Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s name is frequently mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016 -- that is if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run. But first, the governor has to think about his 2014 re-election race and how to shore up his support in upstate, where he’s been flagging in the polls.
During the past several weeks, Cuomo has spent much of his time in upstate New York.
He paddled in a whitewater rafting contest he organized in the Adirondacks, to boost tourism.
“Tourism is a big business for us," said an enthusiastic Cuomo. "It’s a big part of the economy and this has great potential.”
He’s also been fishing on the St. Lawrence River, where he announced a fishing competition as a sporting challenge for next year.
But the governor has made even more visits to the Buffalo region. Since the beginning of June, he’s been there six times and held eight events, which was noted by Dotty Gallagher of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
“In fact, governor, you’ve been here so often, I almost think it’s time for you to get a place here,” Gallagher joked.
In contrast, the governor has not had a single public event in New York City since July 1.
There’s been good reason politically for Cuomo to lavish all of the attention on portions of upstate. While he won election in a landslide in 2010, he lost all of the counties in the western most part of the state, where his Republican opponent, Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, prevailed.
Until recently, Cuomo enjoyed sky high approval ratings from nearly all New Yorkers, in the 70 percent range. But after championing strict new gun control laws in January, and pursuing a left-leaning agenda during the legislative session, his support among upstaters has declined precipitously. In New York City, his popularity is still high, but in upstate about half of voters say they’d prefer someone else as governor.
Cuomo’s Buffalo visits reached a high point when he made three stops on the same day in late July to the region. The purpose was to receive money owed to local governments by the Seneca Indian Nation, which had recently settled past differences with the state. Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder presented a ceremonial oversized check in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.
Cuomo, for his part, made the same joke twice.
“I’m going to take the check and I’ll be going on vacation now to an undisclosed location. I’ll send a postcard,” he joked in Salamanca.
In Buffalo he said, “I want you to know I plan to take a vacation to an undisclosed location, and I’m leaving immediately.”
The governor expressed a rare public moment of annoyance when a Buffalo television reporter asked him whether it was necessary to hold the same event three times, all financed by the taxpayers.
“It’s my job to represent the people of Niagara Falls and to represent the people of Buffalo, and to represent the people of Salamanca,” said Cuomo. “It’s nice of you to say the people of Salamanca don’t need to see the governor, or the people of Buffalo don’t need to see the governor, but that’s really not up to you.”
Cuomo has continued his upstate travels. Heavy rains bought flooding to the Mohawk River Valley, in late June and early July. Cuomo went to Oneida on July 1, Mohawk on July 2, and Herkimer on July 7 and 17.
The flood zone includes the site of New York’s biggest gun factory, Remington Arms, in Ilion. Workers from the plant have protested the passage of the governor's gun control act, called the NY Safe Act.
Even at the whitewater rafting event in the Adirondacks, the resentment was reflected by a small band of protesters. Bill Fox, of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, traveled for hours from western New York.
“These laws he has passed are not going to save anybody," Fox said. "I mean, it’s gone beyond guns, it really has. It’s about our constitutional rights.”
Undaunted, Cuomo is next heading to the Finger Lakes, where he’ll be promoting New York state wines.