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The Cuomo Gambit


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a point during a meeting on tax cut proposals in the Red Room at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo has proposed cutting the state’s corporate income tax from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent and eliminating it altogether for upstate manufacturers. He also has proposed paying more state aid as an incentive to any of New York’s 10,500 local governments that impose hard 2 percent spending caps and cut their costs by consolidating services with other towns, villages, cities and counties. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Here’s the thing about Andrew Cuomo. He will happily veto a bill that would grant the poor legal services and then just a few days later announce a plan for free college tuition at New York public universities for any family making less than $125,000 a year. What’s going on here? The short of it, I think anyway, is that Cuomo really wants to the be the presidential nominee in 2020. At the same time, he has no interest in challenging the power dynamics of the nation. He is a Clintonites Clintonite. So embracing middle-class rhetoric and middle-class welfare state expansions that get a lot of big publicity is something he can very much get behind while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to challenge Wall Street, the criminal injustice system, or the Republican Party. And in case you say that the free college tuition will help the poor too, we should remember that Cuomo is going to nothing useful to help improve the possibility that the poor and people of color are actually going to go to college. It will help a few, but it will not change a system that inherently discriminates against people with the least power in our society.

It’s completely fine for the left to get behind expanding free college tuition. Supporting this initiative is absolutely something I will do. But Andrew Cuomo is still a complete non-starter for the Democratic nomination and let’s be careful not to give him too much credit and legitimize his ambitions.

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  • Nick never Nick

    This . . .

    we should remember that Cuomo is going to nothing useful to help improve the possibility that the poor and people of color are actually going to go to college

    . . . is silly. Free tuition improves the possibility that the poor and people of color are going to go to college. It decreases the financial penalty if they quit without receiving a degree. As for the larger issue of whether the poor should be exclusively targeted or served, I think that it makes such programs stronger if they include the middle class as well. This blog constantly makes the point that it’s not the leader but the party that determines policy — so why get worked up if Cuomo is putting out good policy? In America, circa 2017, this proposal seems pretty low on the list of things to be irked about.

    • Dilan Esper

      Free tuition is a middle class benefit. There’s already a lot of free tuition for poor kids in the form of grants.

      • L2P

        “A lot of free tuition for poor kids” is not “free tuition for all poor people.”

        Among other things, knowing you get tuition instead of relying on grants and loans is a huge incentive to try to make it into college. Otherwise it looks like a gamble; maybe it’ll be there, maybe it won’t. It’s hard to believe that “free tuition” isn’t a big deal.

        Also, the current “free tuition for poor kids” requires a LOT of knowledge of the system and has strings attached. ROTC, for example. Or any of the funded positions at schools, you need to know about them and apply. IMX, this “free tuition” largely goes to kids that are “poor,” but come from families with a LOT of social capital. Free tuition, no strings attached, is a huge improvement over the current deal.

        I’m not sure why anyone would downplay how nice a thing this is. We can hate Cuomo but respect this.

        • Dilan Esper

          I didn’t say it wasn’t nice. I said it’s basically a middle class benefit.

    • Ahenobarbus

      I think that it makes such programs stronger if they include the middle class as well.

      It makes them politically stronger, but it isn’t the best way to help the poor. Go online and you’ll find a lot written about the difficulties poor students have in college that aren’t about tuition.

      And of course, if Cuomo had supported both of these bills, there’d be no complaint from Loomis.

      • zhirzzh

        Yeah, for one thing, free tuition doesn’t eliminate fees, which can be really substantial.

      • vic rattlehead

        Of course anyone who’s been paying attention the past few decades knows that the middle class has been shrinking rapidly. So I don’t see the issue with helping the middle class-its not like the middle class is stable or increasing-its on the decline. So helping people who are on the edge of the middle class, the marginal types, from slipping into being poor is important as well. It doesn’t make sense to only help the poor and do nothing about the shrinking middle class-you have to do both.

  • aturner339

    So to tease out exactly what Xantos/Cuomo is after here are we seeing the “down with identity politics” playbook here?

    Forget about criminal justice as it is associated with unsympathetic others. Focus on benefits for the “broad” middle class?

    • Lasker

      It might play that way.

      Worth noting, though, that SUNY enrollment is actually less white (58%) than NY state as a whole (65%) –

      And City college (CUNY) enrollment is about 25% white, which again, is quite a bit less white than NYC.

      Although, it is more complicated than that. SUNY enrollment is also less black (10%) than NY state as a whole (15%). CUNY’s black enrollment tracks NYC demographics almost exactly.

      So, while it isn’t perfect and definitely does leave out the worst off, It would definitely benefit a very diverse group of people. Or, put another way, we should strenuously avoid (not to say you did this) conflating “middle-class” and “white”, especially in NYC.

      Anecdotally. should this pass, it will be tremendous for many of my piano students in the Bronx.

      And lastly, the enrollment data for City College is extremely heartening – these are pretty good – sometimes very good – schools and they are serving a population that includes 40% first generation college students.

      • aturner339

        Oh absolutely. The precise nature of the political calculation aside this particular proposal seems to me like a great idea.

  • LeeEsq

    Cuomo’s decision to veto the bill that would improve New York’s public defender system but announce for free college tuition for families earning bellow a certain amount is not hard to understand. Providing adequate resources to public defenders is generally not politically popular even though it might be Constitutionally mandated because most people do not like criminals. The 4th to 8th Amendments are the hardest for the general public to like because putting themselves in the place of a person who might need them is not mentally easy. People generally like to see themselves as law abiding types that do not need to use these Amendments ever.

    Racism makes this problem more difficult to solve but even some lily white places can get very tough on white criminals because people just see them as bad.

    Free tuition at public universities is popular because it is seen as helping good, and law abiding citizens like themselves. Its seen as rewarding virtue rather than vice and since it applies to people earning a 125,000 or under it applies to more the population than public defenders.

    • Bill Murray

      Racism makes this problem more difficult to solve but even some lily white places can get very tough on white criminals because people just see them as bad.

      The bill deals with people before they are convicted, so are not criminals. Of course many people don’t care about actual guilt, as long as somebody gets punished

  • EvanHarper

    I am not sure what precisely the rhetoric about challenging the power dynamics and changing the system vs. rhetorical Clintonism means, so maybe the following isn’t actually a disagreement. But it seems that Cuomo is straightforwardly doing what the median New York voter wants. He is taking resources away from socially deviant poor people and giving them to relatively well-to-do strivers who feel put-upon. So the missing element in this analysis is the spiteful, selfish preferences of the voters. Joseph Heath had a good post about another issue where he coined the phrase: the people are not innocent.

    • aturner339

      Amen to that. Our trouble is that people, even Democrats, don’t much like the criminally accused.

    • Lasker


    • Lurking Canadian

      That requires the assessment that the governor, in vetoing the bill, understands the desires of the median voter, but the legislature, in putting the bill on his desk, somehow does not. How does that work?

      • MidwestVillager

        I don’t know whether it is applicable to this circumstance but it is true in general that the median voter in the median district is not the same as the median voter the state. The governor may face a different set of electoral incentives than the median member of the legislature.

  • Keaaukane

    I kinda like the way Andrew was cos-playing one of my favorite MST3K movies.


    (Gotta go all the way to the end)
    It stinks!

  • BGinCHI

    Cuomo is Rahm Emanuel, without the charm.

    • vic rattlehead

      Really? I’d take Cuomo over Rahm any day. But that’s in part because I’m a New Yorker-better the devil you know. I know Cuomo’s redeeming qualities-I’m not sure if Rahm has any. Maybe he does.

      • sherm

        I know Cuomo’s redeeming qualities

        I would love to see that short list.

        • Bill Murray

          LBG and maybe T?

          • Sev

            Hmmm. Might want to add a Z to that T, as in the new bridge. I was, like many, quite annoyed initially when Cuomo proposed this bridge plan w/o the mass transit, after months and years of public involvement had come up with a plan including precisely that. Eventually, I concluded that he was simply right that the financing would not have been there- sadly. It is still a pretty big and necessary investment at a time when Republicans are content to simply let the country crumble. Also, the design/build plan, in which the same company designs and builds it, is a big improvement over the way things have usually been done here. We have this thing called the Wick’s law, which breaks projects into pieces, with cost overruns and every contractor blaming the others for the constant screw-ups.

  • vic rattlehead

    I would obviously vote Cuomo over any Republican. Hell I’d take Zombie Howell Heflin if he could win us the White House.

    But man, what a step backwards for the party that would be. I don’t think he’s what we need to take on Trump in 2020. Far from it in fact. Truman pegged this back in the day. Why would voters take Diet Republican when they can get the sugary goodness of Republican Classic?

    And I will bite my tongue-I don’t want to contribute to a culture of endlessly denigrating our nominee if he is our nominee, but I don’t know if I could enthusiastically volunteer for him the way I did for Hillary and Obama. And whoever runs is going to need that in spades.

    • addicted44

      It wouldn’t mean anything. Seriously, as Scott kept pointing out leading up to the elections is the Presidents behavior will largely dicatated by the party they lead and their support base.

      Cuomo’s base in NY is largely dependent on upstate and rural voters, who are opposed to such measures which is why he vetoed this bill. If Cuomo becomes the Dem nominee he will support what Dems are in support of at the moment.

      And I’m a Cuomo hater who was pissed he won reelection as governor, but if he is a Dem nominee I will be enthusiastic because he will be a different candidate to do that.

      • vic rattlehead

        It may be nonsense for me to rag on Cuomo instead of taking a broader view (although he did stab his own party in the back in the state senate to increase his personal power-how does your largely correct observation of the party explain that?). It’s not nonsense that we need a more captivating candidate in 2020 than Cuomo. Booker is a much more charismatic, more inspiring speaker for example.

        • Davis X. Machina

          Booker has a Goldman-Sachs-esque problem of significant proportions.
          Between that and his education record, the lefter left won’t have him at any price.

          Charisma is optional.

      • TopsyJane

        I’d like to wait until he actually says and does more things that indicate he’s making such a shift. New Yorkers will know more, but it seems like Cuomo used the push for gay marriage to cover a multitude of classic neoliberal sins. I understand his administration also stuffed a governmental corruption investigation and some of the aides closest to him have been guilty of some pretty impressive sleaze. None of said sleaze has apparently been tied to Cuomo himself, but it doesn’t look great that all of this was going on under his nose.

        He also seems distinctly charmless, but it may be me, since I found HRC to be a generally more appealing candidate than others did.

        All of this pales in comparison to Trump, but it would be nice if the party could do better. New blood, not a second dynasty candidate in a row.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Cuomo is not going to be the Democratic nominee in 2020. Even among New York pols Gillibrand would beat him like a rented mule. He’d do worse than Liberman did in 2004.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Feel the Cuomentum!

  • sherm

    Cuomo’s base in NY is largely dependent on upstate and rural voters

    He got crushed upstate by Astorino, and by a larger margin than when he first ran against Paladino. They despise him upstate.

    EDIT — meant to be in reply to addicteed44 above.

    • rwelty

      yes, and Teachout hurt him badly in the primaries upstate.

    • mds

      They despise him upstate.

      The SAFE Act. Also, the SAFE Act. Plenty of upstate residents are cheerleaders for the mass murder of kindergartners, if the alternative is even mild restrictions on their deranged gunfucking.

      • sherm

        The upstate landscape is littered with yard signs regarding that.

  • bobloblaw57

    Not sure how much credit this guy should really get. I mean this isn’t going to pass and he just vetoed a bill that was on his desk that was actually…good. So meh? Are we just happy that his plan will nominally be discussed as a possibility?

    • vic rattlehead

      Well if nothing else it’s nice to hear an elected official besides Bernie Sanders talk it up (announcing it next to Sanders himself no less). And sure he can’t force the state legislature to do it if it doesn’t want to but he is the Governor of the state. Even if it’s only for political points and not realistic that’s got to count for something-Cuomo isn’t exactly on the left wing of the party so the fact that a centrist democrat like him feels pressure or at least thinks paying lip service to this benefits him, is a good thing I think.

  • Yankee

    Free tuition doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of the public higher education those kids will be getting. It does maximize the money flow, so it must be creating value, rite?

    • Crusty

      Is there something wrong with the quality of public higher education offered by the SUNY and CUNY schools that needs to be addressed more urgently than affordability?

      • rwelty

        lots of departments have severe budget crunches. i know my department (Computer Science at UAlbany) has not really had budget increases to match the increase in students. i don’t really know where all that money is going instead (but i could speculate).

        • Davis X. Machina

          I thought when they got rid of theater and most of the foreign languages, the money was supposed to to to departments like yours.

          • rwelty

            maybe it was supposed to. no sign of it. the football team has a lovely new stadium.

            • rwelty

              actually, UAlbany still has a theater department and most of the standard western european languages.

        • Crusty

          I’m not getting how this is more urgent than allowing students to graduate without life ruining debt.

  • AMK

    But Andrew Cuomo is still a complete non-starter for the Democratic nomination and let’s be careful not to give him too much credit and legitimize his ambitions.

    The number one question for 2020 is who can win. Cuomo is Hillary Clinton with better political skills and less baggage. Is that enough to beat Trump?

    And, you know, free college for the middle class is a good thing. If the plan is paid for by higher taxes on the very rich, it’s even better.

    • Hercules Mulligan

      Less baggage? He’s like, unspeakably corrupt and everyone knows it. And he doesn’t even have the glass ceiling promise.

      Cuomo is the opposite of what you describe– everything bad about Hillary Clinton without any of her good stuff.

      • Crusty

        I suspect that we’re about to learn the American electorate doesn’t care much about corruption. I dunno, maybe we’ll learn the opposite.

      • AMK

        By “baggage” I mean “stuff the media will fixate on like EMAILS” as opposed to actual corruption.

    • rwelty

      eh. people like his father a lot better than they like him.

      • Sev

        It is true. Andrew is meaner and a lesser speaker; on the other hand he actually gets more done. Not that I like all of that.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Cuomo is Hillary Clinton

      Clinton is substantially more progressive than Cuomo.

  • Crusty

    The linked article indicates that tuition at a four year SUNY school is approximately $6,470. Annual cost of attendance at Binghamton is $23,619. I think the proposed plan only addresses that $6,470.

    Three quick points- 1) I’ve said this before, but I hate that this is pegged to income. If we’re going to have public colleges that are free and affordable to all, let’s just have them. 2) This is a great big eff you to the downstate region.

    • Lasker

      How is this an FU to downstate? City College is included.

      • Crusty

        $125,000 means something different in the NY Metro area than it does in most of upstate.

        • Lasker

          While true, I doubt that would affect reception of this proposal very much. I could be wrong. If people get upset about the cap, (and no doubt they will) they will probably be thinking along class and (ugh) racial lines, not about location.

          Another angle: CUNY students are much more likely to be living at home while attending college than SUNY students (meaning tuition itself is far and away their main cost) so this is an even bigger benefit for CUNY.

          • sherm

            Yeah, its more of an FU to the downstate suburbanites, which is surprising.

            • Lasker

              I think that’s fair.

            • Crusty

              To some extent, but cost of living in NYC in places other than fashionable parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn is still astronomical. There are families making $140K, living in dingy but safe parts of Queens that face astronomical housing and childcare costs.

              The suburban/urban divide isn’t quite as straight as it is in some places. People in lots of parts of the city would get more and pay less if they moved to the burbs.

              • Scott Lemieux

                $140 K a year is 1)affluent anywhere 2)nearly triple the median household income in NYC. Really, enough with this shit.

                • Crusty

                  You have no idea what you are talking about.

                  A program that picks an arbitrary cut off and says free for people on one side of the line and not the other fucks them. As I said above, the program should be the same for everyone. We have affordable public universities or we don’t. It has nothing to do with what the median income is in NYC.

                • Crusty

                  I’m not a professional political scientist like you, but here’s something I’ve learned-

                  A couple, like a public school teacher and a police officer, who in westchester, NYC, or Long Island would make more than $125K see free college for others and not for their kids because they’re too “affluent” and decide that democrats aren’t trying to help them, but only other people and they vote republican.

                • Crusty

                  How many of those households are trying to send someone or maybe more than one person to college? Wouldn’t that be more of a relevant measure?

                  In any event, just lay it out for me- you’re moving to NYC, Westchester, Rockland or Long Island for a job in your field. Where are you living, how’s your paycheck going to be broken out, where are the college savings coming from? What’s your mortgage payment going to be? Tell me how it works.

          • Crusty

            I think people who get upset about the cap get upset about the cap because the policy is made and the cap is set by people that 1) won’t be relying on the benefit, and 2) have no connection to reality.

      • sherm

        Cost of living discrepancy is huge.

        • Crusty

          A policy like this that doesn’t take into account cost of living discrepancy is just kind of ignorant. Moreover, it tells me that Cuomo is interested in nothing more than the headline.

  • D.N. Nation

    NY dick vs. NY dick. Boy, can’t wait for 2020.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Cuomo won’t even sniff the nomination.

  • humanoid.panda

    So embracing middle-class rhetoric and middle-class welfare state expansions that get a lot of big publicity is something he can very much get behind while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to challenge Wall Street, the criminal injustice system, or the Republican Party.

    Cuomo is not in my top twenty Democratic candidates, and he is as likely to be indicted as being the actual nominee, but this sentence is a bit baffling. Running for president against a republican president and playing to win doesn’t challenge the power of the Republican party? Really?

    • Fabio

      Much as I despise the guy, he is clearly playing to the Democratic party base: the polling crosstabs show that he is bleeding support from white suburbanites, but is most popular in the city, and with minority voters, particularly for his stances on gun control, education (the tax credit), and immigration.

      He’s also playing a tricky game — appealing to the diverse base of the donkey party, while apparently ignoring millennial issues and concerns — Cuomo appears to be underwater with millennial voters. I don’t know if that’s possible to do and win the Presidency in 2020.

      He also is obviously corrupt; as Hercules Mulligan noted, all the downside of Clinton with none of the upside, save one — he is a man. But who knows if a corrupt NYC blowhard will be able to make a clear contrast between himself and an incumbent corrupt NYC blowhard in 2020.

      He’ll have to first survive re-election in 2018. That’s a lot of corruption to keep under wraps for the duration. I get the play that he’s making, but I really don’t think he’s likely to be the 2020 donkey nominee, although granted that may be wishful thinking.

      • rwelty

        a lot depends on the current scandal. it’s getting pretty close to him. i really have no idea if Bharara will get to him or not.

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  • Bruce Vail

    Cuomo a non-starter fro Democratic nomination in 2020?

    Sez who?

    2020 looks wide open to me. Cuomo probably has as good a chance as anyone else…

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Listen to the man speak sometime. He’s basically Lieberman without the animal magnetism.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Cuomo a non-starter fro Democratic nomination in 2020?

      Sez who?

      Anybody who knows anything about American politics? Christ, Corey Booker probably can’t win a Democratic Party because of a left veto and he’s way more liberal than Cuomo.

      • Bruce Vail

        Okay, but three years is a long time in politics, and Cuomo may look a lot more attractive in 2019 that he did in 2016.

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    Random idea: What if Hillary Clinton tried to primary Cuomo from the left for NY gov?

    I just would find that an interesting turn of events.

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