Is Andrew Cuomo the luckiest man in New York State? The state’s attorney general has been outpolling all possible alternatives for the November governor’s race for more than a year. And one by one, his obstacles have vanished without his having so much as to declare his candidacy.
First there was Rudy Giuliani, the Republican with by far the strongest name recognition in the state and the only credible GOP challenger to Cuomo’s ambitions. Two months ago, Giuliani announced that he would not run in what is sure to be, overall, the most promising election year for Republicans since the 1994 tidal wave. Giuliani made his decision a month before Scott Brown shocked the political world by winning Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in Massachusetts, but it’s not clear that that would have changed the former mayor’s mind; his reasoning seemed more personal than political. Giuliani probably would have had an easier time running against Kirsten Gillibrand for New York’s contested Senate seat: polls showed that he would beat her but lose to Cuomo. In any event, if ever there were a year and a candidate to make a New York Democrat fear the GOP, they were 2010 and Rudy. But it’s not to be.
Next there was the unpopular incumbent, Governor David Paterson. Cuomo had been leading Paterson in a hypothetical primary matchup for more than a year. Everyone—top Democrats above all—knew that Cuomo was a virtual shoo-in for November and Paterson a near-certain loser. Nonetheless, Cuomo faced a bruising primary. While he was all but certain to win, victory would have come at significant cost to his own war chest and political standing with key Democratic constituencies. It’s always hard to run against an incumbent; accusations that you’re spoiling the party, stoking nothing but your ambition, and helping the other side are inevitable. It would have been especially hard to run against the state’s first black governor. Al Sharpton and his ilk probably couldn’t have guaranteed a Cuomo loss in either the primary or the general election, but they might have depressed black turnout and built up a store of ill will for Cuomo that would hurt him down the road, perhaps decisively in 2014, when he would be seeking a second term.
So it was no surprise that leading Democrats, from President Obama on down, wanted Paterson out of the way. Nor was it much of a surprise that the governor refused to budge. But what the leading Democrats were unable to do, the New York Times has done. The paper revealed that a staffer close to the governor appeared to have assaulted a woman and then used the state police to try to intimidate her out of pressing charges. Worse, the Times reported that the governor himself had called the woman the day before a court hearing on her case. She interpreted the call as a veiled threat and missed her court appearance, and as a result her case was dismissed.
In the aftermath, one black Democrat—Bill Perkins, who holds the governor’s old Harlem seat in the New York State Senate—quickly called on Paterson not to seek reelection. This kind of cover from the left made it all but impossible for Sharpton to claim that Paterson was being run out of Albany by careerist whites. Paterson, sensing the inevitable, has opted not to run again.
Meanwhile, Cuomo has built up a $16 million war chest—none of which, it now appears, he will have to spend in a divisive primary. Expect to see him trek to Sharpton’s National Action Network in the near future and be received, if perhaps not enthusiastically, at least without overt hostility. At this rate, one shudders to think how one day, potential rivals for the presidency might disappear or implode without Cuomo’s striking a single blow. Republicans should hope that after 2010, Cuomo’s luck runs out.