I was recently considering what Andrew Cuomo could do to turn his low polling numbers around. As I have explained in the past, he doesn’t get great numbers upstate. He’s a Democrat, albeit a middle of the roader, and that doesn’t play that well above the burbs. Now he needs to worry about how he’s doing in the Big Apple and its environs.
The Cuomo name has always been gold in the city. His papa Mario has been worshiped as a semi-deity there for years. Since most people know little or nothing about New York State politics, the Cuomo mantel was all that was necessary for Andrew to get approval. But that was before the “Summer of Hell” on the New York subways and the commuter trains in and out of the city. As the appointing authority of the MTA, Andrew took credit for building the Second Avenue Subway so he couldn’t then deny his role in the collapse of the subway system even though he tried to do exactly that. Clearly, he and his cohorts had the mistaken impression that Donald Trump might help out by financing some of the work necessary to repair the mess in the sweltering, accident prone underground system.
So Andrew made sure that Joe Lhota, a real expert on things subway, now heads the beleaguered MTA. That was a good idea and Cuomo and his colleagues deserve credit for the appointment. The problem for Andrew is that Lhota, who already has experience heading the MTA and ran for mayor against — guess who — Bill De Blasio, is a Republican and a Giuliani protégé. It’s no secret that Cuomo has personal problems with De Blasio so he grabbed an opportunity to take a shot at his mayoral nemesis by elevating Lhota to the chairmanship of the MTA. Cuomo never seems to learn that people are fed up with his war on De Blasio. But he gets points for the Lhota appointment because the guy is good. If people perceive that Cuomo is moving aggressively in a bi-partisan manner they may return to the pro-Cuomo fold.
If I were giving Andrew some other advice, I think I would suggest that he do more of what Papa Mario did. Cuomo, like Donald Trump, seems to have his own private war with the press. Papa Cuomo had regular press conferences which he seemed to relish. His son does not. Papa Cuomo was eloquent. Junior is anything but. If you are to win popularity in New York, you need the press on your side. My unsolicited advice to Andrew would be to work on his communication skills. He should make friends by just being honest, accessible, transparent, and open with the people who write and talk about him. That way he would be the beneficiary of a certain kind of respect and camaraderie that often exists on both sides of that relationship. Maybe Cuomo feels that because the press as an institution polls so low, he can afford to ignore them. What’s more, Cuomo should avoid trying to buy loyalty from some members of the press by giving them unfettered access. He tried that in the beginning of his governorship with disastrous results.
As long as I am giving him advice, let me add that he has to be very careful about the amount of power he gives his subordinates. One of the reasons why his numbers are so low is that several of his former close associates face trials that could land them in jail for a good part of their lives. Not only that, his treatment of his fellow political actors like Tom DiNapoli, the state Comptroller, and Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General, has been disgraceful. People don’t like that. He needs to learn how to play nice. Maybe then his numbers will rise from the low point where they now reside.
Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He publishes in the Troy Record