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Topic: Zephyr Teachout

Cuomo to (Upstate) New York: Drop Dead

In January 2013, the New York Times revealed that an environmental risk assessment by the state’s health department found hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–could be done safely (as it is in many states already). But there was a twist: the Times had the report not because it was released, but because it was apparently being suppressed and the paper got the assessment “from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.” Governor Andrew Cuomo was playing politics. Yesterday, he formally banned fracking after getting a primary scare from the state’s increasingly extreme left-wing fringe.

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In January 2013, the New York Times revealed that an environmental risk assessment by the state’s health department found hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–could be done safely (as it is in many states already). But there was a twist: the Times had the report not because it was released, but because it was apparently being suppressed and the paper got the assessment “from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.” Governor Andrew Cuomo was playing politics. Yesterday, he formally banned fracking after getting a primary scare from the state’s increasingly extreme left-wing fringe.

Cuomo banned the practice on the recommendation of his health commissioner, who fretted over “potential risks” that “are not even fully known.” One option would have been to hire a better informed Cabinet, but one suspects the reporting of this health commissioner was what Cuomo wanted to hear anyway. The health commissioner said he based his decision, according to the Times reporter’s paraphrasing of his remarks, on “a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?” It almost makes you wistful for the times when the Democrats were the Party of Science, and they could at least pretend to nod in the direction of rationality.

But a major problem for Cuomo now is that while his minister of health doesn’t want to live in a community that allows fracking, Cuomo’s tenure is going to be notable for solidifying a vast swath of New York State where New Yorkers don’t want to live.

As the Times notes, it was with a heavy heart that Cuomo told much of New York State to drop dead:

Fracking, as it is known, was heavily promoted as a source of economic revival for depressed communities along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, and Mr. Cuomo had once been poised to embrace it.

Instead, the move to ban fracking left him acknowledging that, despite the intense focus he has given to solving deep economic troubles afflicting large areas upstate, the riddle remained largely unsolved. “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great,’ ” he said. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’ ”

In a double blow to areas that had anticipated a resurgence led by fracking, a state panel on Wednesday backed plans for three new Las Vegas-style casinos, but none along the Pennsylvania border in the Southern Tier region. The panel, whose advice Mr. Cuomo said would quite likely be heeded, backed casino proposals in the Catskills, near Albany and between Syracuse and Rochester.

But New Yorkers fated to continued economic misery can take solace in the fact that Cuomo believes he did the right thing–for his career: “For Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, the decision on fracking — which was immediately hailed by environmental and liberal groups — seemed likely to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing. It came after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign in which Zephyr Teachout, a primary challenger who opposed fracking, won about a third of the vote.”

And that’s really what’s important here, isn’t it? If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs, right? So while it may seem unfair that Cuomo condemned a portion of his state to poverty, you have to balance that with the grand gesture of human progress that is a praiseful Zephyr Teachout press release.

It should be noted, however, that Cuomo isn’t the only reason fracking is banned. He’s the reason many of those economically depressed areas will remain that way, but some of them had already been stripped of any hope by local politicians:

Local bans, on top of restrictions that the state had planned, put 63 percent of the Marcellus Shale off limits to drilling, said Joseph Martens, the state environmental conservation commissioner. “The economic benefits are clearly far lower than originally forecast,” he said.

As for Cuomo’s political fortunes, appeasing the extremist job killers that make up the New York Democratic Party’s base is not necessarily the best long-term move. Cuomo won’t be term limited out of office, so he might already be thinking of his next reelection campaign. The logic would be as follows: there is no serious Republican Party in New York, and therefore Cuomo’s relationship with the Democrats is of utmost importance. He needs New York City, in which the party’s left-wing base is crucial. He has treated other areas of New York as if he doesn’t need them because he doesn’t.

But this is too clever by half. Since there’s no Republican Party to speak of, he essentially runs unopposed in the general. If he’s worried about the primary, that’s silly: Cuomo beat Teachout by nearly thirty points, with a clear majority.

On the other hand, if Cuomo still has national aspirations–a stretch after his recent political history–banning energy production and the jobs that come with it will come back to haunt him in a presidential general election. Here too he might be thinking about the primary, and it’s true that if the Democratic Party continues to veer left, he might need to shore up his grassroots credibility. But unlike at the state level, if he won his party’s nomination he’d still have a general election battle on his hands. He seems on pace to leave office, eventually, with a poor record. That’s fine–though also unnecessary–if he only wants to beat primary jobbers for the rest of his political life. It’s foolish in the extreme if he thinks he’s going to be president.

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Cuomo Agonistes

Just a few days before Andrew Cuomo’s victory over Zephyr Teachout in New York’s gubernatorial primary, a video of Cuomo at the Labor Day parade made the rounds. It neatly summed up the New York populist left’s relationship with Cuomo: he doesn’t acknowledge they exist.

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Just a few days before Andrew Cuomo’s victory over Zephyr Teachout in New York’s gubernatorial primary, a video of Cuomo at the Labor Day parade made the rounds. It neatly summed up the New York populist left’s relationship with Cuomo: he doesn’t acknowledge they exist.

Here’s the video, originally posted on the New York True website:

Teachout attempts for about a minute to get Cuomo’s attention to say hello to him. She is repeatedly boxed out by Cuomo’s handlers and he doesn’t appear to even notice her, despite her proximity. Eventually, she is crowded out when someone Cuomo does recognize, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, approaches. Although it’s doubtful Cuomo saw and ignored Teachout (unless I missed it), the forced smile pasted on his face and the complete lack of awareness of Teachout made for a pretty accurate description of how Cuomo feels about the Occupy left.

Cuomo won the primary by nearly thirty percent, but Teachout got 34 percent herself, the best primary challenge to a sitting New York governor on record. That left commentators with a kind of strange story to tell: a primary that wasn’t close but was closer than it should have been. It wasn’t a near-upset, but the publicity and support generated by the Teachout campaign (the New York Times even declined to endorse in the primary) were indicative of something not quite significant but not easily ignored either.

In a smart column for the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson tries to tease out the conflict:

Cuomo’s estrangement of Democratic liberals wasn’t due to any social conservatism on his part. In his first term as governor, Cuomo pushed through a same-sex marriage bill and tighter gun-control legislation. But his resistance to some key economic imperatives, allowing New York City to set a minimum-wage rate higher than the state’s and keeping a heightened tax rate on the income of the state’s wealthiest residents (that is, Wall Street bankers), and his unwillingness to campaign for Democratic control of the state Senate, which would boost the prospects for such legislation, angered many of his fellow Democrats. They believed Cuomo was cultivating Wall Street support for a possible presidential bid, an ambition that stood athwart their efforts to mitigate New York’s skyscraper-high inequality.

Cuomo’s vulnerability on economic issues was compounded by his vulnerability on ethical ones. Confronted with the spectacle of a steady stream of legislators moving from Albany to prison after convictions for corrupt practices, Cuomo convened an ethics commission to investigate and reform New York’s business of politics. Earlier this year, however, he disbanded it with its mission unaccomplished — a decision that prompted a federal prosecutor to announce that he was looking into Cuomo’s abrupt change of heart.

This strikes me as exactly right. So it’s worth playing this scenario out a bit. Meyerson compares the liberal angst bubbling up into Teachout’s campaign to that of Elizabeth Warren. The comparison is imperfect, but apt in one way: Warren would only run for president, presumably, if Hillary Clinton isn’t in the race. Clinton is running as a Wall Street Democrat through and through, and there does not appear to be real appetite on the left to take her on.

That’s because at the national level, Democrats are far more interested in winning. The only real friction between Clinton and the left so far, as Ben Domenech points out in this month’s COMMENTARY, concerned Clinton’s career-long opposition to gay marriage, until the polls shifted enough for her to flip flop. At the national level, social issues, and culture-war issues more broadly, get top billing from Democrats.

As Meyerson notes, that’s not true at the state level in New York. Democrats there care about social issues, but in a deep blue state those issues are not nearly so controversial. It’s how Cuomo could tell pro-life New Yorkers that they “have no place in the state of New York because that’s not who New Yorkers are” and still expect to win reelection. Liberals may appreciate Cuomo’s social liberalism (and his mildly totalitarian anger-management issues), but he’s not exactly going out on a limb.

And that’s why Cuomo would essentially have to decide between being a true-blue Democratic governor of New York or being a viable national figure. Since Cuomo has hopes of at least keeping the door to a presidential run open, he’s chosen to be a national Democrat. This has the advantage of not requiring him to have principles, and it’s also not much of a threat to his career as governor: if the best the left can do is keep him at two-thirds of the vote, he’s going to continue pretending they don’t exist.

And yet it may still come back to haunt him. Cuomo’s ethics shenanigans mean the possibility of indictment is unlikely but not nonexistent. If he makes it without legal trouble, people will wonder just how he did so. And if he alienates the left enough–Zephyr Teachout’s campaign had no trouble attracting headlines even outside New York, and she raised money outside the state as well–he’ll have no grassroots bandwagon for a national campaign. (Good luck in Iowa!)

Cuomo knows that it’s difficult to be a New York liberal in a national campaign. Now he’s learning that it’s not so easy not to be a New York liberal in New York. He wanted an uneventful governorship and a shot at the presidency. Both are looking increasingly out of reach.

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Hey GOP, Nobody Likes Cuomo

For a governor with a huge lead in the polls and an even bigger fundraising advantage over both his primary and general election opponents, New York’s Andrew Cuomo isn’t terribly popular. An ethics scandal and years of feuds and slights directed at various constituencies have resulted in Cuomo spending what should have been a triumphant reelection season scrambling to fend off challenges and absorbing slights from likely supporters. But right now the real question is not so much about Cuomo’s efforts as it is the reluctance of Republicans to take advantage of his weakness.

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For a governor with a huge lead in the polls and an even bigger fundraising advantage over both his primary and general election opponents, New York’s Andrew Cuomo isn’t terribly popular. An ethics scandal and years of feuds and slights directed at various constituencies have resulted in Cuomo spending what should have been a triumphant reelection season scrambling to fend off challenges and absorbing slights from likely supporters. But right now the real question is not so much about Cuomo’s efforts as it is the reluctance of Republicans to take advantage of his weakness.

Cuomo’s biggest problem revolves around the U.S. attorney’s investigation of the governor’s attempts to quash the efforts of the Moreland Commission to probe the pay-to-play culture of Albany when it got too close to some of his supporters. His outrageous decision to shut the commission down was compounded by his arrogant dismissals of critics. But now that the Justice Department is involved, the public relations hit isn’t anywhere near as important as the potential legal peril facing the governor if more evidence is found corroborating charges of obstruction of justice.

That led to the startling decision of the New York Times to refuse to endorse Cuomo in the Democratic primary against Zephyr Teachout, a virtually unknown challenger. But the National Organization of Women and the left-wing Nation magazine coming down in favor of Teachout and her relentless attacks on the governor are taking a toll on him. As the Times reported yesterday, critics are now emerging throughout the political spectrum to either bash the governor or to exact demands to win their loyalty. Key constituent groups like unions are angry at the governor because of his initial move to the center after being elected in 2010 and are not appeased by his shift back to the left since 2012. Though none of this is enough to make anyone think Teachout or Republican nominee Rob Astorino can beat Cuomo, the picture emerging from the campaign is that of a weakened incumbent who is favored mainly because of his massive expenditures on television commercials and the moribund state of the state’s Republican Party.

Cuomo is right to take the New York GOP lightly. It’s been in a state of virtual collapse since 2002 when George Pataki won the last of his three terms in Albany. It’s been that long since it fielded a competitive candidate for either the governorship or a U.S. Senate seat and it has shown few signs of being able to pull itself together even in a midterm election year in which Republicans around the country are prepared to make gains because of President Obama’s unpopularity. It is true that the president is still popular in New York and the national GOP brand is despised in the liberal state, but unlike in past eras when centrist figures emerged to take advantage of Democratic weakness, the Republican bench in New York is empty as the state drifts toward a one-party dominance that essentially takes it off the board for national consideration in any election.

But, as I first wrote two weeks ago, the national Republican Party and the Republican Governors Association is making a big mistake in snubbing GOP nominee Rob Astorino. Unlike many of his recent predecessors on the New York ballot, the Westchester County executive is a plausible alternative to Cuomo. And unlike those GOP standard-bearers who were offered up as sacrificial lambs when they ran against Eliot Spitzer in 2006 and Cuomo in 2010, Astorino is facing an opponent who is in retreat on many issues and deeply vulnerable on ethics charges.

It may be that most New Yorkers don’t care about the charges against Cuomo. That’s understandable considering that the broadcast media has largely buried the story. That’s especially true when compared to Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes. But despite his strong poll numbers, he remains vulnerable. It should also be remembered that the thin-skinned Cuomo has a long history of blowing up when put under pressure. Were Astorino given anywhere near the resources at Cuomo’s disposal, he might not win but he could help begin the process of rebuilding his party in a state Republicans should try to make competitive and help strengthen its influence in the state legislature.

Right now the assumption is that Cuomo’s obvious weakness is irrelevant to the national political equation and that any GOP money spent there would be wasted. But fate—in the form of a legal problem that could overshadow a potential second term for Cuomo—has given Republicans a golden chance that may not be repeated again. A governor who is under as much pressure and disliked as much as Cuomo has proven to be shouldn’t be given a free pass to reelection.

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