ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo on Wednesday delivered a State of the State address that seemed designed to boost his liberal cred for his re-election campaign while also possibly paving the way for a presidential run in 2020.
“What the governor is trying to do is truly be focused on his reelection in 2018 while doing nothing to close the door beyond that,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “If he gets hurt in ’18, that works to close the door, not open it (for 2020).”
Four years ago, Cuomo faced a surprisingly competitive Democratic primary challenge from the left. He’s expected to face another primary this year, even as polls show he continues to enjoy high approval ratings from self-described liberals.
“He wants to make sure that whatever primary he faces, he does well,” Greenberg said. “Those also happen to be the same people, were he to run in 2020, that he would need to appeal to because it’s largely lefty Democrats who vote in Democratic presidential primaries.”
Wednesday’s Cuomo was not the same one who railed against the teacher unions during his 2014 re-election campaign.
Cuomo’s 92-minute speech was sprinkled, liberally, with reminders of progressive legislation passed in the past seven years like the legalization of gay marriage, creation of a $15 minimum wage, a paid family leave program and a free college tuition program for some students. At one point, he even had people affected by each of those policies stand up to be seen.
The governor also proposed a host of initiatives long sought by progressives, such as early voting and other electoral reforms, criminal justice changes like ending bail for nonviolent criminals, protecting labor unions, and allocating more money to poorer school districts.
Whether it helps win over skeptical progressive leaders remains to be seen.
“I think it starts the process of people judging him in an election year and judging him on what he might do in the future,” said progressive activist Michael Kink. “Whether it all adds up down the line, that’s something that people will be looking at.”
Hours before Cuomo’s speech, a new liberal Super PAC headed by activist Bill Samuels announced it would be running a TV ad “contrasting Andrew Cuomo’s propaganda-filled State of the State Address with ‘The Real State of Our State’: rampant political corruption across New York and a pay-for-play culture in Albany for which Cuomo bears responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s speech certainly didn’t dissuade speculation that he wants to run for President in 2020.
He spent a good chunk of time lambasting the federal government and the impact the Republican tax bill and health care cuts will have on New York.
He also painted Washington as a place that is dividing the nation in nearly every conceivable way and spoke of the need for a major course correction fueled by tolerance and inclusiveness.
He then took direct aim at President Trump, which also doesn’t hurt his re-election campaign in heavily blue New York.
Cuomo noted that the words “e pluribus unum” — meaning “out of many one” — is part of the flag that hangs in the Oval Office “right behind President Trump’s desk.” To illustrate his point, he showed a picture of that office.
“To find the way forward, the President only needs to turn around,” Cuomo said.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, the Staten Island Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Mayor de Blasio in 2017, said Cuomo “used today’s State of the State address as a preview to his presidential campaign. Rather than address the oppressive state taxes imposed on hardworking New Yorkers, he chose to blame Washington. Getting our own house in order should be his No. 1 priority, not D.C. politics.”
Closer to home, Cuomo took what seemed to be several unmistakable digs at Mayor de Blasio, a chief political foe who has also been looking to raise his national profile among progressives.
Cuomo cited problems at the city-controlled Rikers Island jail and record cases of homeless. He also, as he has done in the past, spoke about the difference between talking a good game and accomplishing things.
Cuomo and his aides previously have attacked the mayor’s management competence and ability to get things done.
“Progressive leaders must be dreamers and doers, visionaries and achievers,” Cuomo said Wednesday.