Andrew Cuomo has spent the better part of his tenure in New York engulfed by corruption and governance failure. As he lurches toward a third term of quasi-imperial gubernatorial rule, he has chosen to follow what has become the standard playbook for blemished Democrats needing self-absolution: just attack Trump. Even when Trump has nothing especially to do with the issues at hand, just attack him and hope it suffices for a plurality of the electorate. And so that’s what Cuomo has been doing at the few begrudging campaign stops he’s made in recent days, with actor Cynthia Nixon forcing him to at least give the appearance of seeking popular approval.
Cuomo’s hapless Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, introduced him at a rally in Buffalo this week as the man ‘leading the Resistance,’ as if intentionally trying to prove that ‘Resistance’ has devolved into little more than a hollowed-out branding exercise. ‘Resistance’ by Cuomo’s standards apparently amounts mostly to highlighting the fact that Trump has insulted him online, and then responding with his own somewhat hackneyed insults. ‘He’s a tough guy on Twitter,’ Cuomo observed of Trump. ‘In the old neighbourhood, they didn’t have any tough guys on Twitter. You weren’t considered a tough guy just because you moved your thumbs.’ Cuomo wore a devilish smirk, as if intimating that back in the day he would’ve prevailed against Trump in a Queens fist-fight. ‘He has strong thumbs though; he must. Because he tweets a lot.’
‘Very quick and agile thumbs,’ Cuomo continued.
The problem when more traditional politicians attempt to mimic the Trump insult comedy routine — and Cuomo has been training to be a professional politician since he was in the womb — is that it often comes across as forced and gimmicky, completely opposite from the original novelty of Trump’s free-wheeling, manic improvisation. You got the feeling that Cuomo assembled a group of trusted, overpaid advisers for an emergency ‘How To Respond To Trump’s Tweets’ session, and this was the sad, stale result.
His backers in the Buffalo area have latched onto the credulity-straining talking point that Cuomo is the most successful governor for Western New York since DeWitt Clinton, who reigned from 1817 to 1828 and spearheaded the Erie Canal. This claim appears to have originated with the Buffalo News, which like every other liberal establishment institution has endorsed Cuomo over his primary opponent Nixon; I’ve heard even lowly volunteers repeat the claim, as if they personally studied the history of 19th century New York governorships.
Cuomo likely has Clinton bested in terms of at least one metric: corruption convictions of inner-circle advisers. His hand-picked point person for the Buffalo Billion project, which was supposed to bring an unprecedented investment of new development money for the region, is headed to prison. Alain Kaloyeros was not some obscure administration underling, but an executor of Cuomo’s signature economic development initiative; in one comically stereotypical 2014 image, a smiling Cuomo is pictured next to Kaloyeros at a dirt-shoveling ceremony. Other prominent felons convicted in just the past year include Joe Percoco, a longtime Cuomo fixer whom he once called ‘a brother,’ and Louis Ciminelli, a top Buffalo construction magnate found out for bid-rigging.
It’s laughable to imagine the New York Times would even entertain the possibility of endorsing a Republican governor whose tenure has been so entangled with demonstrable corruption, but a combination of Cuomo’s familial heritage and the faint perception that he brings ‘stability’ needed to counterbalance craziness happening at the federal level evokes a certain nostalgia for old-style muscular liberalism from establishment institutions like the NYT. Cuomo clearly recognises this as one of his prime political assets, as evidenced by his brazenly calculated decision to prematurely inaugurate the newly renamed ‘Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’ days before the primary election. Despite having triumphantly ridden across in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s antique car with his elderly mother in tow, and enlisting the services of Hillary Clinton for the opening ceremony, the bridge was subsequently closed to traffic just hours later because of the danger of falling debris. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Questions about Cuomo’s complicity in the corrupt machinations of his government enterprises have faded into the background, as members of the party brass shrug their shoulders. Asked about the corruption convictions of many of Cuomo’s associates, chairman of the Eerie County Democratic Committee, Jeremy Zellner, argued: ‘The governor has not been indicted, the governor has not been brought up on any charges’ — maybe the lowest of all bars to clear. ‘I’m pretty sure Cynthia Nixon doesn’t even know where Buffalo is,’ he alleged.
This kind of world-weary resignation to the inevitability of corruption has permeated New York politics forever, but Cuomo at one point pledged to upend it, and now he’s not even giving the pretense. The feeling has trickled down to supporters. One person associated with a local Democratic congressional campaign described Cuomo as ‘kind of a despicable human being’ but admitted she will vote for him anyway. Dave Yonkosky, vice president of the United Auto Workers local 897 in Buffalo, said when you ‘look at the money he’s brought in,’ corruption is bound to happen and doesn’t particularly matter. ‘Ten years ago, Buffalo was a shithole,’ he said. ‘Nowadays you go down to the waterfront and it’s beautiful.’
After having served as governor for eight years in the country’s fourth-largest state, you’d expect Cuomo to have no trouble holding a rally days before a primary election in the state’s second-largest city, but the event Monday night wasn’t so much a rally as a hastily-convened gathering for Buffalo’s local Party insiders. A worker at the place it was held, the Belle Center in Buffalo, said she was told about the event only that very day; certainly not much time to get the word out. All entrants were called upon by staff to present a ‘ticket’ indicating pre-approval to attend.
Prior to the ‘rally,’ a Cuomo aide reminded venue handlers that this was ‘not a government event’ but rather a campaign one — the distinction can sometimes get blurred — and therefore attendees should be encouraged to simulate excitement by cheering and waving placards. The aide was later revealed to be Tess Morrissey, a former Cuomo administration agent and current ‘deputy director of state relations’ for SUNY, Buffalo which lends credence to the theory that the only people sufficiently enthused by the prospect of Cuomo’s reelection to do any work on his behalf are people who were directly employed by Cuomo at some point. Morrissey locked her Twitter page shortly after fielding an inquiry about the exact nature of her involvement, although she had ‘liked’ several tweets with photos from the rally. You’d think someone who worked for Cuomo and is now moving up the echelons of state government would be proud to proclaim their devotion to him, but Cuomo endorsers all seem to harbour a slight feeling of shame — especially young liberal careerist types whose peers are likely Cuomo antagonists, judging by the overwhelming distaste for the governor in left-wing social media circles.
Cuomo seems determined to simply glide into a third term using the inertia of his incumbency, capitalising on the gummed-up machinery of state government which is filled with loyalists indebted to him. Arousing grassroots passion is certainly not part of the equation: 24 hours after the Buffalo rally, the videos posted from the event to his official campaign YouTube page had a grand total of 21 views.