Throughout most of the United States, most politicians are lucky to be elected to an office as high as Senator or Governor, and even rarer to serve not just one term, but two full terms. For most of this past decade Andrew Cuomo has served as New York’s 56th Governor. Serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, and as the Attorney General of New York under Governor Eliot Spitzer and Governor David Paterson from 2007 to 2010, he is part of the second generation of New York’s most recent political dynasty. His father was the 52nd Governor of New York—Mario Cuomo—who served in that elected position for three terms from 1983 to 1994. The senior Cuomo was known to be an excellent orator, famous for his 1984 speech at the Democratic National Convention, and in 1988 and 1992 he was a serious contender to run for President of the United States and was considered by President Clinton a potential nominee for the Supreme Court. It is no surprise that with the name and the experience, Andrew Cuomo managed to easily win his first term as Governor of New York in 2010. However, Cuomo’s governorship is one of contradictions. Looking purely at his policy achievements, he may very well be considered among the greatest men to hold the office, but adding in the questionable ethics and other failures, it tarnishes that legacy. On January 1, 2019, Cuomo was sworn in for a historic third term as Governor of New York, a feat only achieved by George Pataki, Mario Cuomo, Nelson Rockefeller, Thomas E. Dewey, and before that only George Clinton. With his third term beginning in 2019, he will have at least four more years to set in stone his legacy, and a chance to run for President of the United States in 2020.
Starting his first term, Cuomo quickly went to work on several of his most important policy achievements. First among them was restructuring the tax code in 2011, which increased taxes for high earners. This, according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, was significant in helping to keep the state living within its means. A second accomplishment in his first year of office—and regarded as one of his best as Governor of New York—was passing a landmark legalization of same-sex marriage. For this reason, Cuomo became one of the loudest advocates for LGBT+ people in New York and across the United States. Further triumph came in 2013, when Governor Cuomo pushed for the ten-part Women’s Equality Act, which tackled issues like human trafficking, domestic violence, reduce sexual harassment in the workplace, and advocating for equal pay in the workplace. Nine out of ten of the constituent bills were passed in 2015 by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo. In 2014, backed up by significant scientific research, Cuomo also announced a statewide ban of hydraulic fracturing—fracking—citing public health issues which in the years since then have proven to be true in other states that allowed such actions. In addition to this, he pushed through the NY SAFE Act, the toughest gun control law in the nation after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. Finally, perhaps his most recent accomplishment was the Excelsior Scholarship, which is slowly phasing in different income levels for free college tuition for all four-year SUNY and CUNY schools, which plans to reach a cap for families making $200,000 a year. Outside of these accomplishments include many others, Cuomo already has a powerful resume, but with his second term ending and starting a third term, he might spend the next four years passing even more progressive legislation.
During the 2018 gubernatorial race, Cuomo faced his first significant challenger in the form of actress Cynthia Nixon, who challenged him from the left. Despite appearing to have an edge, Cuomo won his party’s nomination for a third term with 65% of the vote. In the general election, Cuomo surprisingly made gains from his performance in 2014, earning 59% of the statewide vote, including retaking Long Island and parts of the Hudson Valley in a high-turnout election. Included in this election, the Democratic Party made significant gains in the State Senate, retaking the body from the Republicans—with most of their gains on Long Island—and gaining more seats in the Assembly. Over the previous eight years of his time in office, the Republicans had controlled the State Senate, always a hurdle for his most progressive pieces of legislation. Now, on January 1, 2019, he will have a trifecta in Albany, which portends the passage of significant progressive legislation over the next four years. Legalizing recreational marijuana is perhaps the most expected, with New York to join the growing list of states having legalized the drug. The introduction of early voting along with voting reform is also expected, as well as rent regulation, single-payer healthcare, and other significant reforms. Cuomo is perhaps facing the opposite of what most others in his position face. Whereas Presidents and Governors often have strong starts and weak finishes, Cuomo began with a strong start, a weak middle, and will most likely have a strong start with four more years to accomplish more policy wins.
Despite his policy achievements, Cuomo’s time as Governor of New York has not been entirely clean or lacking criticism. The Buffalo Billions scandal, for example, saw Cuomo’s former aide and friend Joseph Percoco indicted for bribery. Another lobbyist and aide, Todd Howe, was also indicted in this scandal. Perhaps most scandalous was in 2014 when Cuomo dissolved the Moreland Commission after they had pushed through moderate ethics reform. For many, this was a sign that Governor Cuomo was attempting to prevent ethics reform and was meant to protect his allies in Albany who had supported his policies, including Assembly and Senate leaders. Another significant failure for Cuomo was START-UP NY, a $53 million program that only created four hundred jobs. Perhaps the most visible example of a failure in office was Cuomo’s handling of Hurricane Sandy. Although he did handle the actual disaster and the immediate aftermath well, he was criticized for using $40 million of the recovery package on television ads to encourage tourism. Most recently, Cuomo has received flak for effectively handing over billions of dollars to Amazon to have their second headquarters in Long Island City, which many fear will significantly raise rents further in Queens and Brooklyn, and fears that the cost from the tax incentives will outweigh the benefits, as well as the likelihood that the new jobs created will not be from New Yorkers receiving jobs, but instead people working for Amazon simply moving to New York City. For these reasons among others, Cuomo’s legacy also has a darker side.
As he takes the oath of office for his third term on Ellis Island, Cuomo will be setting the tone of the next four years of his political career. According to reports, his inaugural address will include promises of progressive reforms, as well as criticism of President Donald Trump, the address being on Ellis Island a direct response to Trump’s extremely anti-immigrant beliefs amidst a government shutdown over the proposed border wall. In addition to that, in the coming months we will likely find out his intentions for the 2020 Presidential election. He is widely seen as a possible contender, being from one of the largest fundraising states in the country, managing the nation’s fourth largest state for eight years and by the election ten years, and carrying name recognition that many younger candidates might not have. Despite his clear flaws, Cuomo has more significant executive experience than any other possible candidate. Governors have historically been regarded as being better fit for the White House than Senators, a criticism often hurled at President Barack Obama. Some of the greatest people who have held the office served in that position. Most recently, President George W. Bush served as Governor of Texas and President Bill Clinton as Governor of Arkansas. President Ronald Reagan served as Governor of California, and President Jimmy Carter served as Governor of Georgia. Going back even further, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as Governor of New York, as did his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, who held the same position. If Cuomo does run, he will stand out in a field of Senators, and the only others who have led states lack national name recognition, including outgoing Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. If he does choose to run, which at this point is one of the biggest questions he is facing, Cuomo will have an extensive list of achievements to tout during the campaign. He has shown ability to work with Republican lawmakers and procure votes for legislation he wants passed, and at the same time satisfy progressives with legislation that favors their points of view. In addition to that, he has been extremely critical of President Trump, and has a fundraising and experience advantage. He would be one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination, and although he does have things going against him, he will likely be able to get around it as so many other contemporary politicians have been able to do as well.