The following was published on TheHill.com by Opinion Contributor, Joseph Borelli:
Miranda Hobbes was a New York success story. A Harvard Law graduate, she came to the city and outshined her male counterparts in the courtroom, all while balancing motherhood and the complexity of her personal relationships. In many ways, she is an archetype of the independent and cosmopolitan alpha woman.
It would be easy, then, to imagine her reaction had she seen the news clip of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bizarre attempt to “mansplain” and downplay sexual harassment to a female reporter who reasonably asked for a follow-up on incidents within his own administration.
Of course, Miranda is fiction; but Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played her on “Sex and the City,” shares many of her talents and has a long history of progressive activism in New York City on issues ranging from LGBT rights to public school funding. This week, she took another big step towards running against Cuomo in a Democratic primary.
This is bad news for the governor, who is already in the midst of a rough patch. Although he is the clear frontrunner in his reelection bid, sitting comfortably on a $31 million war chest, Nixon’s entry into the race from his vulnerable left flank certainly clouds the vision of a pathway to the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Cuomo’s poll numbers took a dive in February. One survey found his net favorability rating dropped 19 points in one month, while 5 percent fewer people were likely to vote for him. Another poll had his approval rating at just 47 percent, and nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers said he should not run for president.
A significant factor in this drop-off is the near-daily drip of information out of the criminal trial of the governor’s right hand man. The case involves apparent vintage Tammany-style corruption, complete with alleged bribery, low-show jobs, and quid pro quo. The outcome is uncertain, but the outrage is real. Half of New York state voters believe the man who first ran on a vow to clean up Albany is now part of the state’s corruption problem.
(Enter stage left CYNTHIA NIXON holding progressive banner)
The actress-turned-activist is now debuting in a long-running comedy in which the leading male performer changes costumes in each scene, who wrongly assuming the audience is unaware. Hilarity ensues.
New York’s activist Democratic base is not happy with Andrew Cuomo. He is a tactician, not an ideologue. Sure, he raised the state’s minimum wage, legalized gay marriage, and banned fracking; but these were all done when they were overwhelmingly popular. He was just as comfortable capping detested property taxes, or doling out crony-capitalist breaks to corporate allies. Even on a relatively clear-cut issue like charter schools, he has been both for them and against them when it has suited him.
Perhaps nothing angers all New York Democrats, from moderate Upstate districts to uber-left Williamsburg, than his historic support for a small group of breakaway state senators who keep the Republicans in a de facto majority. Cuomo has said he supports a reunification deal; but in reality, the governor is a shrewd tactician who understands the advantage he has by maintaining the extra dimension at the negotiating table.
Despite how sharp Cuomo may be, he tends to let his personal feud with Bill de Blasio get the best of him. We can chuckle as we watch dueling press conferences, or imagine his delight when he bests the mayor to a photo op, donning his embroidered windbreaker.
But sadly, most Democrats cringe at knowing that priority number one of his New York City agenda seems to be foiling de Blasio, regardless of the issue or consequence. Take the closing of the Rikers Island jail as an example; a cause célèbre of the city’s left. The governor would rather fight than cooperate. When it comes to the M.T.A.’s crumbling subways, a responsibility squarely in the Cuomo’s lap, he would rather blame de Blasio than help commuters.
All of these issues play right in into the hands of Cynthia Nixon, who would hope to energize New York City’s progressives for the September primary. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that she has turned to two of the mayor’s campaign stalwarts to organize her potential challenge. Rather than stop it, Bill de Blasio is more likely struggling to hide a smile.
All of this comes amidst gathering momentum for a potential Cuomo challenger from the right. Marc Molinaro is a young, energetic, pragmatic and likeable County Executive of a critical battleground part of the state. Although he will be the underdog, Cuomo’s imminent hard tack to the left against Nixon may only further alienate the state’s moderate and conservative voters and give the Republican better odds.
Cuomo won in 2014 with 54 percent in the general election and 62 percent in the primary. He must continue his delicate dance with all sides if he wants to maintain those numbers. There is no doubt that a hard-fought sparring match with a popular and relatively well-funded celebrity might rain on the Cuomo 2020 parade before it even steps off.
Joseph Borelli is the minority whip of the New York City Council, Republican commentator, professor and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance. He has also been published in the NY Daily News and Washington Times and appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN and HLN. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC.