Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet as the end of his third legislative session rapidly approaches. His poll numbers are falling, and his agenda is in danger.
When Cuomo began the session, back in early January, his poll numbers were soaring. His approval rating, following a fall that was spent cleaning up the damage from Hurricane Sandy, was at an almost unheard of 74 percent. A confident Cuomo embarked on an ambitious progressive leaning agenda.
“They elect us to lead, my friends and we will. They elect us to perform and we will,” Cuomo declared in his State of the State speech.
Among other measures, Cuomo proposed three major initiatives. One was sweeping new gun control measures. A second was public financing of political campaigns. And the third, a 10 point women’s equality act that includes codifying into New York law the abortion rights spelled out in the federal Roe v. Wade decision.
“Protect a woman’s freedom of choice, enact the reproductive health act, because it’s her body it’s her choice!” Cuomo shouted.
Since then, Cuomo has achieved only one of the three measures. His gun control package was approved the very next week after his speech. But it generated a backlash. Now, Republicans in the Senate are balking over public campaign finance and abortion rights.
Besides the Republican resistance, multiple scandals ranging from bribery, to embezzlement, to sexual harassment have cast a deep shadow over the session.
Several lawmakers face criminal charges or are under federal investigation. Two have admitted to wearing a wire to try to gather evidence against their legislative colleagues.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds the governor’s approval rating has fallen 21 points this year, to an all time low of 53 percent, says pollster Mickey Carroll.
“The situation in Albany, the series of scandals and troubles and so forth, have hurt the governor,” Carroll said.
Cuomo lately has been trying to change the subject. He unveiled a brand new plan to create tax free business zones at college campuses. And he announced his proposal 11 times, at various locations across the state. The plan, Cuomo says, would provide a badly needed economic boost to struggling upstate.
“We’re dealing with a massive problem when we’re talking about the upstate economy and it’s going to take a massive solution,” Cuomo said at a May 29 presentation.
Upstate is where Cuomo is least popular in the polls these days.
Carroll, with Quinnipiac, says it’s a wise strategy.
“It’s always smart,” Carroll said. “[You’re getting] bad headlines, get some good headlines.”
The governor has not been able to escape the topic of scandal entirely. Everywhere he’s questioned by reporters seeking his reaction.
Cuomo has condemned the acts of the accused lawmakers as “stupid” and “venal,” but he also attempts to down play the significance of the scandals being centered in state government, saying they could happen anywhere. He recently answered a question about the sexual harassment scandal involving former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
"Sexual harassment is a problem all across society. It’s a problem in government, it’s a problem in corporations, it’s problem in newsrooms, it’s a problem all across society,” Cuomo said. “When it happens in government, sometimes it gets more headlines.”
Even if Cuomo fails to get his top agenda items passed, he still has his successes from the first two years, and three on time budgets in a row, says pollster Carroll.
He so far does not have a serious challenger for his re-election in 2014. But, if the governor wants to aim higher than that and run for President in 2016, Carroll says there may be a factor, that just like the Senate Republicans and the scandals, Cuomo can’t really control.
“If Hillary Clinton runs, the Democrats have just cleared out the field,” Carroll said.
In the more immediate future, the governor still has two more weeks of the session to determine whether he gets lawmakers to cooperate and pass his agenda, or not.