Cuomo’s Calculated Shift Right Suggests He’s Measuring the Drapes at Gracie Mansion

Gun Rights

New York political insiders say that Governor Cuomo’s apparent rightward rebrand is the clearest sign he’s considering a run for New York City mayor next year.

The Sun spoke with New York politicos on both sides of the aisle about Mr. Cuomo’s political future and they agreed on two points: Mr. Cuomo is eyeing a comeback, and he is positioning himself as a commonsense moderate with managerial expertise who’s ready to swoop in and fix a city in crisis.

The victory of moderate Democrat, George Latimer, in Tuesday’s primary for New York’s 16th congressional district — and the double-digit defeat of Squad member Jamaal Bowman — may be a bellwether for the 2025 New York City mayoral race, some of these politicos say. Amid persistent crime, billions in budget shortfalls, and a migrant crisis that the first-term mayor, Eric Adams, has called existential, New Yorkers may be willing to look beyond a figure like Mr. Cuomo’s flaws to get managerial competence — or they may even choose a Republican.

“We’re at a point of whether the city lives or dies,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf tells the Sun. “Republicans win elections in New York City only when there is a crisis.”

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Enter Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democratic governor who resigned in 2021 amidst multiple sexual misconduct accusations. He seems to be enjoying his rebrand and the mayoral speculation and its attendant spotlight. 

Protesters gather at Washington Square Park to demand the resignation of Governor Cuomo March 20, 2021 in response to the sexual harassment allegations made by numerous women
Protesters gather at Washington Square Park March 20, 2021 to demand the resignation of Governor Cuomo in response to sexual harassment allegations made by numerous women. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

On “Real Time with Bill Maher” this weekend, Mr. Cuomo tried to position himself as above the political fray, saying the New York prosecutions of President Trump were politically motivated and never would have been brought when he was the state’s attorney general. He jokingly recited a formulaic political denial when asked whether he’s eyeing Gracie Mansion.

“I have no current plans to make plans bleh bleh bleh,” Mr. Cuomo said.

“It’s no doubt he wants to run for mayor,” Guardian Angel founder and 2021 Republican nominee for New York’s mayor, Curtis Sliwa, tells the Sun. He says Mr. Cuomo’s recent visits to Black churches and his criticisms of Mr. Adams are indications. “Not being in politics … he is like a junky going through cold turkey — he is desperate to get back into it,” Mr. Sliwa says.

“I think Andrew Cuomo wants to run for any office that he feels is credible,” New York grocery store billionaire and former Republican mayoral candidate, John Catsimatidis, tells the Sun. He estimates there’s a 50-50 chance Mr. Cuomo jumps in the race. 

“His name recognition on a scale of one to ten is a ten, and it’s 80 percent Democrats in New York City, so I think he has a good chance of winning,” Mr. Catsimatidis says.

“I think he would like to run again. He administratively was very effective as governor,” a former New York Democratic governor, David Paterson, tells the Sun.

Mr. Paterson says he thinks Mr. Adams is going to win re-election, but he also says Mr. Cuomo should lay low to give voters time to forget the sexual misconduct accusations. He says his former boss, Governor Spitzer, who resigned amid a high-end call girl scandal, followed this advice before his attempted comeback. Yet Mr. Cuomo, he says, doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of the spotlight.

“It wasn’t like Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. It was like Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill and four other identical twins,” Mr. Paterson says of the allegations against Mr. Cuomo. “I had lunch with him one time and I told him I thought he should join the Peace Corps. In other words, not only because people kind of forget you for a while, they also forget what you did.”

Mr. Cuomo is likely hoping voters forget more than the sexual misconduct complaints. His handling of Covid and his decision to send Covid-positive patients back into nursing homes is another black mark on his tenure as governor. While a report released earlier this month from the Olson Group, commissioned by Governor Hochul, largely absolved Mr. Cuomo of causing excess nursing home deaths, it did conclude that Mr. Cuomo made “a significant and unnecessary mistake” when he ignored prior pandemic planning for a centralized approach with himself in command. 

People who've lost loved ones due to Covid-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a protest and vigil on March 25, 2021 at New York City.
People who’ve lost loved ones due to Covid while they were in New York nursing homes attend a protest March 25, 2021 at New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Mr. Cuomo will also need to combat his reputation as a bully, and an ideological one at that. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously last month against an official in Mr. Cuomo’s administration for violating the First Amendment rights of the National Rifle Association by pressuring companies in the state not to do business with them following the Parkland school shooting in Florida. The court’s opinion, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, excoriated Mr. Cuomo by name for “coercing” businesses to cut ties with the gun rights group.

“There’s no question he is trying to position himself as a moderate,” former New York GOP communications director, David Laska, tells the Sun. “But when people look back at Andrew Cuomo, his tenure as governor, especially during the Covid years, with the benefit of hindsight, it doesn’t look good.”  

Mr. Sliwa was more blunt. “The guy is the biggest sanctimonious hypocrite going.”

“I think the chances are good that he jumps back in, and yes, he has a shot at winning,” Westchester County executive and Republican gubernatorial challenger to Mr. Cuomo in 2014, Rob Astorino, tells the Sun.

“Voters have amnesia,” Mr. Astorino says of Mr. Cuomo’s “Covid debacle,” his support for liberal policies like bail reform and congestion pricing, and the sexual misconduct complaints. He calls Mr. Cuomo’s rebrand as a commonsense moderate “Cuomo 4.0,” because he says Mr. Cuomo is a “political chameleon” who has rebranded multiple times before.

“My advice to Eric Adams is less nightlife and more day job, and if he focuses and takes some really hard stances on cleaning things up and doesn’t worry about politics, then I think he’ll be re-elected and rewarded,” Mr. Astorino says. If he hesitates and tries too hard to please the far left, though, Mr. Astorino says he will “get run over by Cuomo.”

Mr. Adams won the mayoralty in 2021 by staking out a path as a moderate, former police officer in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests. Several of the Republicans and Democrats who spoke with the Sun said he has “unfairly” inherited multiple crises, from crime to the migrants to inflation.

His favorability rating is the lowest for any New York City mayor since Quinnipiac first started tracking it 20 years ago. Even 60 percent of Democrats think the city is on the “wrong track,” according to a Manhattan Institute poll.

“We’re in a crisis,” Mr. Sheinkopf says. He says Mr. Cuomo’s pivot to the center is smart politics. New Yorkers want change and are willing to look rightward in times of crises. He says Fiorello LaGuardia was elected amidst a crisis of corruption; John Lindsay during a “complete breakdown of city services;” Rudy Giuliani during a crime crisis; and Mike Bloomberg right after 9/11.  

“The question for Andrew Cuomo is would he be the right guy at this moment?” Mr. Sheinkopf says. “And his best answer is that he’s built bridges, he’s delivered budgets on time, and he put 750 cops into the subway system.”

Mr. Paterson, though, warns Mr. Cuomo needs to be careful not to be seen as trying to oust a Black leader. “Governor Cuomo spent most of the time that I was governor organizing to try to get me to leave, and I don’t know if a second time around that would be appreciated,” he says. “There could be a real backlash.”

Thursday evening, Mr. Cuomo’s spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, sent a statement to the Sun. 

“The future is the future and he gets these questions often, which I think are fueled by the fact that many people are facing a crisis in confidence in government at many levels and now view the circumstances in which he left office as the political railroading that it was.

“Andrew Cuomo has always been Andrew Cuomo, the same guy who passed marriage equality and strict gun violence prevention laws also
permanently capped property taxes, kept spending under 2 percent for a
decade and lowered the estate, manufacturing and middle class income
taxes. I’m not surprised some right wing used car salesman have
selective amnesia about that, it must make things easier.”

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