Gov. Andrew Cuomo Must Actually Campaign This Time

New Yorkers deserve a leader who will work for their votes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not expend much energy in fighting off Zephyr Teachout’s quixotic primary campaign. Nor, truth be told, did he seem overly interested in defending his record from carping critics on his left. Ignoring an obscure, underfunded opponent is smart politics, but now that the general election campaign is underway, we’re hoping that Mr. Cuomo fully engages his Republican foe, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. And we don’t just mean via the expensive negative television campaign.

Not so long ago, a governor named Cuomo ran for a second term against a relatively unknown Republican challenger who happened to be a Westchester county executive. Andrew O’Rourke, who was the GOP’s sacrificial lamb against Mario Cuomo in 1986, was a bright guy given an impossible mission. The elder Mr. Cuomo refused to debate Mr. O’Rourke, which led to the amusing political standby of Mr. O’Rourke carrying around a cardboard cutout of Mr. Cuomo. Mr. O’Rourke won every encounter with the Cuomo cutout, but it did him no good. Mario Cuomo won in a landslide, and there was talk of an inevitable White House bid.

The current Gov. Cuomo, like his father, is way ahead in the polls, and, yes, there are murmurs about a presidential campaign in his future, murmurs that were softened by an unimpressive win over a primary challenger he treated as a non-entity. We’re hoping that history does not repeat itself, and that Andrew Cuomo chooses to engage Mr. Astorino rather than simply spending the fall on Eagle Street awaiting coronation day. The public will be poorly served if Mr. Astorino is forced to repeat Mr. O’Rourke’s gimmick, albeit with better technology—a Cuomo hologram, perhaps.

Mr. Cuomo has compiled an impressive record over the last four years, and he should be eager to tout it. But the election is not only about past performance—it’s about future policy, too. New York has lots of pressing issues, from government corruption to high taxation to stagnant economic growth north of Yonkers. Voters need to hear both candidates engaging with each other on their plans to lead the state out of its malaise.

That won’t happen if Mr. Cuomo decides to ignore Mr. Astorino, as his father ignored Mr. O’Rourke. Perhaps that was smart politics in 1986. But it damaged Mario Cuomo’s credibility. Oh, and that Mario Cuomo presidential campaign? Never happened.

Mr. Cuomo owes himself, and the voters, a vigorous campaign that includes debates with his opponent.