By Nick DAngelo
In September 1833, Andrew Jackson took the unusual step of ordering the removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States, of which he was a fierce opponent. By late autumn, critics had labeled the president “King Andrew the First” during the dawn of political cartooning, and last week another Andrew assumed the moniker through his own “unusual” step.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is no doubt descended from political royalty and his actions this week seem to entertain criticisms of him as entitled, egotistical and superior. After an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid 2002, he ascended the throne that his father held for over a decade in 2010. And, like his father, he has been frequently mentioned as a presidential candidate. Mario Cuomo, though, never made it to Washington, despite being the favorite for the Democratic nominations in 1988 and 1992, but his son his hoping to reverse this trend. In order for that to be a possibility, Andrew Cuomo must make it through one more high-stakes contest — winning reelection in 2014.
It should not be a particularly lofty ordeal. New York has an overwhelmingly Democratic voter advantage, Cuomo remains relatively popular and boasts a campaign war chest of $33 million. Yet the King is still nervous, because this Goliath may have finally met his David.
Rob Astorino, the Westchester County Executive who announced his candidacy for governor earlier this week, has a habit of regicide. In 2009, he defeated long-time County Executive Andy Spano by 16 percentage points, and he repeated that victory against a full-throttle Democratic effort fighting his reelection in 2013. Moreover, Astorino has won these impressive victories while articulating a largely conservative agenda
It is well known that Cuomo is no fan of conservatism. In January, he told a local radio station that New York had no room for “extremists,” by which he meant social conservatives. Despite the backlash, Cuomo has taken his political purge to new heights, going so far as to call Republicans to warn them against nominating a social conservative for governor in 2014.
The New York Times called the attempt to handpick his opponent “unusual,” but I would go even further to call it unprecedented. While more astute observers reminded me that Harry Reid attempted to persuade the selection of his opponent in 2010 and Claire McCaskill did the same in 2012, those strategies were markedly different.
According to anonymous sources, Cuomo issued the warning in good faith, reminding Republicans that if a social conservative is nominated, Cuomo will not go easy on him or her. It will be a bloody campaign and may affect down-ballot races, such as the State Senate where Republicans hold the slimmest of majorities. To paraphrase George Strait, if you buy that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona.
No, Cuomo is not trying to do Republicans any favors. In fact, Cuomo should be salivating over a social conservative opponent in deep-blue New York. In 2010, he clobbered Carl Paladino with a bat and, until recently, the slate of GOP candidates lining up to challenge the governor seemed to fit the Paladino mold. Astorino is different, though, and he’s faced this line of attack before.
In 2013, Democratic nominee Noam Bramson attempted the same social conservative smear campaign against Astorino in the Westchester County Executive race. He railed that Astorino would promote gun violence, discriminate against homosexuals and backpedal women’s rights. No one listened. That’s because, while Bramson was toying with shallow emotions, Astorino was working on the niche issues of government: lowering taxes, maintaining county services and reversing reckless rule.
The adult in the room won last year because of disciplined and diligent efforts. There is nothing Cuomo would enjoy more than crushing a radical with his $33 million, but that will not happen if Astorino clinches the nomination. So, King Andrew has resorted to political arm-twisting to lessen his load. Perhaps unwilling or unable to defend his record, Cuomo has chosen to issue a decree. But decrees are only as powerful as those who obey them.