A guide to Cuomo’s potential 2018 gubernatorial challengers
Although the state primary and general elections are months away, the gubernatorial election is already in full swing, with both Democratic and Republican candidates deciding whether to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking his third term. City & State spoke with Bruce Gyory, a Democratic political consultant, and John McArdle, a Republican political consultant, about the roster of potential and confirmed candidates and the state of the race at the beginning of 2018.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo – The Democrat announced in 2016 that he will run for a third term. In a December NY1-Baruch College poll, 50 percent of respondents approved of his job performance. Although 2014 primary challenger Zephyr Teachout garnered 34 percent of the vote against Cuomo, signaling that the governor could be vulnerable to a challenge from the left, Gyory believes that Cuomo is unlikely to face a serious threat in 2018. “The governor is much stronger with the liberal or progressive wing of the Democratic Party than he was four years ago,” Gyory said, noting that Cuomo has appeased some of his left-wing critics with moves like banning high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
(City of Syracuse)
Stephanie Miner – Gyory called the former Syracuse mayor and current visiting scholar at New York University the “only candidate I would take seriously,” due to her record leading the state’s fifth-largest city. Miner said in July that she had been approached by progressives about running for governor, and was considering it. However, her attention seems to have turned to challenging Republican Rep. John Katko, after saying in late November that Katko’s vote for the congressional Republican tax plan made her reconsider her pledge not to run against him.
Terry Gipson – The former state senator from the Hudson Valley formed a campaign committee in November and released a video announcing his bid in December. However, Gipson is considered a long shot in the race against Cuomo. Gyory called him an “excellent candidate” for his former state Senate seat, which he lost to state Sen. Sue Serino in 2014, but noted that he has little name recognition elsewhere in the state. “I don’t see him getting labor support, or being able to raise money,” Gyory said.
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams – In December, Williams filed paperwork to create a campaign committee, Jumaane 4 New York, so he could explore a gubernatorial run. He has attempted to elevate his profile statewide, appearing at the governor’s State of the State address this month instead of attending the vote for City Council speaker, for which Williams was a candidate. However, Williams’ evolving positions on same-sex marriage and abortion rights - which he now publicly supports, after struggling with the issue in his race for council speaker in 2013 - may be a strike against him in the Democratic Party’s progressive base, according to Gyory.
Cynthia Nixon – The former “Sex and the City” star, education advocate and ally of Cuomo rival New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has signaled interest in challenging the governor. Nixon said in an interview with USA Today in August that “there are a lot of people who would like me to run,” indicating that the focus of her campaign would be improving the state’s education system. But Gyory said that Nixon’s celebrity status may work against her, as New Yorkers could be wary of entertainers seeking higher office in the era of President Donald Trump. He also noted that Nixon hasn’t established positions on hot-button issues, such as criminal justice and housing. Gyory asked, “If you’re somebody who is as accomplished an actor as Cynthia Nixon is, and you’re a smart person, which she is, would you want to do this in the absence of fertile political ground for that kind of an assault on Cuomo?”
The state of the Democratic primary
While Teachout was able to campaign largely on concerns over hydrofracking and the environment in 2014, the governor passed several progressive measures during his second term that could ward off a potential challenger on the left.
“Cuomo has built up an awful lot of armor on his left flank based on delivering on issues like climate change, fracking, education, the LGBT front and, of course, minimum wage and paid family leave,” Gyory said.
Although New York City’s worsening subway crisis and problems with MTA funding could be an issue in a primary race, Gyory said that it would not be an “Achilles heel.” With Miner potentially challenging Katko instead of the governor, Cuomo’s path is even smoother.
“So when you look at that, is there disgruntlement from some of the progressive leaders? Yes,” Gyory said. “But does it translate over into anger at the governor from rank-and-file voters? I don’t see it.”
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb – Kolb announced he was running for governor on Dec. 12. But as an upstate Republican likely to be heavily outspent by Cuomo, who has raised more than $25 million, McArdle said Kolb faces an uphill battle in the general election. “Upstate, you have a candidate who can do very well, but without that support in the downstate suburbs to counter the New York City effect, it’s very difficult to run and win statewide,” he said.
Joel Giambra – The former Erie County executive is the second declared Republican candidate for governor, announcing his bid on Jan. 3, but his previous support for Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and de Blasio may make state Republican leaders balk. “I would be shocked if he were the nominee,” McArdle said. “I would hope that Republicans can find someone who has not got that kind of background or (given) that kind of support in the past for Democrats to be the nominee.”
State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco – McArdle said DeFrancisco, who is publicly mulling a bid and has said he will decide shortly, would be an “excellent candidate” because of his mastery of critical issues and his ability to communicate his ideas. However, DeFrancisco faces the same issues as Kolb – an upstate Republican who would be easily outspent by Cuomo.
(Paladino For The People)
Carl Paladino – The former 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate lost in a landslide to Cuomo, but don’t count him out for a potential comeback bid in 2018. McArdle noted that Paladino has “made noise” about running again, and Gyory said that his standing with upstate voters could make him a viable primary challenger. After being removed from the Buffalo Board of Education last year, Gyory said Paladino could see a gubernatorial bid as a way to “re-establish his prestige.”
The state of the Republican primary
State and county Republican leaders were set to meet Monday to discuss the race, with Kolb, Giambra and DeFrancisco in attendance. Several potential candidates have chosen to pass on a gubernatorial bid, including Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and the reported favorite of the state GOP establishment, businessman Harry Wilson. According to McArdle, Wilson would have been the ideal Republican candidate to run in New York, in large part because of his ability to donate $10 million of his own money to his campaign. Without somebody with a “strong business background, successful, and can self-finance and appeal to independents and some Democrats,” McArdle said, the race becomes more complicated.
The state of the general election
Between the dearth in declared Democratic challengers and Republican opponents as well as a steady governing record and a deeply unpopular president, Cuomo is well-positioned for the general election.
“I wouldn’t bet against him,” McArdle said. He also said time is running out for potential candidates on either side to launch a bid against Cuomo, due to the fundraising and campaigning needs. “Ideally, they’re already announced and they’re out circulating the state raising money.”
Gyory noted that Democrats have a voter registration advantage in New York. Plus, other Democratic officials in New York – such as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul – are popular in the state, while the Republican Party, at least nationwide, is not. Since New York has not seen a Republican candidate win statewide office since Gov. George Pataki, who was last re-elected in 2002, Gyory said any state candidates will now be tied to Trump.
“In New York politics, Trump spells ‘tsuris,’” he said, referring to a Yiddish term for trouble.
“Right now, I would say the governor and the Democratic Party in New York, as of Jan. 8, 2018, have a lot to feel good about, and the Republicans have a very steep challenge – first in constructing a strong ticket and then in actually seriously contesting the gubernatorial election,” Gyory said.
Correction: This piece was updated to reflect New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams' current positions on same-sex marriage and abortion.