ALBANY – Let the 2014 governor's race begin.
With Tuesday's elections barely over and the Republicans still searching for a gubernatorial candidate, the leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties will be in Buffalo over the next two weeks as the sides gear up for the November 2014 race.
The Democratic Party's leader, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, insists it is too soon to discuss politics. But that is not stopping the governor, who already has at least $28 million in his re-election bank account, from hitting up deep-pocket donors from Western New York in a mega-fundraiser in Buffalo.
While Buffalo might be one of America's poorest cities, Cuomo's campaign is charging $1,000 to $10,000 a head to attend the event, according to invitations sent to area business leaders and others. The fundraiser was scheduled for tonight, but was changed – now tentatively set for Nov. 19 – after it was announced that a group of energy industry executives would be meeting at the same time as Cuomo's now-scuttled event at the Hyatt Hotel. The energy industry has accused Cuomo of foot-dragging on the natural gas fracking issue. Democrats, though, say it was postponed to find a larger room to hold the Cuomo fundraiser.
If there were any doubts that Cuomo is intent on turning around his performance in Western New York from three years ago when he lost the entire region, there is a simple fact to consider: he has held more public events in the Buffalo area during the summer and fall than at the state Capitol.
Since taking office, Cuomo has sought to highlight the Buffalo area's economic needs, and his administration has announced deals on everything from the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills to the Peace Bridge.
Political insiders say the governor wants to drive his showing up in 2014, in part, to keep his name in play for the 2016 presidential contest and to use as leverage with a State Legislature that has increasingly cool relations with Cuomo. And Western New York is key to that, which could be a problem for Cuomo if Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, who lost to Cuomo in 2010, runs next year only on the Conservative Party line should the Republicans nominate someone conservatives don't like.
“Gov. Cuomo wants to win Western New York and he wants to win the place he didn't win before,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. “Therefore, it makes sense for him to start out in Buffalo.”
“The gateway to the Midwest is Buffalo, so if he's even thinking about being a national player that's the place to start,” he added.
Of course, the governor is not expected to formally announce his 2014 campaign until next year – a fact that is only helping to spur speculation that he might jettison Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, a former Rochester mayor, from the ticket. Duffy recently had an interview for an opening at a Rochester business group, but he and Cuomo said they won't talk politics until next year.
“Politics is next year and we'll talk about politics when we are in the political season next year. I have a lot of governmental work to do between now and then and I don't want to get this session clouded with political discussion because one point runs to the next. If I announce I'm running for re-election, well then who's your running mate, what about this, what about this? So, no politics,” Cuomo said recently.
Regardless, Republicans are already starting their anti-Cuomo effort - despite the fact that they have no candidate in mind to run against him.
For now, that leaves the Cuomo-bashing largely to Ed Cox, the state GOP chairman, who is scheduled to give a speech Wednesday night in Buffalo attacking Cuomo on everything from his non-decision on natural gas fracking to the upstate economy.
In a preview, Cox recently told The Buffalo News, “Despite all of Cuomo's puffery, New York is still the most taxed, most regulated, least business-friendly state in the nation with the highest debt per capita – just like we were when Andrew Cuomo took office. New Yorkers are already starting to realize that New York doesn't look like a state whose governor deserves a second term.”