as to whether middle range voters (“purples”) will buy into the “two-cities” philosophy.

The New York Times chimed in, recommending that de Blasio take the deal. The teachers union says that the Cuomo offering is somewhat disingenuous because the governor would have to rob other parts of education to pay for the pre-K. De Blasio says that by raising taxes on the rich, there would be a dedicated revenue stream for funding pre-K in the future. De Blasio turns out to be one tough hombre and may be looking for something bigger in politics. That might just put him in direct competition with Andrew Cuomo as they fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/28/14

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