This primary election brought some surprises – some, not a lot. So let’s see what we learned.
Incumbent Dem Gov. Andrew Cuomo survived a surprising strong threat from challenger Zephyr Teachout.
While it’s no shock that Cuomo won the primary, the shock is the stronger-than-expected showing of Teachout (or is it the weaker-than-expected showing of Cuomo?) who received over 34% of the vote. Teachout actually won 30 of the state’s 62 counties including just about every county in the Capital Region. Cuomo carried NYC, getting 81% in the Bronx, and pockets of upstate New York in Erie and Monroe counties.
The race for Lieutenant Governor was even closer, as Techout’s running mate, Tim Wu broke 40% against Cuomo’s running mate, Kathy Hochul.
So let’s read between the lines. Yes, there was low turnout in the primary. Only about 526,000 Democrats out of 10 million registered Democrats in New York State showed up to vote (Scotland put New York to shame on voter turnout!).
The Cuomo-Teachout saga is one of machine politics vs. true-believing grassroots. Teachout was a candidate for the Working Families Party until Cuomo got the party leadership’s endorsement, forcing Teachout to circulate petitions for the Democratic Party line. After facing a long drawn-out full-court legal battle by Cuomo, Teachout safely made the Democratic ballot with less than 6 weeks to campaign across the state. Cuomo publicly refused to acknowledge he had a primary, deploying the ol’ rose garden strategy. The strategy definitely misfired, as Teachout, who has never ran for any elected office, embarrassed Cuomo and has put a big dent to any national aspirations.
Teachout, with hardly any name recognition until the week before the primary, got some buzz when Cuomo refused to debate her on TV and gained some traction. Her campaign ran on a shoestring with no organizational support, made headline news by tapping into upstate discontent with Cuomo over pension reductions, rigorous teacher evaluations and Cuomo’s suspect handling of his “independent” Moreland Commission.
It all resulted in the strongest primary challenger to an incumbent Governor since primaries were established in New York in 1970.
That flushing sound you hear is Cuomo’s presidential aspirations shooting down the toilet. If this primary is any indication of the upcoming future, any shot is now on gone. Half of New York State doesn’t like Cuomo, and at least one out of every three of the hardcore “prime” Dems that did turn out voted for Cuomo’s opponent are just fed up with Cuomo period.
So what did we learn? Cuomo may have won the day, but he lost tomorrow.
In typical NYC political fashion, one federally indicted Democrat state senator held off a three-way challenge, another federally indicted Democrat state senator facing lost in a landslide, and a third scandal-scarred challenger fell just short.
In Brooklyn, twice-indicted-Senator / former Senate Democrat Majority Leader John Sampson, defeated an 1199-SEIU union coordinator that was endorsed by both NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. Sampson, charged with embezzlement and lying to FBI agents won outright, with over 54% of the voter. Even though there is a Republican challenger in November, Sampson is expected to win in a walk, while de Blasio, Cuomo and 1199 SEIU wasted some political capital.
In Queens, Senator Malcolm Smith was not so lucky as he was the only incumbent to lose his seat, to former NYC Councilman Leroy Comrie, who won over 69% of the vote with numerous labor unions and the local Democratic Party machine. Smith who is facing federal bribery charges for trying to “buy” his way onto the Republican line for NYC mayor in 2013, found himself without any support whatsoever, as he previous left the Democratic caucus to support a Republican majority in the NY state senate. His subsequent scandal left him without either party support, and money to regain his senate seat.
One of the hottest races was in Queens between incumbent Senator Tony Avella and former City Comptroller / former mayoral candidate John Liu. It was a tight race, Avella was announced the winner by the AP, holding a slim 4-point lead on election night where Liu did not concede. Believing the winner would be determined by paper ballot, Liu held off until the morning of the paper ballots opening to eventually conceded the race. This was yet another race touched by past scandal, as Avella reminded voters of Liu’s past campaign fundraising scandal that tarnished his mayoral aspiration, with literature warning that a vote for Liu was a vote for “scandal, cronyism & convictions.” Liu counter-attacked Avella for abandoning Democrats and joining a breakaway caucus that supported a Republican-led state senate that blocked progressive legislation like a minimum wage hike and a state “DREAM” act.
So what did we learn? In New York, crime doesn’t pay. Sometimes.
Speaking of breakaway Democrats, the leader of that group, Sen. Jeff Klein handily held off the challenge of Oliver Kopell by a two-to-one margin. His win was aided by a sharp turn to the left, as Klein vowed to form ties with mainline Democrats in the state senate this year. This took a lot of heat off of Klein and his allies, and undercut his opponent’s support. It even earned Klein Gov. Cuomo’s approval. This race was also a nasty, negative campaign where Kopell even called Klein a reptile!
So what did we learn? Sometimes, it’s who you know and how you can make deals to turn an election.
So what did this lonesome NYC Republican NewsNinja learn overall? I learned that Democratic voters don’t turnout to choose their party leaders. I learned that Democratic voters in NY are still low-information voters. I learned that Democrat elected officials get by making deals to save their political career. I learned that Andrew Cuomo isn’t ready for prime time. One advice that I must give Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, it would be to take these lessons to heart, rally your base and get your name out there everywhere for the next 50 days, because if Democrats are losing votes to the couch, maybe NY can take the Governor’s mansion.
Oh, and also Democrats are still shady.