No fewer than six times in the past five months New York Post Albany bureau chief and capitol power-broker Fred Dicker has columnized about the very real possibility that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is gearing up for a presidential run in 2016. The New York Times and The Washington Post jumped on the chatter too, with the latter describing him as at “the front of the pack for 2016” and the former suggesting that if President Obama loses next year, “Mr. Cuomo’s approach toward leadership is one that many Democratic voters will have an appetite for.”
New Yorkers notoriously believe that the rest of the nation shares their sense of self-regard, so we know how this movie usually ends—witness Hillary, Giuliani, Bloomberg, Pataki, Mario Cuomo—but there is reason to believe that in Mr. Cuomo’s case, the absurdly early 2016 chatter may be more than idle. He boasts sky-high approval ratings and has balanced the budget without raising taxes (by bending a recalcitrant Legislature to his will). Perhaps most important, with regard to the 2016 Democratic primary electorate, he pushed through a historical legalization of same-sex marriage.
You can’t get from New York to the White House, however, without going through the state of Maryland, and sitting in the Revolutionary War-era statehouse there is another governor. His name is Martin O’Malley, and although five years is a millennium away in political time, he has emerged as perhaps the single biggest threat to Andrew Cuomo’s well-documented political ambitions.
Democratic insiders in both states say that the two have been eyeing one another warily since they each won election by healthy margins last year—Mr. O’Malley to a second term, Mr. Cuomo to a first. And just as Mr. Cuomo was basking in the glory of a the same-sex marriage victory, Mr. O’Malley announced that down in Maryland, he too was gearing up for a major push to bring marriage equality to the Old Line State. Check, meet mate.
Sitting in his office, his right leg up on a coffee table in front of him, Mr. O’Malley described gay marriage as “one of the fastest evolving and emerging issues of social justice and civil rights in our time.”
On the wall were oil paintings and drawings featuring images from the Revolution and the Civil War. Under one framed battle scene were the words “Fire When Provoked.” Four portraits of Abraham Lincoln hung on the wall as well, a touchstone Mr. O’Malley refers to repeatedly when talking about the needs to persuade members of the Republican party—”the party of Lincoln” he says, gesturing toward the drawings.
Just like in New York, marriage equality failed the first time it came up. And, like in New York, the failure was largely due to the fact that there wasn’t a strong governor to push the agenda, only in this case that governor was Mr. O’Malley, and not his predecessor. Despite huge Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature, a number of African-American Democrats pulled their support at the last minute amid pressure from clergy.
“We came very close to passing it as a state last session.We fell a little short. So the thing we haven’t tried, as hard as we worked for it last session, is to make it a part of the governor’s legislative package. We have a tradition—a lot of states have it, I guess—that the governor will have a handful of priority bills for the session. … We allowed it to take a more organic course, if you will, hoping to avoid this sort of Democrat-Republican polization that can get in the way of passage, and we almost pulled it off. But almost doesn’t count.”
Mr. O’Malley portrays his reluctance to get involved in the same-sex marriage fight until recently as a matter of strategy, but in truth he was getting pilloried by advocates and in the press for his trepidation—”Gov. Martin O’Malley is getting a lot of taunting these days about how Governor Cuomo has suddenly vaulted to the top of the list of Democratic presidential contenders in 2016,” The Baltimore Sun editorialized, while The Washington Post proclaimed that “being on the right side while standing in the wings isn’t enough.”