Only Letitia James running against Governor Cuomo in 2022 could overthrow him
In about a year, there’s a good chance that the still-stubborn Governor Cuomo will run for a fourth term.
Since his youth, this has been his supreme obsession – outdoing his governor father, Mario, who failed to win a fourth time in 1994. Until January, it seemed like a done deal, though it wouldn’t. never had to be.
The coronavirus conqueror Cuomo myth was in full force throughout 2020, as the mainstream media flattered him and ignored the mass suffering across the state. His popularity skyrocketed and there was a brief moment of deregulation where Democrats considered throwing Joe Biden on the presidential ticket and replacing him with Cuomo.
In 2021, everything has changed. First, Attorney General Letitia James, a former ally, released a report which confirmed what many Albany journalists and politicians suspected: The Cuomo administration severely underestimated COVID-19 deaths in homes nursing. The Justice Department would soon launch a new investigation into the cover-up.
At the same time, women who had worked for Cuomo were coming forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault. The State Assembly has opened an impeachment inquiry.
Most of the state’s political class, including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have called for Cuomo’s resignation. Taking advice from his CNN host brother, Cuomo refused to give in, denouncing “the culture cancellation” as his poll numbers plummeted.
James is expected to publish a report on the sexual harassment allegations in the coming months. At some point, the Justice Department’s investigation will reach its conclusion. The Assembly’s slow investigation will also have to end.
But for now, Cuomo exists in a kind of limbo. Support from Democratic voters, down from historic peaks in 2020, could level off or even increase. A recent Siena College poll found that over 60% of Democrats still approve of Cuomo, which will likely convince him to run once again. The governor has a pathological thirst for domination and will not voluntarily renounce the trappings of his office.
Cuomo and his allies believe they have waited for the worst and can now go until June 2022, when the state’s next Democratic primary will be held. In 2014 and 2018, Cuomo easily took out the left-handed challengers, pushing them into oblivion.
But this time could be different as an ideal new candidate has emerged to hunt Cuomo: James herself.
The state’s first black attorney general, James has deep roots in Brooklyn and close ties to the unions. Beating Cuomo in the primary will be about cutting into his deep reservoirs of support. One is work: Huge unions like the 1199 SEIU, the union of healthcare workers, have remained steadfast supporters of Cuomo. James, with her own statewide pole vault and campaign history with them – she won attorney general and public advocate races with the backing of many unions – is perhaps the only person who may remove these organizations from Cuomo.
These statewide unions are pouring millions into campaigns and mobilizing voters. In 2014 and 2018, they helped Cuomo easily take down two progressive challengers, Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon.
The two women failed to beat Cuomo because they couldn’t make inroads into the outskirts of New York City, especially black and Latino neighborhoods. Spending a lot more money, Cuomo has dominated the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, and is counting on that support again to move on to a fourth term.
Deep down, Cuomo knows that James, unlike any other potential candidate, is a threat to win these voters away. She is a former city councilor in central Brooklyn and enjoys great notoriety in black neighborhoods. The city’s public attorney before seizing the attorney general’s office in 2018, James appeared on ballots in competitive elections in all five boroughs.
So far, Cuomo has survived because cautious unions are still in his corner, along with the state’s wealthiest donors. If the financial and Wall Street titans decide they’re fed up with Cuomo, he’s in big trouble. James just needs to improve Nixon’s vote share in New York City, as there are many anti-Cuomo Democrats north of the Five Boroughs, especially in the Albany area.
The path to beating Cuomo is to join black and Latino voters, many of whom are more moderate and observant, with white progressives who also vote reliably. Teachout and Nixon were unable to create this coalition. James, with his pedigree, can. No longer seen as Cuomo’s lackey, she made headlines for pursuing Donald Trump and investigating Cuomo himself.
It won’t be easy, of course. Cuomo is a stupendous fundraiser and there are enough blind liberals watching MSNBC who will stick by his side. But James has a chance to do what was once unthinkable – end the reign of another Cuomo.
Ross Barkan is the author of “The Prince: Andrew Cuomo, Coronavirus, and the Fall of New York” (OR Books), released June 22.