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Cuomo's New Ad Fuels 2020 Speculation

Governor Andrew Cuomo
Matt Ryan

A new online ad featuring Governor Andrew Cuomo and promoting tolerance has once again fueled talk that the New York Democrat may be planning a presidential run. There are some questions, though, about the ad and its donors.

The ad, which for now is only running online, features Cuomo, and several well-known actors including Steve Buscemi and Whoopi Goldberg. All claim to be something other than they actually are, in order to promote the message of unity and tolerance in a diverse state.

“As a New Yorker, I am black,” Cuomo says in the ad.

“I am white,” says Goldberg.

“I am transgender,” says Buscemi.

The ad is funded by the group New Yorkers United Together, a nonprofit that says in the ad that it will provide legal aid to immigrants facing threats of deportation from the federal government. It does not mention President Trump by name.

The group is not registered as a lobbyist, and, as a nonprofit, does not have to disclose its donors. The governor’s office referred questions to the Sunshine-Sachs public relations firm, which produced the ad, but there was no immediate response.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says the group falls into a gray area of state law. It is not technically lobbying, so it doesn’t have to fill out disclosure forms that the public can see. And since it is not a clearly defined political campaign, it doesn’t have to provide a list of donors periodically to the State Board of Elections.

“This group appears to have found, at least for now, a sweet spot,” Horner said. “On the other hand, the fact that they are promoting the governor, I think raises questions about who’s donating to this group and what are they getting in return.”

The ad is the latest sign that Cuomo may be starting to lay the groundwork for a potential 2020 presidential campaign. He recently hired a veteran of the Republican presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, U.S. Senator John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani.  Maria Comella, who’s been named Cuomo’s chief of staff, most recently worked for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. 

Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who served 14 terms in office, is now a senior fellow at the liberal think tank Demos, wrote a recent article for the Huffington Post on Cuomo’s emergence to the national scene as a possible presidential candidate. Brodsky says Cuomo appears to be at least thinking about it.

Brodsky says Cuomo and his advisors appear to be at least “actively engaged” in thinking about what a potential candidacy would mean.  “

Which is what you’d do at this stage,” Brodsky said. “This is not a time you declare a candidacy, he has to get reelected (in 2018)”.

Cuomo has said he’s running for governor for a third term next year.

Brodsky says if you look at Cuomo’s policies, he’s fiscally conservative on issues like curbing state spending and capping property taxes, but socially liberal on items like raising the minimum age, defending women’s reproductive rights, and offering free tuition at public colleges, an idea first proposed by 2016 Democratic presidential challenger Bernie Sanders. 

“He’s got an argument to make for his candidacy nationally,” he said. “The free tuition thing, picking up on the Sanders stuff, it’s the right thing to do and it’s smart.”

But he says Cuomo has some “anchors” weighing him down.  Several former close associates go on trial later this year on bribery and bid rigging charges, in connection with a corruption scandal involving the governor’s signature economic development projects. And, Brodsky says, Cuomo has a very forceful personality. He often picks fights with rivals, and can be known as a “bully." 

“He’s one of the more interesting figures because his strengths are strong and his weaknesses are weak,” Brodsky said. “And whether that stops him or he can overcome that is part of a very interesting national story.” 

Brodsky says it’s only May of 2017, though, and a lot can happen in the next couple of years.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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