Cuomo’s Base-Solidifying Visit to Harlem Goes Poorly

The Freedom Party arrived at Harlem’s 125th Street subway stop before Andrew Cuomo did.

About ten supporters of Councilman Charles Barron’s protest party–formed in June to denounce the Democrats’ all-white statewide ticket–were already well into their call-and-response before the candidate surfaced uptown this morning.

“HARLEM IS NOT FOR SALE!” they yelled, followed by “LET’S DEBATE!,” followed by “BARRON FOR GOVERNOR!,” followed by “PALADINO, CUOMO! DIFFERENT NAME, SAME GAME!,” followed by “WHOSE STREET? OUR STREET!” and “CUO-MO! GO HOME!”

Cuomo’s supporters, meanwhile, were being made to take down the CUOMO 2010 signs they had posted in advance of the candidate’s arrival–over the grumbling of Cuomo aide Joe Percoco–in the first sign that the event wouldn’t go exactly as planned.

The candidate had scheduled an early morning of retail politicking in the historically black neighborhood, after recent articles in the Amsterdam News and The New York Times accused him of not having reached out to what has always been a core part of the Democratic base. Now, part of that base was here to give him grief.

When Cuomo stepped out of his hybrid SUV a few minutes later, he greeted Assemblyman Keith Wright and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson, as his own supporters started up a competing “CUO-MO! CUO-MO!” chant. But the Freedom Party swarmed the photo-op, wedging itself behind the officials as a dozen or more cameras swarmed.

Rather than linger, the Cuomo camp started moving down Manhattan Avenue. They greeted a few well-wishers on the street, who clearly recognized the attorney general and smiled as they tried to talk over the din. (The Freedom Party tried to hit the breaks in “CUO-MO” with a quick “BARRON FOR GOVERNOR!”)

Assemblyman Wright quieted the Cuomo contingent as they crossed 124th Street, on account of a senior home, but the Freedom Party was undeterred, at times getting within a few feet of the attorney general’s face.

Cuomo did his best to ignore them, looking for voters to greet. But the rain was starting to fall and there weren’t a lot of voters. He spotted a parent with four young children and tried to ask the youngsters about school, but with a dozen cameras and the incessant chanting, the children mostly stood quietly confused.

So he kept moving, across St. Nicholas Avenue, where he ducked into the Dwyer Cultural Center, arriving well in advance of a scheduled meeting with black leaders–having greeted perhaps 10 voters and without having done a planned press availability–leaving the Freedom Party to celebrate outside in the rain.

“We rained on somebody’s parade!” said Omowale Clay, a black activist who had been leading the Freedom Party chants. Meanwhile, the press was left grumbling under a fortuitous cover of scaffolding, wondering when or if the candidate would emerge to answer some questions. Some decamped for McDonald’s, others for a pizzeria that had opened early.

About an hour later, they were summoned in to the cultural center–sans Freedom Party–for a downstairs press conference with black leaders that included Thompson and Wright, along with Cuomo’s erstwhile rival Carl McCall, Assemblyman Denny Ferrell, NAACP leader Hazel Dukes, and Congressman Charlie Rangel. In turn, they denounced Cuomo’s opponent, Carl Paladino; “re-affirmed” their support for the attorney general; and spoke about how they would rally the black community behind Cuomo.

McCall, who said he helped coordinate the meeting, described it as a summit for how to mobilize the next steps of the campaign.

“You will see a lot of activity and you will see a lot of presence of Andrew Cuomo in our community and other communities,” McCall said. “And when he comes into our communities, the people who are here, they’re going to be with him. We will be with him, taking him to our communities to say this represents hope for all New Yorkers.”

Cuomo’s Base-Solidifying Visit to Harlem Goes Poorly