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Is it Cuomo v Trump in the 2018 race for governor?

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

Governor Cuomo has both a primary challenger and several general election challengers as he seeks a third term in office.  But New Yorkers might be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that the governor is actually running against- President Trump.

On nearly a daily basis, Cuomo spends a portion of his public events railing against President Donald Trump.  

Cuomo spent three days in a row in late July critiquing what he says is the President’s failed cleanup efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of two major hurricanes.

“Come back to Puerto Rico. Apologize for the mistake, say that you will make it right, provide funding for the reconstruction effort and provide help for the struggling economy. Puerto Rico never needed paper towels, Mr. President,” Cuomo said, referring to the President’s appearance in Puerto Rico last fall where he distributed the paper products.

A few days later, the governor was with members of the healthcare workers union and hospital executives, where he vowed to fight against attempts by the Trump Administration to chip away at the Affordable Care Act. And he told the receptive crowd that he’s fighting the President on several other fronts.

“Just think of what they’re trying to do, what they’ve done to the immigrants on the border,” Cuomo said, his voice rising. “Who are you to say who should be anew American, we’re all new Americans”.

Cuomo is highlighting his attacks on the President in ads for his re-election.

“And now he’s taking on Trump,” a narrator intones, as ominous music plays in the background.

Steve Greenberg, a political analyst and spokesman for Siena College polls, says the governor’s focus makes “perfect political sense”. Trump is highly unpopular in New York.

“He uses President Trump as foil, which is a smart political strategy for the governor,” Greenberg said. “He knows that the President is disliked and unfavorably viewed in his home state.”

Greenberg says Cuomo is also using the power of his office to highlight non-Trump-related topics, like economic development grants.

The focus on Trump as a political opponent also helps the governor from having to mention his actual opponents for governor. He faces a primary challenge from New York City actor and education advocate Cynthia Nixon.  Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is waging an independent effort, and the GOP has nominated Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.  There are also Green and Libertarian Party candidates running.

Cuomo is ahead of Nixon, and the others in the polls, so far, and Greenberg says it makes sense not to help her campaign by drawing attention to it.

“When the governor has a two to one lead over Cynthia Nixon, it does not work in the governor’s best political interest to be raising the issue of Cynthia Nixon,” Greenberg said.

The focus on Trump also keeps attention away from other topics the governor does not like to discuss. Several of his former associates were convicted on bribery and bid-rigging charges earlier this year. And the US Attorney in Manhattan is looking into accusations that the governor’s office was involved in a pay to play scandal involving a healthcare complex in the Hudson Valley, known as Crystal Run.

When Cuomo was questioned by a reporter Tuesday about the probe and whether he might return four hundred thousand dollars in donations from the healthcare company officials he initially replied to the question.

“If the ongoing investigation finds any fraud, then, as we’ve always done, we will return the donations,” Cuomo said.

But then, he criticized the reporter’s employer, Charter Communications.  Zack Fink works for the New York City news channel New York 1. It’s owned by Charter Communications, and Cuomo’s Public Service Commission recently began legal action to ban Charter from doing business in the state. Cuomo told the reporter that it’s Charter, operating under the name of Spectrum, that is committing a “fraud” on New York State.

“You are defrauding the people of this state,” Cuomo said, looking directly at the reporter.

Cuomo’s opponents have reacted to the exchange. Nixon says the governor owes the reporter an apology, and she accused Cuomo of acting just like the man he says he’s in opposition to, President Trump.

“A member of the press was verbally attacked by the governor yesterday for doing his job,” said Nixon Wednesday afternoon.

Republican candidate for governor Molinaro says the state Inspector General should investigate, to see whether Cuomo’s revocation of Charter Communications’ license is connected to his relationship with its news reporters.

Cuomo did not take questions from reporters at two events on Wednesday. Late in the day, spokesman Rich Azzopardi issues a statement saying that the governor “respects” Fink’s work, and that Cuomo wasn’t saying anything he has not already said about his grievances against the reporters’ parent company. 

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