New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seen before he presents his 2013–14 Executive Budget address on Tuesday, Januar. 22, 2013, in Albany, New York. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Oddly, for a governor whose home state sits at the vortex of both global media and financial capital, New York’s Andrew Cuomo appears to be preparing his bid for the presidency quietly. Since his election in 2010, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and state attorney general—who is ten years younger than Hillary Clinton and fifteen younger than Joe Biden—has demonstrated a remarkable ability not only to get the legendarily dysfunctional New York State Legislature to work effectively, but to earn simultaneous credit from liberals, centrists and conservatives for doing so. Immediately following Cuomo’s shepherding of the state’s tough new gun control laws, his approval rating dropped from a stratospheric 74 percent to a still-pretty-damn-good 59 percent (falling to 55 percent most recently, but with a mere 27 percent expressing disapproval). And he managed, as Capital New York columnist Blake Zeff noted, to spin the story as if “he was merely paying a price for his bold heroism.”
Speaking to a room full of civic-minded business leaders recently at the law firm of Covington & Burling, the governor projected a winning combination of idealism, hardheaded political realism and charming self-effacement. “Change is hard,” he said. “You know… ‘Eat less and you will lose weight.’ Yeah, I get it. But that eating less is a problem.”
Cuomo’s politics elude easy labeling. An admiring profile in The New Republic claims that he “has been leading the charge of American liberals for over two years now,” and Cuomo himself has called New York “a community based on progressive principles.” He has also boldly stated his pride in New York as what he calls the “progressive capital of the nation.”
Cuomo’s progressive portfolio includes not only the post-Newtown gun control measures, but also 2011’s thrilling gay-marriage legalization. He has been at the forefront of strengthening abortion rights, bucking the national tide and introducing legislation that would guarantee women the right to late-term abortions when their health is threatened or the fetus is deemed unviable. He plans a ten-part Women’s Equality Act that would include equal pay and anti-discrimination provisions. And he has won praise from progressives for his role in producing a package of laws tied to the effects of global warming, after having overseen the state’s (considerable, if inadequate) efforts to recover from Hurricane Sandy. Cuomo is also trying, with mixed but potentially meaningful success, to reduce the impact of New York’s draconian drug laws on young people, especially minorities, who become caught up in the criminal justice system owing to small amounts of marijuana, and also appears to have engineered a last-minute rise in the state’s minimum wage.
Regarding taxation, however, Cuomo’s political profile has displayed a decidedly different side. It’s as if the personality of this self-proclaimed leader of the “progressive community” had been exorcised in favor of the soul brother to Grover Norquist. Not for nothing did Cuomo earned the epithet “bulldog for the rich” from New York Times local reporter Michael Powell. Lauded by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page for his “ruptures with Democratic orthodoxy,” and saluted as a “soul mate” by New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, Cuomo is also admired by National Review pundit Michael Tanner, who touted New York’s “tax-cutting, budget-slashing, fiscally conservative governor” in a piece headlined “Cuomo the Conservative.” Tanner joyfully noted that “Cuomo didn’t just rule out tax increases, he actually called for tax cuts. Already he has pushed through the State Senate a bill establishing one of the nation’s strongest caps on property taxes.” (Cuomo’s 2011 bill, which limits the annual growth of local property taxes that fund public schools to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, is currently the subject of a lawsuit by the state’s teachers union.) In addition, Cuomo announced a freeze on salaries for state workers and forced the expiration of the state’s “millionaire’s tax.”