Cuomo push­ing for pres­i­den­tial run?

Gover­nor side­steps ques­tions but ap­pears to be po­si­tion­ing him­self for race

The Commercial Appeal - - Nation - DAVID KLEPPER

AL­BANY, N.Y. - When Gov. An­drew Cuomo an­nounced his first-in-the-na­tion pro­posal to make state col­lege tu­ition free for mid­dle-class stu­dents, he stood next to Bernie San­ders. This week when Cuomo cel­e­brated its ap­proval, he was arm in arm with Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Democrats still smart­ing from Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial loss to Don­ald Trump are al­ready look­ing for a new stan­dard bearer for 2020. And some ob­servers say Cuomo is al­ready act­ing like it, in­creas­ingly po­si­tion­ing him­self with party lead­ers, aim­ing his mes­sage at mid­dle-class angst and tout­ing mea­sures such as free tu­ition as an ex­am­ple of the kind of big ideas he can ac­com­plish.

“He’s run­ning. It’s pretty clear,” said Univer­sity of Mary­land po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Robert Koul­ish, who said the sec­ond-term gover­nor ap­pears to be po­si­tion­ing him­self as a hy­brid: a cen­trist in the mold of Clin­ton who sup­ports so­cial poli­cies cham­pi­oned by lib­er­als like San­ders. “Maybe he’ll present him­self as a pro­gres­sive who gets things done.”

Cuomo side­steps ques­tions about his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture and says he plans to seek a third term next year. He prefers to talk about his newly passed, $153 bil­lion bud­get, which he calls a pro­gres­sive model for the na­tion, with a mar­quee tu­ition mea­sure that cov­ers the cost of state univer­sity tu­ition for stu­dents from fam­i­lies mak­ing up to $125,000.

It also con­tin­ues a se­ries of mid­dle­class tax cuts, ex­pands the child care tax credit, in­vests bil­lions in ag­ing wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture, sets up a le­gal de­fense fund for im­mi­grants, and raises the age of adult crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity from 16 to 18, a long­time pri­or­ity for Democrats.

“Never has New York achieved more, built more or pro­duced more im­pact­ful leg­is­la­tion,” Cuomo wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. “Dur­ing these times of anx­i­ety and un­cer­tainty, New York will con­tinue to lead the na­tion for­ward.”

Scar­let Brown, a 21-year-old women’s stud­ies ma­jor at the Univer­sity at Al­bany, said she is thrilled about the re­forms law­mak­ers are push­ing. But she is also very aware of the po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tages they carry.

“I don’t know if Cuomo re­ally cares about this stuff,” she said. “It’s good, but it’s clearly say­ing, ‘Hey guys, I’m a pro­gres­sive and I want to be pres­i­dent maybe. Vote for me.’ ”

Cuomo’s crit­ics say the tu­ition ini­tia­tive, for one, shows Cuomo val­ues head­lines over sub­stance. For in­stance, it doesn’t cover any other ma­jor costs of col­lege, such as room and board, and re­quires stu­dents to re­main in the state for up to four years af­ter grad­u­a­tion or else pay back the as­sis­tance.

“This so-called ‘free-col­lege’ plan is a hoax, trap­ping peo­ple in New York state to ben­e­fit the gover­nor’s pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions,” said Repub­li­can Assem­bly­man Steve McLaugh­lin, one of the gover­nor’s sharpest crit­ics.

Demo­cratic Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader An­drea Ste­wart-Cousins noted that one of the biggest fail­ures was on ethics re­form, which was un­der the mi­cro­scope af­ter the lead­ers of both houses of the Leg­is­la­ture were con­victed on cor­rup­tion charges in the last year. “Vot­ing re­form was not dealt with, ei­ther,” she said. “There are so many things that we could have done.”

Cuomo, 59, was U.S. hous­ing sec­re­tary in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of former Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton be­fore win­ning of­fice as New York at­tor­ney gen­eral and then gover­nor, the po­si­tion his fa­ther, the late Mario Cuomo, held when he him­self con­sid­ered a run for the Oval Of­fice.

If he does an­nounce his can­di­dacy, Cuomo can ex­pect more ques­tions about Al­bany’s chronic cor­rup­tion prob­lem. Joe Per­coco, a former aide and con­fi­dante whom Cuomo has likened to a brother, may face trial this fall in a fed­eral bribery case in­volv­ing Cuomo’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment pro­grams. And Cuomo him­self has been in­ves­ti­gated by fed­eral prose­cu­tors but has not been ac­cused of wrong­do­ing.

Other Democrats men­tioned as pos­si­ble can­di­dates in 2020 in­clude Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand and a long list of gov­er­nors. It’s a list likely to grow as more Democrats con­sider chal­leng­ing Trump. One prom­i­nent Demo­crat said Cuomo is off to an early start.

“He re­minded us what pres­i­den­tial sounds like,” the Rev. Al Sharp­ton told The New York Ob­server af­ter a Cuomo speech in Har­lem on ju­ve­nile jus­tice re­form. He stopped short of a full en­dorse­ment. “I’d have to see who was in the race, but right now who­ever’s in would have some catch­ing up to do.”

MARY ALTAFFER/AP

New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, right and Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders wave Jan. 3 at an event at LaGuardia Com­mu­nity Col­lege to an­nounce Cuomo’s pro­posal for free tu­ition at state col­leges. Some ob­servers say Cuomo is po­si­tion­ing him­self for a pres­i­den­tial bid in 2020.

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