For many folks, New Year’s marks a beginning. For Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it poses a test: If he hopes to run for president in 2020 (he does), he needs to bolster his record in New York starting this year and handily win re-election in November.
A recent NY1-Baruch College poll suggests his re-election chances are good: 50 percent of New Yorkers give Cuomo a thumbs-up on job performance, with only 25 percent disapproving. Likewise, 49 percent say he deserves to be re-elected, while just 28 percent say no. The $26 million pile of campaign cash he’s sitting on will also help — though Republicans are lining up to run against him.
Yet Cuomo’s job-approval number is down from 58 percent in the poll’s October survey — and could head anywhere over the next 10 months. As for his dreams of a presidential run, New Yorkers oppose it by 45 percent to 36 percent, the poll showed.
Cuomo’s biggest national problem? His record. What can he run on?
Sure, some progressives may give him points for pushing through gay marriage, a gun control bill, the $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and a rash of environmental moves. But none of that will sell outside blue states.
At the same time, he’s not radical enough to win over Bernie Bros and Elizabeth Warren Democrats. When he ran for re-election in 2014, Zephyr Teachout — a complete unknown — outflanked him on the left and drew 34 percent in the primary.
More important, rivals in any presidential race will ask: How did New York fare under Cuomo’s leadership? And that’s where his troubles begin.
Cuomo can point to some big infrastructure projects, like a new Tappan Zee Bridge and the Second Avenue subway. But New Yorkers will be paying for them for decades through taxes, tolls and fees.
Critics will also argue these projects came at the expense of more desperately needed work, such as repairs and upgrades to existing mass-transit infrastructure — subways, buses, commuter rail lines.
Cuomo will forever be known as the governor who allowed what he himself called a commuter Summer of Hell in 2017. Even as 2018 kicks off and the weather dips into single digits, that “summer” is dragging on, with the plan for needed subway fixes still short hundreds of millions of dollars.
If Cuomo can’t make the trains run on time here, how can he run America?
Meanwhile, in the schools, particularly those in the city, the majority of kids graduate unprepared for college or jobs, even though per-student spending is among the highest in the nation.
And though Cuomo has lent support to the one kind of public school that works — charters — it hasn’t been enough to make a big difference overall.
New York’s pathetic statewide economy will be another sore point. In May, the Commerce Department ranked it 13th from the bottom in growth among states in 2016. For the second quarter of 2017, state GDP clocked in at just 1.2 percent, less than half the nation’s 3.1 percent rate.
Indeed, in every year since Cuomo took office, New York’s economy has lagged the nation. Despite a vibrant Gotham. Despite the billions Cuomo has poured into areas like Buffalo and on favored companies.
And the toll has been absolutely horrific upstate — where, Federal Reserve analysts note, job creation was “sluggish” since 2010 before coming to a near-total halt in early 2016.
Still, Cuomo’s “economic development” programs have produced one thing: corruption scandals.
This month, his former top aide, Joe Percoco — whom he describes as a brother — goes on trial for taking bribes from companies doing business with the state.
Later in the year, other associates will face trial on corruption charges linked to his economic development program. And on top of all that, the FBI is now probing his staffing practices.
Then there’s the budget: Cuomo is staring at a $4 billion hole — even as election pressures will make it hard to rein in spending and cut back on state aid for things like schools, hospitals and transit.
Meanwhile, New York’s taxes remain sky-high, and Cuomo will be taking a huge political risk if he calls for hikes — especially if he wants to take on President Trump, who just presided over a massive national tax cut.
Cuomo, of course, hasn’t announced any plans for a 2020 White House run, but he’s lately been boosting his national profile through increased media appearances and by attacking Trump loudly and often (if not always by name). And the agenda he’ll unveil Wednesday in his State of the State Address, including a rewrite of the state tax code, will surely be as much about his national prospects as his re-election.
Yet to be a viable contender in 2020, he’ll need to show results: A strong state economy. Marked improvement in the schools. A bearable tax and business climate. Trains that run.
It’s a tall order. Happy New Year, Gov.