Everything is looking up for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as he enters early-campaign mode by hiring a new fund-raiser, sending out campaign emails and continuing to capitalize on his position to create headline after laudatory headline.
This morning brings news of yet another positive indicator: a Siena college poll showing him with a garish 67-17 point lead over David Paterson in a hypothetical primary for governor next year.
But as he sails along on his undeclared but unmistakable quest to become governor, there's at least one uncomfortable issue he'll have to reckon with, at least as long as David Paterson is around: race.
"Aside from taking on a sitting governor in his own party, who I think will be a great governor, the biggest obstacle to Andrew running is it is going to remind people of when he ran against Carl McCall, which is not fair, but it is history," said Charlie King, the executive director of Al Sharpton's National Action Network who was Cuomo's running mate in that ill-fated run in 2002. "If Spitzer was going through the same rough patch as Paterson, there is little doubt in my mind that Andrew would challenge him."
In that insurgent and disastrous primary, Cuomo made a gross miscalculation of banking on the near-saintly status his family name enjoyed with black voters in New York. But, in a prelude to Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary, Cuomo's lead among black voters in early polls disappeared once those voters engaged with the history-making African-American candidate. Cuomo eventually dropped out.
Now, after a resoundingly successful rehabilitation effort that featured a thumping victory in the 2006 attorney general race—a contest in which King, Cuomo's onetime partner, was a candidate—and two impressive years in the attorney general's office, Cuomo is in a better place than ever to bid for the state's top job.
There is even reason to believe that he will be able to do so from a stronger position with black voters than he enjoyed in 2002.
As Siena pollster Steven Greenberg explains: "Currently—and with a long time to go before any election—Andrew Cuomo is viewed very strongly in the African-American community, with a 75-14 percent favorable rating. For the first time ever, Governor Paterson has a negative favorable rating (44-46 percent) among African-Americans. And right now, Cuomo is beating Paterson better than two-to-one in a potential gubernatorial primary."
(Coincidentally, Greenberg was an aide on the 2002 McCall campaign. He is speaking here only in his capacity as a pollster.)
But if Mr. Cuomo has made ground among black voters, much of New York's black political leadership, at this point, doesn't seem to be on board.
In a series of interviews with black officials and operatives for a story about their view of Paterson's plummeting fortunes, the thing that seemed to prompt the staunchest expressions of support for the current governor was the mention of Cuomo's name.
"Everyone is clear on the ambition of Andrew Cuomo wanting to be governor; he ran before," said Yvette Clarke, a congresswoman from Queens.
"I think Andrew will make his own judgment," said David Dinkins, the former mayor. "I don't know that one can stop him or not stop him. I think from David's perspective, what he's got to do is get some good competent people on whom he can rely. I'm satisfied that if he has that, where judgments are required, in most instances he will make the wise choice among those presented to him."
"If [David] turns it around, I don't think Andrew Cuomo will run," said Bill Lynch, a leading black consultant who used to advise Paterson. "And I guarantee he will turn it around."
Representative Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York delegation, wouldn't even go so far as to concede that Cuomo is looking to run.
"I'm not gonna assume that Cuomo is going to be a challenger," said Rangel, who warned against speculating on a potential primary. "You shouldn't do that to Cuomo; you might have him politically crippled.".
When asked what he thought about Cuomo bulking up his fund-raising operation, Rangel replied, "He's Andrew Cuomo. That's what he does."