Cuomo Whips up the Base at Democratic Convention in Huntington

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo giving a speech in Huntington. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

Facing his parents sitting proudly in the front row next to his three daughters, Gov. Andrew Cuomo let the oratory soar, and the crowd roared, “Four more years!”

As the climax of his acceptance speech drew near, he was finally hitting his stride at the podium and it didn’t matter if the rising cheers and standing ovation drowned out his words. Everyone there was on the same page already. Cuomo was beaming broadly because he’d finally generated enough energy in the Grand Ballroom at the Huntington Hilton to honor his old man, the acknowledged master mouthpiece of the Democratic Party back when Mario Cuomo was in his prime as the lyrical liberal and the nation seemed to hang on every word in the summer of 1984.

Now, decades later, it was the son’s turn to shine, rhetorically speaking, at the New York State Democratic Convention, and the younger Cuomo’s task was much more pragmatic: unite upstate and downstate, quash any debate over policies he didn’t like, avoid mention of any contentious issues—like fracking, Common Core, and gun control—proclaimed on the placards of protesters lined up outside the hotel grounds, and inspire the Democrats inside to return to their home counties, whether Onondaga or Cattaraugus, Genesee or Montgomery, all fired up for the fall campaign.

The semi-official motto for Cuomo’s run for re-election is “New York is on the move,” followed by the variation on the theme: “We ain’t going back,” and “We’re not stopping until we make the Empire State stronger and better than it’s ever been.”

Will these words be enough to produce a margin of victory so impressive this November that he could become a possible presidential contender in 2016 should Hillary Clinton do the unthinkable and not run? Certainly Cuomo shows no signs of taking this race for granted even though, in some recent polling, the governor starts the Memorial Day weekend with a 30-point lead over the Republican nominee, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. Certainly, the contest will get closer—it always does—but so far Cuomo is going all out.

Cuomo Protest
Anti-fracking activists protest outside Democratic Convention at Huntington Hilton. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)
For his running mate, he picked Erie County’s former clerk, Kathy Hochul, who served one term in Congress, because he wants to be competitive in western New York, where she’s a “household name,” according to current Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who spoke at the podium right before she did. When it was her turn, Hochul flailed the opposition, which went unnamed but the target was clear to the assembled throng, for spinning “their narrative of negativity” because they “aren’t happy with progress.”

“I’m telling you right now,” said Hochul to Republicans, “if you want to mess with Buffalo and upstate New York, you’ve got to get through me!”

From the other end of the state, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio made clear there’s very little daylight between his progressive policies and the governor’s, at least when it comes to providing universal pre-k in the state, or so he claimed from the podium. He said that he and the governor have been friends for more than 20 years, starting when Cuomo worked for the Clinton Administration as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The governor will certainly need a big turnout in the liberal bastion of New York City to offset any Republican gains in the more conservative suburbs and rural counties—so he’s counting that DeBlasio can deliver.

But the governor is also keeping his other ballot options open, despite an effort by Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs to compel Cuomo to shun the Independence Party endorsement, which Jacobs said was a “corrupting influence.” Jacobs’ proposal reportedly had the backing of the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus but it fell short on the convention floor Wednesday afternoon and was permanently tabled. How that move will play out with the left-leaning Working Families Party at their convention in Albany on May 31 remains to be seen. So far this third party has not announced a formal challenger to Cuomo despite their complaints that the governor isn’t liberal enough, is far too comfortable with Republican control of the State Senate under Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and the more conservative Independent Democratic Conference.

Before Cuomo came to the podium, an array of Democrats from President Bill Clinton to Harry Belafonte, Billy Crystal, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as the former governor and first lady of the state, Mario and Matilda Cuomo, were shown on the giant video screens in the hall endorsing the governor’s re-election.

“He’s made this state greater than it was,” said the elder Cuomo about his son in a feeble voice, “and given another opportunity, he will make it still greater.”

Once the governor himself took the stage, he thanked “my father, my hero, the greatest governor in the history of New York,” before listing his own accomplishments such as turning a $10 billion deficit into a $2 billion surplus, reducing state income taxes to their lowest level since the 1950s, raising the minimum wage and passing marriage equality.

Kathy Hochul
Cuomo’s new running mate, former upstate Congresswoman, Kathy Hochul. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)
He took credit for New York having more jobs now than it ever had. He promised to rebuild the State University of New York (his twin daughters now attend Harvard and Brown) under his “SUNY 2020” project. He boasted that under his administration the Tappan Zee Bridge will finally get a much overdue renovation, and he said he’ll follow that example by rebuilding John F. Kennedy Airport and LaGuardia, although he didn’t spell out how.

Judging by their joyous reaction to his speech, this audience was not focused on the details. They were looking at the big picture, and Cuomo was happy to paint it in the broadest strokes.

Describing the contrasts of his vision with the other party’s, Cuomo said, “Their view is an ultra-conservative social agenda that sees society through a lens of fear and division. Our view sees society through a lens of optimism and inclusion. They see government as a vehicle for corporate opportunity. We see government as a vehicle for individual opportunity.”

He alluded to the Statue of Liberty, calling New York State America’s “laboratory of democracy,” and in halcyon terms barely audible above the cheers, he shouted, “We are one and in our unity is our strength!”

Once he was done speaking, he was joined on stage by his parents—his father planted a kiss on his cheek—and his daughters and Sandra Lee, his celebrity chef girlfriend. He raised Hochul’s hand in the air in triumph and then posed for pictures with the rest of the Democratic ticket, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, as the music blared Bon Jovi’s “Who’s Gonna Work for the Working Man?”

Tellingly, the next song up was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”