Governor, New York
Official/Personal Web Site
Andrew Cuomo is currently the governor of New York and has long been viewed as politically ambitious with an eye on the White House. His chief assets include a famous name in Democratic politics, prime access to New York’s fundraising circles, and a record as governor that will generally please Democratic constituencies in a primary contest while offering a few nuggets to independents concerned about education and business growth, among other issues. While Cuomo has many attributes that could make him a strong contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination, there has been little if any effort on his part to pursue a campaign, and at this late date it is highly unlikely that he will enter the race.
Cuomo has more than 30 years of serious political experience, going back to his father’s campaign for governor in 1982. He has been through U.S. Senate confirmation hearings and four statewide campaigns in New York, three of which he won handily. His first campaign ended before the primary when he withdrew following controversial comments regarding Gov. George Pataki’s performance during the 9/11 attacks.
His record as governor has not been a conventionally progressive or liberal one, as he has fought with teacher unions to improve education and sought to cut business taxes. On social issues he has toed the liberal line, however, which may play well in New York and Democratic primaries but could hamper him in a general election. His administration banned fracking for oil and gas, and he has been a supporter of Obamacare.
As is typical of many governors, Cuomo does not have much of a track record on foreign relations or defense policy. As governor of New York state and attorney general before that, he likely has been well briefed on terrorism threats however, which is likely to give him a different or at least better informed perspective than some of his potential 2016 rivals.
A Cuomo campaign in 2016 would be able to appeal to nearly every constituent group traditionally part of the Democratic coalition, including environmentalists, feminists, most public and private sector unions, business interests heavily reliant on preferential treatment from the government, housing and poverty activists, trial lawyers, and others. Teacher unions are likely to look elsewhere in the nomination battle because of his support for charter schools, but would likely be reliable supporters in the general election, as they were with President Barack Obama (another charter school supporter).
Cuomo might also have trouble attracting the support of hard-core anti-business activists as a result of some of his pro-business (but not pro-market) policies, and his occasional clashes with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may also drive some potential supporters to more populist, anti-business candidates.
A national campaign would likely expose Cuomo to significant scrutiny over ethics and corruption, and unlike 2008, when Obama had a shallow enough record in Illinois politics to plausibly claim he was not part of the corruption endemic to that state, Cuomo’s long history of involvement in New York politics may not be so easily overlooked.
The most likely (and possibly only) scenario for a late entry by Cuomo into the 2016 contest would require a serious collapse in support for the current frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with a decision by Vice President Joe Biden to stay out of the race. Under such circumstances a “draft Cuomo” movement could potentially arise out of Democratic leaders’ concerns about the stature and electability of the remaining candidates. A sitting governor of New York who comes with a substantial and generally liberal record in office, a relatively well-known and respected political name, and access to major fundraising networks, could be an easy choice for party insiders desperate for options.
Andrew Mark Cuomo was born on December 6, 1957, in Queens, New York. He is the eldest of 5 children born to Mario Cuomo and Matilda Raffa Cuomo.
A Roman Catholic, Cuomo attended St. Gerard’s School and the prestigious Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens. He received his bachelor’s degree from Fordham University in 1979, and his J.D. from Albany Law School in 1982.
Following his graduation from Albany Law School, he joined his father’s campaign for governor of New York as an adviser and campaign manager. After helping to guide his father to a narrow 2-point victory over Republican Lewis Lehrman, Cuomo was named to manage the gubernatorial transition committee. He was later elevated to the role of special adviser to the governor.
In 1984, Cuomo was appointed a New York assistant district attorney. During that time he founded Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged, or HELP, a nonprofit organization with the goal of providing housing and support services to help the homeless become self-reliant. After a brief stint at the law firm of Bultrich, Falcone & Miller, Cuomo left in 1986 to manage HELP full time. His work with HELP lead to an appointment as chairman of the New York City Homelessness Commission from 1990-1993 in the administration of New York Mayor David Dinkins.
Cuomo was appointed Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development in the Department of Housing and Urban Development in President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1993. After HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros resigned under a cloud of controversy and scandal in 1997, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Cuomo to succeed Cisneros. He continued to serve in that role through the end of the Clinton administration in 2001.
Cuomo made his first run for governor of New York in 2002, challenging sitting GOP Gov. George Pataki. He withdrew before the primary election after making comments criticizing Pataki’s handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that were criticized and denounced by many, including Cuomo’s own father.
Making his second run for statewide office, Cuomo declared his candidacy for New York attorney general in 2006. He captured the Democratic nomination, and went on to win the seat with 58 percent of the vote in the general election.
After serving one term, Cuomo declared his intention to run for governor in 2010. He easily captured his party’s nomination, and handily defeated Republican nominee Carl Paladino, taking over 62 percent of the vote. He was easily re-elected to a second term in 2014, winning 58 percent of the vote against Republican Rob Astorino.
Cuomo was married to Kerry Kennedy — the seventh child of Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy — from 1991 until they divorced in 2005. They have three children together: Cara, Michaela, and Mariah. Since 2011, Cuomo has lived with Food Network host Sandra Lee in the home they share in Westchester County, New York.
In 2013, Cuomo established the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption for the purpose of investigating New York politicians and political organizations for potential violations of state laws governing elections, ethics, and political fundraising. During the commission’s tenure, there were accusations that the Cuomo administration interfered with their work and steered them away from investigations that could be damaging to him or to his administration.1 Shortly after these allegations were made public, Cuomo permanently disbanded the commission.2 This decision received criticism from government watchdogs and prompted Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to open an investigation into possible interference in the commissions work by the governor’s office.3
Cuomo also drew criticism for possibly misappropriating disaster relief funds for Hurricane Sandy by using some of the funds for an advertising campaign to pitch the state to businesses, called “New York State Open for Business.”4
During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Cuomo had stated that New York taxes were “out of control” and had pledged not to increase taxes as governor. Yet, in 2011, Cuomo worked a proposal through the legislature that increased taxes on those in the upper income tax brackets.5
Cuomo also pushed off politically charged decisions on fracking, bridge tolls, and upstate casino locations until after his 2014 election, preventing voters from knowing where he stood on those key issues.6 Otherwise, Cuomo has largely pushed policies and issues that he campaigned on, and there are few notable reversals.
Cuomo’s time at the Department of Housing and Urban Development had its controversial moments, as well.
While HUD secretary, Cuomo had pressured government-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to participate in home loans that many contend contributed to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. As the Village Voice characterized it, “[Cuomo] turned the Federal Housing Administration mortgage program into a sweetheart lender with sky-high loan ceilings and no money down, and he legalized what a federal judge has branded “kickbacks” to brokers that have fueled the sale of overpriced and unsupportable loans. Three to four million families are now facing foreclosure, and Cuomo is one of the reasons why.”7
Also during his tenure as HUD secretary, Cuomo created the Community Builders program, without appropriation from Congress. A former HUD employee later accused Cuomo of using the program as a de facto wing of the Democratic Party.8
Early on in his time as an assistant secretary at HUD, Cuomo drew condemnation for organizing a lavish conference to announce a new anti-poverty program at a cost of $235,360 to American taxpayers. In addition to the extravagance and the cost, Cuomo was accused of using the event for self-promotion purposes, with one detractor calling it a “rah-rah rally for Andrew Cuomo.” Cuomo also doubled the number of top-level staffers who reported to him at HUD, and racked up a travel bill of nearly $1 million during one of his years as assistant secretary. 9
The Wall Street Journal characterized the spending spree as “image making,” adding that it “strained HUD budgets so much that officials have devised plans to pay some bills by diverting money from projects intended to help people.”10
Cuomo has not backed down from powerful Democratic Party interests, particularly the state teacher unions. He has referred to public schools as having a “monopoly,” asked for more rigorous accountability standards for teachers, and backed both charter schools and tax credits to expand educational choice.11 All of these positions are loathed by most progressives and organized labor.
While Cuomo isn’t regarded as a poor communicator, he often pales in comparison to his late father. Mario Cuomo is well remembered for delivering the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1984, regarded by some as one of the great political rhetorical performances of all time.12 Andrew Cuomo has no similar major speeches or similarly lauded rhetorical performances to his credit. Similarly, Cuomo has not faced any significant debates in his previous elections.
Cuomo is politically well connected. In this area, he benefits from his father’s past political office, as well as his connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton from his time as HUD secretary in Clinton’s administration.
With the exception of his 2002 campaign for governor of New York, where he withdrew after making controversial comments critical of Gov. George Pataki’s handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks,13 Cuomo has experienced only successful campaigns for public office that were not particularly politically challenging. In three statewide races, Cuomo has never secured less than 54 percent of the vote, winning his first contest for governor by with more than 62 percent of the popular vote.14
As characterized by The New York Times, Cuomo has been able to successfully work with Republicans in the state house on some issues. As the Times put it, “Republicans also have much in common with the governor, who has doggedly and unapologetically sought to curb spending and cut taxes.” This ability to work with politicians across the aisle helps, according to the Times, “the kind of centrism that has long been [Cuomo’s] political brand.”15
If Cuomo were to run for higher office, he would likely be able to count on significant support from nearly every major constituency group that forms the core of the Democratic base, including environmentalists, social liberals, and organized labor (except for teacher unions).
In 2014, Cuomo signed a so-called comprehensive tax reform package. Included in this package were provisions that lowered the corporate tax rate from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent, cut property taxes, and raised the exemption from the estate tax from $1 million to $5.25 million.16 This package also lowered the tax rate on the highest income bracket in New York’s progressive income tax system, but it did extend a surcharge for individuals making more than $200,000 per year that had been set to expire.17 This move was contradictory to, and possibly evasive of, a promise Cuomo had made not to increase taxes.18
In addition to the comprehensive tax reform bill, Cuomo has also signed a bill to cap property taxes in New York. The new bill ties property tax increase to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.19
Some, however, are critical of Cuomo’s record as a tax-cutter. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, characterized over half of Cuomo’s tax cuts, and in particular his property tax relief, as merely “tax shift,” moving taxes that were previously assessed at a local level up to the state level. As McMahon puts it, “it would shift a little more of the local tax burden to the state tax base — in the long run promoting more growth in local spending and taxes.”20 Cuomo does not have a good record on reforming or repealing regulations. The New York state senate produced a bipartisan report in 2014 that recommended significant regulatory reforms in New York, estimating New York businesses have the burden of complying with over 750,000 different state regulations. Of those 750,000, the report recommended that approximately 2,200 of those regulations be either eliminated or eased,21 including proposals to streamline New York building codes, repealing the intrastate prohibition on liquid natural gas hauling, and reviewing or eliminating 25 different state fees, and streamlining or eliminating licensing requirements for a number of different professions.22 Despite the report’s bipartisan nature, Cuomo has yet to take action on its recommendations.23
In a 2011 deal struck between the governor and the Public Employees Federation, Cuomo was able to secure several concessions from the union. Among these were the end of some automatic pay raises, the implementation of furlough days, and an increase in the employee contribution to their health care plans. These concessions were made in exchange for immunity from public employee layoffs.24
Cuomo has announced that reducing public employee pensions benefits would be a priority of his administration.25 In 2011, Cuomo signed a bill that increased the contributions public employees make to their pensions, increased the retirement age, and increased the time of employment necessary for vesting for a pension.26
While other states in the nation have benefited immensely from the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the jobs, personal wealth, and tax revenue it has created, New York instituted a moratorium on the process in 2010.27 In 2012, Cuomo announced that the state would consider lifting the ban.28 But, in December 2014, after Cuomo had secured re-election, he announced that the state would adopt of ban on fracking.29 He does not appear to have taken a position on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Cuomo has also expressed opposition to nuclear power, working to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant.30
Despite New York’s budget problems, Cuomo has continued to invest significant funds into solar power. He announced an additional $150 million per year over 10 years for solar power in his 2013 State of the State address.31
In the same speech, Cuomo announced plans to create a $1 billion “Green Bank,”32 and appointed the politically connected former Goldman Sachs partner Richard Kauffman to oversee the program. Kauffman’s appointment has been characterized as “pure money for energy companies and energy entrepreneurs looking to play in what Kauffman called ‘frontier markets.’”33
Cuomo has stated that cutting spending is a priority of his administration. Yet spending in the New York State budget has increased approximately $4 billion in recent years, from $129 billion in 2009 to $142.6 billion in 2014. Cuomo’s proposed 2014 budget represented a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year’s budget.34 In 2014 New York still faced an enormous budget deficit of more than $1.7 billion.35
The libertarian Cato Institute gave Cuomo a “B” in its fiscal policy report card. While Cato noted that spending has been “average” over Cuomo’s first four years, it warned that his initiative to expand pre-kindergarten in the state will be expensive.36
Cuomo has consistently supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.37 After Republican state lawmakers blocked legislation that would have created a state health care insurance exchange Cuomo issued an executive order mandating the creation of the exchange.38 This earned Cuomo criticism for “sidestepping the legislature” when it didn’t give him what he wanted.39 Cuomo has expressed opposition to block grants for Medicaid.40
Cuomo expressed a desire to eliminate entitlement and welfare programs that don’t work in his 2003 book Crossroads: The Future of American Politics. Cuomo noted that even though Democrats knew the federal welfare system wasn’t working property, they waited until the Republicans initiated reform in 1994.41
He has yet to take any significant action on entitlement and welfare reform as governor.
Cuomo has spearheaded a program to increase trade between New York and foreign countries.42
In October 2014, Cuomo announced that he would embark on a number of trade missions to other countries to promote trade between those nations and New York. Among the countries on Cuomo’s travel itinerary are China, Mexico, Italy, Israel, and Canada.43
Following Obama’s announcement of normalized foreign relations with the nation of Cuba, Cuomo announced plans for a trade mission to that country.44
In 2011, Cuomo announced that New York would no long participate in the federal Security Communities Program. While the program is characterized as one to deport serious felons who are in the United States illegally, critics claimed that it led to the deportation of many non-felons. Cuomo was only the second governor to take such an action with regard to this program.45
Before the 2014 elections, state senate Democrats had announced plans for legislation that would have granted illegal immigrants the same rights as U.S. citizens. While it was believed that Cuomo would have signed such a bill if the Democrats took control of the legislature, Cuomo never confirmed this supposition. Republicans maintained control of the state senate in the 2014 elections, leaving the bill dead and rendering the issue moot.46
During his time in office, Cuomo has increased New York State spending on agriculture programs. This includes the creation of a new grant fund for new farmers who use “innovative agriculture techniques,”47 and a $21 million program for dairy farmers to convert waste to energy.48
In 2014 Cuomo promoted a program called Start-Up NY that promised “tax-free zones” for businesses that relocate to certain areas of New York State, primarily targeting tech start-up companies. This program promised 10-year exemptions from all property, sales, and state income taxes. Certain sectors of business were, however, exempt from the incentive plan, including retailers, hotels, medical providers, and law offices.49
Cuomo has also supported tax credits and subsidies for green energy initiatives.
He has proposed $250 million in subsidies for large-scale clean energy generation projects such as wind farms, fuel cells, biomass facilities, renewable biogas, and the upgrading of small- to medium-sized hydropower projects.50 In his 2013 State of the State speech, Cuomo proposed creating a $1 billion New York Greenbank to distribute subsidies to green energy companies.51
He has also signed a letter in support of the federal American Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit.52
In 2013, Cuomo signed an extension of the state’s Film and TV Post-Production Tax Credit, which offers $420 million per year to qualified projects. Since the program was established in 2004, it has granted more than $1 billion in incentives.
Cuomo has expressed public resistance to providing public subsidies for a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills. This is despite previously proclaiming, “We will do what we have to do to keep the Bills in Western New York.” Cuomo would later back away from the statement, adding that “the state would do its part; the county would do its part, but only if you really need a new stadium, which, frankly, I am not convinced of.”53
New York State taxpayers have already contributed $90 million towards a $130 million renovation project for the Bills’ current home, Ralph Wilson Stadium.54
In 2014, Cuomo supported contributing as much as $200 million for a $500 million sports arena in Syracuse, but the project was abandoned when Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner couldn’t be convinced to endorse the project.55
Cuomo not only supports the Export-Import Bank but has proposed the creation of a state-based bank to provide similar benefits to New York-based businesses.
In the wake of the financial sector collapse in 2008, Cuomo filed a number of lawsuits against financial institutions in his capacity as attorney general including fraud charges against Bank of America56 and charges against Ernst & Young, claiming they helped client Lehman Brothers “engage in a massive accounting fraud”57
As secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Cuomo pushed banks to make loans to less-credit-worthy borrowers, admitting in 1998 that this would lead to higher default rates.58
During his first term, Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have created a state support program for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and other traumatic brain injuries.59
During his time as governor, Cuomo has notably steered clear of commenting on national political issues, such as foreign policy concerns. In his 2003 book Crossroads: The Future of American Politics, Cuomo did criticize national Democrats for failing to effectively question President George W. Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq War.60
In response to increased concerns about terrorism at mass transit hubs, particularly in the wake of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have announced increased security at transportation centers in their respective states.61
In August 2014, Cuomo made a visit to the nation of Israel, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During their summit, Cuomo expressed his support for the nation of Israel and the need for the country to defend itself from threats.64
Cuomo opted not to reappoint a conservative judge to the New York State Supreme Court, citing her rulings on social issues.65 He appointed a Democrat-affiliated judge in her place, shifting the political composition of the court to four liberal justices and three conservatives.66
Cuomo has made comments suggesting he doesn’t see a place for conservatives in New York. In 2014 he said in a WCNY radio interview: [New York Republicans] are searching to define their soul, that’s what’s going on. Is the Republican party in this state a moderate party or is it an extreme conservative party?… The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives…? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are. If they’re moderate Republicans like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate — moderate Republicans have a place in their state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican, but not what you’re hearing from them on the far right.”67
Cuomo has also been critical of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which is regarded by many as a victory for religious liberty. Following the court’s decision, Cuomo tweeted: “Today’s #HobbyLobby decision is a setback for equality in the workplace and unfairly denies women access to healthcare.”68
Cuomo is a signatory to an initiative that seeks to disband the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote.69
Cuomo has been supportive of charter schools in New York, including either raising or eliminating the state’s cap on the number of charter schools.70 He has also expressed a desire to revamp the state’s teacher evaluation process because, in his view, the current review programs are too easy to pass.71 During his 2014 re-election campaign he referred to public schools as one of the last remaining “monopolies” and that he aimed to break up that monopoly.72
However, Cuomo has also been critical of other school choice initiatives. In his 2003 book Crossroads: The Future of American Politics, Cuomo wrote that “vouchers for private school are not the panacea that Republicans would have people believe, and they threaten to undermine our existing public schools.”73
Despite growing criticism, Cuomo has supported and implemented the Common Core standards in New York schools, although he has delayed evaluations of teachers and students based off of these new standards.74
During his first term in office, Cuomo signed a bill that created a statewide evaluation system for teachers that focused on performance and not on seniority.75
Cuomo’s political career has been occasionally marred by controversial moments and some broken promises.
During his first campaign for governor of New York in 2002, Cuomo said of Republican and then-Gov. George Pataki:
“Pataki stood behind the leader. He held the leader’s coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader. Cream rises to the top, and Rudy Giuliani rose to the top.”76
His comments received bipartisan criticism, even from Cuomo’s own father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.77
In 2008, while supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, Cuomo made a comment about Obama that was perceived by some as racially insensitive. In an interview with a New York sports talk station Cuomo said of the campaign:
“It’s not a TV crazed race. Frankly you can’t buy your way into it. You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference. All those moves you can make with the press don’t work when you’re in someone’s living room.”78
Though Cuomo maintained he wasn’t speaking directly about Obama, the racial connotation of “shuck and jive” still echoed.
Cuomo would likely face questions over the anti-corruption commission he established to pressure the state legislature to pass reform measures he favored. The commission was tasked with investigating New York politicians and political organizations for potential violations of state laws governing elections, ethics and political fundraising, but was apparently steered away by the Cuomo administration from investigations that could be damaging to him or to his administration.79 Shortly after these allegations were made public, Cuomo permanently disbanded the commission.80 He will also likely have to contend with the general perception that politics in New York is excessively corrupt – the top leaders of both the New York Assembly and Senate have both been indicted on corruption charges within the last year, and numerous other legislators have as well.
Cuomo will also have to answer allegations that his tenure as secretary of Housing and Urban Development included loosening mortgage standards that later led to the 2008 financial crisis and that he used taxpayer dollars to promote his image and Democratic causes.
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