‘We’re a Party of Primaries’

RYE—As Andrew Cuomo was walking out of the state Democratic party’s Spring Business Meeting at the Rye Hilton, I and another reporter asked him about, among other things, the possibility of a primary against Governor David Paterson next year.

Here’s how it went:

Andrew Cuomo: I talked about, mostly, the, this week I have a bill up, the Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act bill, and that was what I was talking about trying to do, and generate support for that. Because if you’re looking long-term, and you’re looking at the economic future, you have to get down expenses. How do you get down expenses? You have to reduce the number of governments, literally, reduce the number of governments. And how do you do that? Reduce the 10,500 [local municipalities]. The bill is on the floor this week. I’m cautiously optimistic, but it’s not easy because many of the local political leaders are worried that it might have a negative effect on their locality, their town, their village, their sewer district, etc. So, that’s what I was talking about.

Q: Are you going to be here at the same time the governor is? Do you know?

AC: He wasn’t here this morning. I don’t know when he’s here.

Q: Did anyone ask you, or did you speak at all about next year and a possible primary? Did that come up at all, inside?

AC: No. The short answer is no.

Q: Is there a long answer?

AC: The longer answer is no, too. The long answer is nooooo.

Q: I think everyone’s imagining when he comes here today that he’ll be talking about a lot of things. But part of what he’ll be talking about is his race next year. Do you have any intentions at this point of saying what you’re plans are?

AC: My plan is to run for reelection as attorney general.

Q: That has not changed?

AC: Nope.

Q: There was a lot of action in terms of potential challengers to Kirsten Gillibrand sort of being asked to not run. Just in general, is there any benefit to a party that has gone through some appointments on the statewide level, having primaries? Is there any upside?

AC: The Democratic Party is essentially a party of primaries. I mean, there’s always the discussion ‘Maybe it would be good if there were no primaries, and everyone just gets behind and picks a candidate.’ For many years the Democrats said that’s what the Republicans do. They just squelch intraparty discussion. The—we often have primaries. President Obama is the product of primaries. In the presidential, the Senate race, I even think he ran against Bobby Rush for Congress, early on. That must have been a primary, right? So we’re a party of primaries, which I think winds up being good for us, because I think the conversation and the discussion within the party can be very productive. Because we have a broad party, a lot of diverse interests, and those interests need to be discussed and need to be aired. So I think it can be good, as long as the primaries remain constructive, and not destructive.

Q: Will Paterson have a primary next year?

AC: Oh, next year? Who knows what’s going to happen next year? Next year is a long way away.

Q: Do you anticipate he will? Do you anticipate Gillibrand will?

AC: Next year is a long way away. Senator Gillibrand—who knows. Who knows any of these things. There was one possible challenger who then said he wasn’t going to run, Steve Israel. But who knows.

Q: And Scott Stringer.

AC: Scott said he’s not running?

Q: Yeah.

AC: So, who knows. It’s a long ways away.

Q: What’s constructive, versus not constructive, in this context?

AC: I don’t know that there’s a hard-and-fast rule. But the party has primaries. Obama just when through this. After the primary, you want to be in a position to bring the party back together. Obama did that. But you want that, constructive versus destructive, you need to bring the party back together after the primary. The way we did with the presidential.

Q: Do you want to see Paterson primaried, then? If it’s a constructive thing for the party, I’m guessing it’s not a long stretch to say that you would want to see him have a primary.

AC: No, no. All I’m saying is primaries are not necessarily bad things, for the party. Our party has a history of having primaries, and we’ve done pretty well. So, they’re not necessarily a bad thing in and of themselves. That’s all I’m saying. As far as next year, what happens next year—don’t know. It’s a long, long way away. Anything can happen 10 times over in a span of a year, as we both [gesturing to me]—as we all have witnessed.