Attorney General Cuomo’s Wavering Relationship With Black Voters

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After two weeks of investigating allegations against Governor David Paterson, requested by the governor himself, NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has recused himself. Cuomo’s appointment of former state Chief Justice Judith Kaye solved a political conundrum: the unannounced Democratic candidate for governor investigating his chief rival – the state’s current governor.  The timing of Cuomo’s recusal is questionable.

Mainstream media’s journalistic harassment of Governor Paterson reached a crescendo in the aftermath of domestic violence allegations against David Johnson, the governor’s closest aide. Paterson’s poll numbers dropped as the public reacted to news that the governor spoke by phone to Johnson’s girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker, one day before she was scheduled to appear in court to pursue an order of protection. Two top state police officials have resigned during investigations of state police involvement in the matter.

Meanwhile, Cuomo, who had enjoyed high approval ratings as the unannounced Democratic candidate for this year’s gubernatorial race, saw his poll numbers drop precipitously. According to the latest Marist poll, Cuomo’s approval ratings dropped from 67 percent to 54 percent. Among nonwhite voters, Cuomo’s numbers dropped 22 percent. In NYC, the AG dropped 17 percent. 

Voters seem to give Governor Paterson the benefit of the doubt as the investigation continues. After support for the governor emerged from two summit meetings with Black and Latino elected officials led by Rev. Al Sharpton, that Marist poll found 68 percent of NYS voters support the governor completing his term in office. Only 28 percent thought the governor should resign, with 4 percent remaining unsure.

Many questioned Cuomo’s role in investigating Governor Paterson, including Alton Maddox, who asked if a conflict of interest was taking place. Maddox said that by rights, the Bronx DA Robert Johnson should be investigating the issue. “The Bronx is being disenfranchised,” and asked, “If a crime occurs in a county, shouldn’t the prosecutor in that county investigate?”
The media attacks on Governor Paterson seemed orchestrated to provide NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo an unobstructed “red carpet walk” to the governor’s mansion. Yet no one knows how Cuomo would govern, or even what positions he would take. As Governor Paterson leads the state from budget crisis to budget crisis, Cuomo has remained silent regarding what direction he would take the state and its finances.

Cuomo’s silence may be calculated for another reason: to keep him from putting his foot in his mouth. The AG’s tempestuous political relationship with Black voters is illustrative.
Just two short years ago, Andrew Cuomo saw fit to insert himself into the race for the Democratic primary for the presidency. Then-candidate Barack Obama, fresh from an unprecedented, yet convincing win in Iowa, went into New Hampshire with a confidence that was no match for the shrewdness of Hillary Clinton’s campaign combined with the political “free thinking” of that state’s voters. The Obama campaign’s loss to Clinton was sobering.

Andrew Cuomo, then a Hillary supporter, had this assessment of the New Hampshire primary, which he expressed during a radio interview: “It’s not a TV-crazed race. Frankly, you can’t buy your way into it . You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference. You can’t just put off reporters, because you have real people looking at you saying answer the question, you know, and all those moves you can make with the press don’t work when you’re in someone’s living room.”

“Shuck and jive” is known as an African-American colloquialism, and was widely seem as just one of many racially tinged comments from Hillary supporters designed to remind voters that Obama is Black. The comment did not sit well, especially among Black voters.
Almost a decade ago, Carl McCall ran for governor of NY. McCall had an impressive track record, including winning the statewide office of Comptroller in 1994 and 1998. Andrew Cuomo, fresh from a stint as HUD Secretary, ran against McCall in the Democratic primary. McCall’s statewide support was eroded by Cuomo’s campaign, effectively splitting the Democrat vote. On the eve of the state’s Democratic Convention, Cuomo withdrew his name from consideration. In September of 2002, Cuomo saw the writing on the wall and withdrew from the race. His name remained on the ballot as the Liberal Party candidate, however. Cuomo received 14% of the vote in the primary and only 16,000 votes out of 2.2 million in the general election. Cuomo’s poor showing cost the Liberal Party its automatic spot on the NY ballot. Cuomo was also seen as contributing to McCall’s defeat in the general election against Pataki.

If Cuomo does announce his candidacy for NYS governor, it will be interesting to see how he courts Black voters, a key Democratic block. With his history, it will not be easy.
(Future articles will explore Andrew Cuomo’s tenure as HUD Secretary and NYS Attorney General.)

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