Politics is always an iffy business

I had a call from a friend of mine in government who has been reading my column in the paper. Because I have been critical of Andrew Cuomo over things like his dismantling of the Moreland Act Commission that he created to end governmental corruption, he was under the impression that I favored the election of Westchester Executive Rob Astorino for governor.

I have interviewed Astorino at some length and I like the guy. He is bright, funny and self-confident. He is really motivated. He ran twice as an underdog in Westchester County where the Democrats outnumber the Republicans two-to-one and he won twice. When a Republican can pull that off in blue Westchester County, you really can’t tell him he can’t do the same thing statewide for governor. But from where I sit, it’s a very long shot. It looks like a political suicide mission.

By the time Cuomo runs, he’ll have fifty million dollars and you won’t be able to turn on a television or commercial radio station without hearing laudatory Cuomo advertisements. Cuomo’s conservative views on things like taxes have taken the potential wind out of Republican Astorino’s sails. From the moment that Cuomo took office, he knew and acted on the premise that the one thing people cared about more than anything else was taxes. People pay immense amounts of real estate taxes on their homes to the point that they think the rates are confiscatory.

These voters are scared and desperate. Cuomo knew that from minute one. He put a cap on taxes in New York and in so doing, he alienated some of the more progressive members of his party. He became the darling of certain business and right-leaning groups and even certain unions who are political realists in the sense that they know that New York is Democratic territory and what Cuomo is doing is as good as they are going to get. From the very beginning, their money came pouring into the Cuomo campaign coffers. As long as Cuomo can keep the Democratic left at bay with his signature issues of gay marriage, gun control and anti-corruption, he’ll win.

Cuomo won’t let up on Astorino. He’ll do his homework, including “negative research,” as it is called in the business. He is painting Astorino as right wing, bad on social issues, and the guy who hypocritically presides over a county with the highest tax rates in the state. It’s a pretty powerful combination, a one-two punch. Besides, the way it works is that popular governors always win their first reelection efforts. If this was Cuomo’s third time out he might be in some danger, but it isn’t. For Cuomo, it is really all about how big his victory will be. There is still some buzz out there that Hillary Clinton might not run for president. Andrew’s father, Mario, never got to the presidency. Anyone I know in politics thinks that Andrew is going for the golden ring so not only does the young governor have to win, he has to win big.

For his part, Astorino keeps harping on gun control and Cuomo’s “SAFE Act” as a potent issue. I don’t think so. Polling shows that the people want protection against guns. The votes that Astorino will get on the issue are conservative voters who, for the most part, will vote for anyone but Cuomo. On the social issues like abortion, Cuomo wins big. The more Astorino paints himself as a social conservative, the worse his chances. He will stick to his signature “taxes are too high” issue and hope that he will trump the canny Cuomo, but that’s where Cuomo’s brilliance shows. He is already way out in front on taxes. It looks like Cuomo has this one in the bag already but politics is always an iffy business

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5-19-14

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