Major parties head to NYC suburbs for state conventions

May 13, 2014

The state’s Republican and Democratic Party conventions will be held over the next couple weeks. Both major parties have chosen to hold them in locations in the New York City suburbs.

The Republicans go first. They are meeting in Rye Brook in Westchester County May 14.  It makes sense for the GOP to hold their convention in a New York City suburb. There is still a small bastion of registered Republicans, and the Republican nominee for governor will be Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.  

But the Democrats are also meeting in suburban Long Island, in Melville,  on May 21.  The choice may be in part to counteract the number of votes that the Westchester County executive is likely to get in his home county in November.  

But, Larry Levy, dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, says the suburbs are also important because they contain a number of  independent voters, not affiliated with either major party.

“Suburban voters provide the swing vote in anything from president down to village trustee,” Levy said.

But the race for governor is not expected to be close.  Polls show Cuomo who has over $30 million in his campaign war chest, and whose family name is known to virtually all New Yorkers, is as much as 30 points ahead in some polls over the little known and underfunded Astorino.

Levy says for Cuomo, who not only wants to win in November but win big, boosting support in the suburbs is an insurance policy.  He says the traditional Democratic formula for winning includes racking up big numbers in New York City, losing upstate and holding  your own in the suburbs.  But he says the governor is going for more than that.

“Whether he wants to remain the so-called 800-pound gorilla in Albany, or move up the list of Democratic presidential possibilities if Hillary doesn’t run, he needs big numbers,” Levy said.

Levy says Cuomo may also need some inoculation against the negative perception that the state has not acted quickly enough to repair damage from Superstorm Sandy.

He says the governor might also be little worried about Westchester, where Cuomo lives in a home in Mount Kisco owned by his girlfriend, the Food Network star Sandra Lee. Despite a two-to-one Democratic enrollment advantage in Westchester, Republican Astorino has won the county executive race twice.

Also, the governor has so far this year failed to achieve passage of much of his progressive legislative agenda. Some of his fiscally conservative policies that led to cuts in state spending and tax breaks for corporations have come under criticism form left leaning Democrats. Levy say Cuomo could be concerned that might lower the margin he could win by among New York City voters.

“Thrown into the mix is the possibility that he kind of overplayed his fiscal conservatism and social moderation and maybe alienated too much of his New York City base,” said Levy. “So the suburbs, for a variety of reasons, is becoming more and more important.”

Cuomo’s popularity upstate has waned, despite the governor’s extensive travel in the region over the past year. He championed strict gun control laws that created a back lash among some upstate gun owners. There’s also continued economic malaise in many upstate areas.

And while the two major party conventions will be happening in the New York City suburbs, for Cuomo, a more important convention may be the one held in the politics-laden city of Albany on May 31. That’s when the progressive leaning minor party, the Working Families Party meets. The group is considering not endorsing Cuomo for governor this time around, and running an alternative candidate instead. That could siphon away some key liberal votes.