ALBANY – Bill Samuels, a wealthy Democratic Party activist, has been a public thorn in the side of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for several years.
Now he says he is seriously considering challenging Cuomo’s running mate, Erie County’s Kathleen C. Hochul, in a Democratic primary.
Samuels, who called Cuomo “Nixonian” for aiding Republicans at the expense of candidates in his own party, said he might run as a way to force Cuomo back to the left of the Democratic Party and to also be a voice in Albany for such things as a state takeover of Medicaid to help lower local property taxes.
“It isn’t motivated by Kathy Hochul. It’s motivated by the fact that our governor on policy, but even more on character, has upset not just me but a whole host of progressive people,” said Samuels, whose father, Howard, ran unsuccessfully for New York governor in a Democratic primary in 1974, losing to Hugh Carey.
The threat by Samuels is being taken seriously by the governor to the point that he dispatched three top advisers, Samuels said, in separate meetings with the Manhattan businessman just last week.
It also comes days ahead of this weekend’s nominating convention by the Working Families Party, the small but influential left-leaning party that is fractured between some elements who want to endorse Cuomo and others who say his political sins have included helping to keep the Republicans in partial control of the Senate.
Samuels, in an interview Tuesday, said if the Working Families Party bucks Cuomo this weekend and goes with someone else, he is more likely to challenge Hochul because it will be a sign that other Democrats want to push Cuomo in a new direction.
“Others have to step up,” Samuels said of the Working Families Party moving against Cuomo.
Samuels attacked Cuomo not just on policy matters, but said he “rules by fear” and has a “Nixonian personality” and surrounds himself with “yes” people.
“There’s nothing in Andrew Cuomo’s personality that I see that allows dissension,” said Samuels, who has backed both Cuomo and his father, Mario, in the past.
There are messy potential effects to a Samuels run. Besides serving as a distraction to a Democratic Party seeking to portray a public image of unity, the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ballot line. That means if Samuels were to be on the Democratic ticket with Cuomo, the governor could not count the votes he might get with Hochul running on the Independence Party line. Cuomo on Thursday signed the paperwork needed to run on the Independence Party’s line. Later that day, he publicly told reporters he had not yet made a decision about running on the line, an incident the governor on Tuesday downplayed in dismissing characterizations that he was less than truthful with the media.
In New York on Tuesday, Cuomo was asked by reporters about the possible Samuels run against Hochul, first reported by the New York Post. “This is a democracy. Anybody can run for anything obviously, especially if you have the money in this system,” Cuomo said.
He said Hochul “is clearly, in my opinion, the person with the qualifications.”
Cuomo has at least $30 million in his campaign bank account.
Samuels, born in Canandaigua and whose father founded the Victor plastics company Kordite – makers of Baggies and other products – said he asked Cuomo’s advisers last week for the governor to come out now and endorse Democratic candidates for the State Senate. He said he was turned down. Samuels and others say Cuomo has been too cozy with Republicans, going so far as to let them draw their own district lines in the last redistricting process despite promises to change a process accused by critics of gerrymandering.
Of Hochul, Samuels said that while he might disagree with some of her past positions – she was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in her 2012 congressional re-election – he believes she is qualified to be lieutenant governor and, if necessary, governor.
“My issue is with Andrew Cuomo,” he said.
Of Cuomo, he said, “He says one thing and does another.” Cuomo, he said, should not have taken the Independence Party line, which some Democrats believe is a shadow party that fools voters not registered with any party into thinking they are voting for “independent” candidates.
“We need an independent governor,” Samuels said, adding he would publicly stand up to Cuomo on matters with which he disagreed. “He cannot count on my vote, and I think that will make him hesitate on some of the things he’s doing,” said Samuels, whose father lost in 1974 along with his running mate, Mario Cuomo, in that year’s party primary for governor and lieutenant governor.
Samuels called into question the governor’s image as a property tax cutter. Cuomo, he said, could do more than just control property taxes, but actually cut them in a massive way if New York, like other states, paid for its Medicaid health insurance program without the help from counties.
Samuels earlier this year suggested Cuomo run as a Republican.
“I know Kathy Hochul will not be happy with this, but it’s not about her,” he said.
Whether the move by Samuels is a temporary blip in the 2014 governor’s race or will drag on into the party’s primary in September will be known by next week. But the unhappiness among some liberal Democrats comes at a time when Rob Astorino, the Republican Party’s challenger to Cuomo, recently emerged from his party’s convention with the backing of moderate and conservative leaders.
Several female Democratic Party activists already have publicly bashed Samuels for considering a run against the first woman to be tapped as a Democratic gubernatorial running mate in 35 years.
“Mr. Samuels’ pledge to run a Democratic primary challenge against Kathy would be unbelievably misguided and would be met with the full force of New York Democratic women’s dismay and disapproval. The Working Families Party, whose creation I supported, should divorce themselves from this charade and immediately disavow this ego trip,” said Judith Hope, a former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.