Asked last December whether or not he’d endorse a candidate in New York City’s mayoral race, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was unequivocal.
“I’m not expecting to, no,” he said. “I’m going to try to stay out of the politics of New York City if I can avoid it.”
His avoidance strategy is working. Last June, July and August, he spent nearly three out of four days in the “New York City area” according to daily agendas released by the governor’s office, which uses the label to encompass Long Island and the governor’s home in Westchester County as well as the five boroughs.
This year, however, Cuomo has not appeared at a single public event in New York City since July 3, and has spent less than half of the summer months so far — 42 out of 86 days — in or near New York City.
A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment on whether the governor is deliberately steering clear of the city’s politics this summer. But political consultants said they believe Cuomo, de facto head of the state’s Democratic party, is trying to stay away from the mayoral contest, going so far as to remain neutral even behind the scenes.
“He’s trying as hard as he can not to get involved or even hint that he’s trying to get involved,” said Brooklyn Strategies consultant Evan Thies, who is not working with any of the mayoral candidates.
The governor is also taking pains to dissociate himself from a spate of political corruption indictments that ensnared Albany politicians earlier in the year, and has reason to stay as far away from the scandal-scarred Anthony Weiner campaign as possible. The governor repeatedly expressed dismay at Weiner’s entry into the race, which he called “great political theater” in an interview last month.
Cuomo also has ties to many of the candidates in the race, and endorsing anyone publicly or privately would be politically tricky, said Tom Doherty, a political consultant with Mercury Public Affairs who is not affiliated with any mayoral campaign.
“A primary of this magnitude, particularly a close primary, why would you put yourself out there and offend one of the candidates?” he said.
Cuomo’s upstate tour doesn’t just allow him to avoid New York City — it’s also a charm offensive, a deliberate strategy to boost that region’s flagging economy by promoting development initiatives like July’s whitewater rafting competition, a zero-tax plan for businesses relocating near college campuses and a plan to expand casino gambling.
Cuomo is trying to boost his support among upstate voters, after his poll numbers sank outside New York City in the wake of new gun-ownership restrictions imposed in January. By June this year, a Siena poll showed 48 percent of upstate voters held an unfavorable opinion of the governor, bringing Cuomo’s overall approval rating down to 58 percent, his lowest numbers since he took office in January 2011.
Cuomo told reporters at a fishing event earlier this month the increase in his upstate appearances has nothing to do with his standing in the polls.
“I’m here when the poll numbers are going up, I’m here when the poll numbers are going down,” he said. ”Whatever they’re going to say, they’re going to say and especially in this case, the critics will say anything. We’ve been working on the upstate economy from day one.”
The trips are working to improve his favorability: an August 12 Siena poll showed the share of voters with a favorable opinion of the governor had risen to 55 percent upstate, nudging his overall favorable rating to 65 percent.
Cuomo is likely mindful of his father former Governor Mario Cuomo’s difficulty uniting downstate and upstate New Yorkers, particularly as he sought his fourth term as governor, said Alan Chartock, a journalist who covered the Mario Cuomo administration and is president of WAMC Public Radio. “His father probably lost [to successor George Pataki] because of upstate,” he said.
Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t make the same mistakes, Chartock said. “He’s spending an enormous amount of time upstate. He’s a very sharp analyst of what he has to do to do better.”