When mega-mogul Michael Bloomberg ran for mayor of New York in 2001, he was worth approximately $4 billion; he went on to spend more than $200 million to win and then keep that office. Today, he’s worth some $51 billion, and he’s talking about running for president as a Democrat. Bloomberg has toyed with a presidential run for each of the last three cycles, and the media tease-out that he’s engaging in now may just be more mischief. If Bloomberg is serious this time, he and his hoard of cash might cause some would-be Democratic candidates to reconsider.
What would a Bloomberg candidacy mean for New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who last week easily deflected lefty gadfly actress Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge? He has to be at least thinking about becoming the first native New York Democrat to mount a successful campaign for the White House since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. It’s not clear that Cuomo will go for it; he seems well-positioned, but last week’s primary results presented him with some potential vexations, and the upcoming general election seems likely to deepen them.
The irritations have little to do with Republicans—the GOP is functionally nonexistent in New York—but rather with the emergence of a tougher brand of left-wing politicking than that exhibited by Nixon. Bands of volubly anti-Cuomo progressives emerged from the legislative primaries, defenestrating six uber-transactional, Cuomo-allied state senators, and setting the stage for what could be epic policy and spending battles among the newcomers, entrenched but historically-marginal legislative lefties, and Cuomo, who, for all his progressive rhetoric, has for the most part governed from the center for eight years. He knows full well that New York State is just one market correction removed from a budget crisis that will rival those of the past. So the governor can’t be looking forward to the coming legislative session, especially since last week’s primary turnouts give every reason to believe that the third floor of the Albany capitol is going to be a more radical place in January than it is today.
This doesn’t mean that Cuomo will be defenseless, though; no governor has ever been more intimately familiar with Albany’s levers of power, and none manipulates them more joyfully, than he. Now 60, Cuomo’s been in the game, off and on, since he was 25, and he understands that in Albany, advantage accrues to the governor. The governor submits a budget to the legislature, thus exercising enormous control over the perks and pork so dear to legislators. If they want to modify his proposals, he has to agree. And he’s virtually immune to meaningful legislative retaliation because he alone controls innumerable agency and public-authority accounts and bonding powers needed to fund his own priorities—which, history suggests, will include punishing legislative renegades.
It’s true that Cuomo will enter the 2019 legislative session substantially weakened by the courts. His chief governmental enforcer, Joseph Percoco, and a key economic-development ally, Alain Kaloyeros, are on their way to prison following corruption convictions, and other investigations continue. But the governor is nothing if not resourceful.
Meantime, there is the matter of what Cuomo wants to do with a third term. His first four years were dedicated to the upstate economic-development schemes that have gotten him into so much trouble—the so-called Buffalo Billion first among them. He largely spent his second term, which followed an embarrassing primary challenge from a hard-left lawyer, polishing his progressive credentials. What will a third term bring, especially if circumstances, or Bloomberg, preclude a White House run?
Cuomo knows that, historically, third terms are not kind to New York incumbents. For the sake of their reputations, Mayors Bloomberg and Ed Koch would have done well to pack it in after two terms; the same goes for Governors George Pataki and Mario Cuomo. So it’s not hard to imagine Andrew Cuomo staring out his office window at the massive, marble office complex that abuts the capitol and thinking: “Yes, I won—but what now?”
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