Cuomo’s the One

The New York Observer endorses Andrew Cuomo for Governor in the Democratic primary

In his four years as governor, Andrew Cuomo has held the line on taxes and spending, heroically led the fight for marriage equality in New York, implemented pension and benefits reforms for state employees, and fought the good fight for greater accountability in the classroom.

He has operated behind the scenes and below the radar, content to allow his less-accomplished colleague across the Hudson to mingle with the national media and exchange bon mots with late-night chat-show hosts. When he has made mistakes—and yes, he has made a few—he has learned from them.

He deserves the Democratic Party’s nomination for another term as governor. The Observer endorses his candidacy in the Democratic primary on September 9.

Mr. Cuomo’s opponent, Zephyr Teachout, is unqualified. Worse, she is wrong on the issues. She is coming after Mr. Cuomo from the left, as the candidate of grumpy union bosses and looneys who would have you believe that New Yorkers don’t pay enough in taxes already, despite being the highest-taxed state in the nation. They complain that Mr. Cuomo has been too much of a pragmatist. But that is precisely why Mr. Cuomo has been a success.

Some criticism of Mr. Cuomo has been simply ridiculous. There have been complaints that he isn’t a backslapping, grip-and-grin retail politician. True, but he never was, and neither was his father. But both men were serious about governance.

Despite his somewhat reticent demeanor (the younger Mr. Cuomo has shown flashes of salesmanship, especially during his recent trip to Israel), he has been popular, entering the summer with commanding leads over his prospective Republican opponent, the relatively unknown Rob Astorino, and the positively obscure Ms. Teachout. But the last few weeks have been rockier than he would have liked, after The New York Times revealed the extent to which he and his staff sought to control a supposedly independent investigation of state government ethics. Forgive us for saying that phrase with a nasal voice—we’re holding our noses. Mr. Cuomo abruptly disbanded the Moreland Commission several months ago amid accusations that his office interfered with the probe’s direction.

Mr. Cuomo overpromised when he said that the commission would be free to investigate anyone in state government, including his office. Remember, though, that Mr. Cuomo felt obliged to use the stick of a formal investigation when leaders of the scandal-scarred Legislature refused the carrot of relatively mild reforms.

Political insiders may fixate over the Moreland Commission fiasco, but Mr. Cuomo has been more focused on big issues, like economic development, school reform, and tax policy. On those issues, Mr. Cuomo merits his high standing in the polls.

One of the governor’s signature programs, Start-Up NY, represents the sort of flexibility and creativity we need to see in government. New businesses in economically depressed upstate communities can set up shop without paying taxes for 10 years. Anyone who has traveled north of Yonkers knows that upstate has never recovered from the recession—the recession of the early 1980s, that is. Mr. Cuomo’s focus on upstate is more than admirable. It is an absolute necessity.

Moreover, Mr. Cuomo demonstrated the sort of political and moral leadership so many find lacking in today’s politics when he singlehandedly persuaded the Legislature to pass marriage equality early on in his term. It put New York on the right side of this 21st century civil rights issue.

Challenges remain: New York still has to get it right on teacher evaluations and other school reforms, and the state still faces grave problems related to the cost of public employee pensions and benefits. Upstate’s economic problems will require smart, creative economic development policy—and maybe a miracle, unless the formula of “prisons, casinos and Indian-owned tobacco stores” suddenly takes root.

Mr. Cuomo understands all of this, and he has demonstrated a willingness to tackle these issues, to learn from missteps, and to steer a practical, non-ideological course. He deserves the support of his fellow Democrats.