Less than a week before the primary election, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) was lucky enough to participate in a great photo op: Driving Franklin Roosevelt's old car across the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge that replaces the old Tappan Zee on the Hudson River north of New York City. The current governor evoked the name of his eternally popular father while reminding people of one of the most significant infrastructure projects of his administration. And with only six days to go before people vote! What a bit of good fortune.
Except the span Cuomo crossed, the west-to-east part of the bridge, is not actually open yet. That portion of the bridge is adjacent to parts of the old Tappan Zee that are still standing, and there was some concern part of the old bridge might fall onto the new one. So no cars until Tuesday at the earliest.
The bridge was supposed to open Friday, but, a few hours after Cuomo crossed, workers heard a loud “pop” coming from the old span, and, that evening, the delay was announced. There is no indication Cuomo's crossing was actually scheduled knowing the bridge would not actually subsequently open. Because governors leveraging Hudson River crossings for political benefit is not unheard of in the region, people naturally wondered.
"It’s now clearer than ever that the bridge was opened to meet Governor Cuomo’s political agenda without regard for public safety,” the Republican candidate, Marcus J. Molinaro, said in a statement. He called for an investigation of the sort that tripped up former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
As it stands, the timing of Cuomo's drive appears to just be good luck after all.
As it is good luck the fallout of a mailer targeting Cuomo's main primary opponent, actress Cynthia Nixon, is not tied directly back to him. That mailer came from the state Democratic Party and accused Nixon of anti-Semitism based on policy positions it attributed to her but that Nixon does not hold.
"At a time when anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and other hate crimes are on the rise, it’s sickening to exploit people’s real fears like this,” Nixon said in a tweet.
The New York Times, which endorsed Cuomo in the primary, called the mailer a “disgrace” and said it “strain[ed] credulity” for Cuomo to assert, as he did, he did not know about and had not seen the mailer.
"Mr. Cuomo dominates the state Democratic Party,” the Times editorial board wrote. “It acts ethically or abominably at his direction, or at the very least, with his campaign’s blessing.” At the end of the editorial, the board reinforced its endorsement of the governor.
Cuomo's drive on Friday overlapped with another Times article about his propensity for getting around on the taxpayers' dime.
"In California, the governor flies commercial, except during emergencies,” the Times's Shane Goldmacher reported. “In Texas, the governor pays for private charters, even to government events. All told, Mr. Cuomo flew roughly 50 percent more taxpayer-funded private flights than the next closest governor on the list. His office called any comparison between states 'absurd' and 'irrelevant.'" What's more, Goldmacher found, Cuomo's campaign has paid for only one flight this year, despite how often Cuomo has traveled (including, of course, for official business) as he seeks reelection.
He has also pointedly declined to engage in another controversial form of transit: riding the subway in New York City. Why is this controversial? Because the subway system, the city's critical arterial network, keeps getting worse. While Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have fought over who is to blame, the city or the state (among many other fights), it is Cuomo who runs the agency that manages the trains.
This is not uncommon knowledge in the city.
"He’s smart enough to know that if he showed up on a subway platform at this point, he’d get his a-- kicked,” one Democratic consultant said to Politico. Maybe not literally, but the odds are pretty good that famously demure New Yorkers might offer their opinions at least this one time.
Or — maybe not. On Monday, Siena College released a poll of Democratic primary voters in the state. Not only does Cuomo lead Nixon by more than 40 points, his lead has grown since Siena's poll at the end of July. And Cuomo's strongest region is actually New York City, where he leads by 50 points. Upstate he leads by only 32, perhaps in part because his efforts at constraining gun purchases were a focus of opposition in the region.
Nixon, for her part, insists there is reason for optimism. Her campaign is running Facebook ads noting other Democratic primary candidates who embraced a similarly progressive platform as her own had overcome significant polling deficits to win. That includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York candidate whose politics and victory have served as a beacon for leftist Democrats since.
Ocasio-Cortez, though, was only (“only”) down 36 points in a race with a much lower profile and, probably, much lower turnout than the Cuomo-Nixon matchup. Nixon catching Cuomo would be a much bigger accomplishment.
It remains unlikely. Even if Cuomo's next three days are as rocky as his last three.