New Yorkers have always believed that our state is the center of the universe. And now, for a shining two-week moment, it really is, at least as far as the political world is concerned.
Thanks to this year’s unexpectedly long presidential nomination battles, New York’s opinion about who should occupy the White House matters. As a result, candidates are actually wooing voters ahead of the April 19 contest rather than simply asking them for campaign cash. (We’re not known as the ATM state for nothing.)
When most people think of New York, they think of New York City, a liberal bastion where enrolled Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 5 to 1. But statewide, the Democrat-to-Republican ratio is more like 2 to 1, and, generally speaking, the farther you get from “the city,” the more conservative voters get, with the exception of urban centers such as Albany, Rochester and Buffalo.
Candidates here fight hard, and they fight to win. As a top aide to the current governor once memorably told his counterpart in a neighboring state, “We operate on two speeds here: Get along, and kill.”
To gain a more robust understanding of New York ahead of the upcoming primary, consider the following:
Buffalo News columnist Bob McCarthy
Politics in Buffalo is so factionalized that the city is referred to as “Beirut on the Lake” (Lake Erie, that is), a place where it’s not all that unusual for the state’s Conservative Party to endorse Democrats. No one explains the strange political goings-on here better than veteran columnist McCarthy, who has been covering the city for three decades.
“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” Robert Caro
Caro’s biography of master builder and manipulator Moses captures the tribalism, aggression and thirst for power that characterize New York politics more completely (though not necessarily more succinctly) than any other book out there.
WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show”
If you want to tap into the liberal hive mind of New York City, this is your best bet. Lehrer’s soft-spoken but probing interview style routinely elicits newsmaking comments from his guests, and he takes calls from a dedicated following across the five boroughs and beyond. Lehrer’s eclectic list of past guests includes notables from Sen. John McCain to DJ Spooky and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Bob Lonsberry, WHAM-AM in Rochester and WSYR-AM in Syracuse
An outspoken, hard-line conservative, Lonsberry is the undisputed king of talk radio in central New York. He can be controversial — racist, according to critics. Yet he has his finger on the pulse of right-leaning residents, a small but often vociferous minority in this Democrat-dominated state.
No, this iconic show is not technically about politics. But pretty much every major New York political scandal has been adapted as a storyline. And a main character — prosecutor Adam Schiff — was modeled after former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (left), renowned as one of the nation’s top law enforcement officials over a nearly half-century career.
This Showtime drama is not about politics, either, per se. But one of its central characters is based on crusading U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (left), who made a name for himself with his relentless pursuit of public-corruption cases, taking down some of New York’s top elected officials in the process. If you need insight into the clout of the state’s financial industry and the outsize footprint of the most powerful non-elected man in politics, this is the show to watch.
“All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life,” Andrew Cuomo
The governor’s memoir had dismal sales (about 3,000 copies from its release in October 2014 through February of this year) and received lukewarm reviews. It’s not terribly forthcoming or revealing, but it does offer some insight into the mind of the state’s most powerful elected official and an introduction to key characters operating in his orbit.