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Cuomo, Gillibrand look like presidential candidates in Philly - sort of

PHILADELPHIA – When you’re from New York and practice your politics on a big-time stage, it’s tough to escape the national obsession called presidential speculation.

Include two of New York’s major Democrats – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand – in that quadrennial game. They may not show any outward signs of seeking the White House, but neither do they avoid the spotlight afforded by events like this week’s Democratic National Convention.

Cuomo occupied the brightest of those spotlights Thursday with a speech before the convention – the first of his political career. Evoking memories of the famous 1984 speech by his father, the late Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, the governor echoed much of the praise for "progressive government" he has espoused all over Philadelphia this week. Combined with a powerful defense of Hillary Clinton and her experience as a New York senator, Cuomo said, "the Trump campaign is marketing a great distraction, using people’s fear and anxiety to drive up his ratings."

[In her own words: Quotes from Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech]

"Fear is a powerful weapon. It can excite and motivate and get people to yell and scream," Cuomo told the convention. "Fear can even bring you into power. But fear has never created a job, educated a child, and fear will never build a nation.

"Fear is not strength," he added. "Fear is weakness – no matter how loud you yell – and our America is never weak."

Cuomo said the Democratic vision of America is, instead, based on advancing the interests of the least fortunate.

"Our progressive government is working in New York," he said. "Because we believe that we are interconnected and interrelated … When one of us is raised, we’re all raised, and when one of us is lowered, we’re all lowered."

Nobody has suggested that Cuomo is campaigning for national office while in Philadelphia this week. But then again, political observers have always speculated about his future plans – as they have throughout history with any governor of New York.

[Trump offers powerful incentive for minorities to back Clinton]

And Cuomo has avoided key delegation meetings in early primary and caucus states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Indeed, he told New York reporters on Tuesday that he has no interest in Washington.

"I want to run for governor," he said, strongly hinting at a third term in Albany in 2018.

Cuomo added he will not seek a repeat stint in a Clinton cabinet, pointing to his years as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bill Clinton administration.

"I have no intention of serving in a Clinton cabinet," he said, reiterating his commitment to running New York’s government.

Still, the governor has raised his national profile significantly in Philadelphia this week at a time when his image back home has been buffeted by investigations of his administration’s involvement in various upstate development projects. His activities here contrast sharply with his quick visit to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. During that conclave he flew in, spoke to the state delegation, made a brief appearance on the convention floor and flew home.

"I get paid to be there," he said Tuesday of his penchant for remaining in the state. "When people need me, I show up. That’s who I am."

But he also said four years ago was a "different time," and he decided to spend several days in Philadelphia to support Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

While Cuomo rarely makes national television appearances and joins the Sunday show rounds only during extraordinary circumstances, he has appeared at least once on both CNN and MSNBC. He also has visited national caucus delegations at the convention dedicated to LGBT and labor causes – the kind of base constituencies he will need if he runs again in 2018.

He was especially well-received by the gay and lesbian group on Tuesday, which praised his efforts to attain legislative approval for same-sex marriage in 2011. He told the group the fight was akin to those of black people in the 1960s.

"For me, the issue of marriage equality was the equivalent of the Edmund Pettus Bridge for civil rights," he said, referring to the Selma bridge where police confronted Martin Luther King and others during a 1965 march.

It’s the same kind of statement he has made on several occasions in Philadelphia, as he proclaimed New York the "progressive capital of the nation." The country looks to New York and follows New York, he said.

"New York State became the first big state to pass marriage equality and changed the whole dialogue," he told the LGBT caucus, "because the people of the State of New York said it was the right thing to do."

In practically all of his remarks, the governor has taken pride in emphasizing that national leaders are still wrestling with steps New York has already taken: a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, a strict gun control policy and others.

"You know the difference?" he asked while addressing the New York delegation on Thursday. "We made it happen. It is not a dream, it is a reality. That is all the difference in the world.

"You want an example of what this nation can be, look east and look to New York," he added. "And it is not a dream. You can do it. We can make New York that reality and we can make the nation the same reality we have made in New York. That is all difference in the world."

The convention also has featured an official "Building Bridges" theme and logo everywhere – symbolizing Cuomo’s claim that Democrats build bridges, while Donald Trump’s Republicans aim to build a wall on the Mexican border – as well as the governor’s signature $4 billion project to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

His appearance before the convention has stirred many Democrats to recall his father’s San Francisco address, which challenged President Ronald Reagan’s Republican philosophies. Asked this week if he considered that speech his father’s finest, he answered that he favors the address at the University of Notre Dame, in which he defended his support for abortion rights, even as a practicing Catholic.

Still, the governor has mentioned his father in practically all of his public appearances this week, and a video about Mario Cuomo produced by his daughter – Maria Cuomo Cole – was shown to New York delegates on Thursday.

Meantime, another potential president, Gillibrand, was a strong presence in Philadelphia, too.

But Gillibrand’s schedule was as notable for what she didn’t do as it was for what she did. She didn’t pay visits to the Iowa or New Hampshire delegation breakfasts, requisite stops for would-be presidents.

Gillibrand said she had other things on her mind in Philadelphia: boosting Clinton’s candidacy and continuing her own work to encourage more women to run for office and win.

Speaking before the full convention Monday night, she stressed that there is much work to be done before women have the same chances as men in the workplace.

"Our policies are stuck in the ‘Mad Men’ era," Gillibrand said. "We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee workers paid family leave. Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth."

Clinton has been a lifelong advocate for women and families, Gillibrand said, citing her push for the Children’s Health Insurance Program as an example.

"It’s why, as president of the United States of America, she will bring our workplace policies out of the dark ages and always, always put families first," she said in her convention speech.

Gillibrand echoed similar themes in a brief speech before the New York congressional delegation Tuesday. And in a second stage appearance at the convention Thursday with other women senators, Gillibrand recounted the story of how seeing Clinton speak during her time as first lady – and urge people to get involved in politics – inspired her to run for office herself.

That being the case, "I’m proud to fight for her," Gillibrand said.

Otherwise, Gillibrand focused her efforts on a project she began shortly after succeeding Clinton in the Senate in 2009: helping more women run for public office and win.

That effort, called "Off the Sidelines," held an event Wednesday aimed at establishing "giving circles" that will provide campaign funds to women candidates.

"It was an event aimed at getting women from all over the country involved in campaigns," Gillibrand said.

Seven current senators attended the event, as did seven other Democratic candidates.

In addition, Gillibrand spoke at an event sponsored by the Senate Women’s Network, a separate fundraising effort aimed at increasing the number of female senators.

"I retold the story of how I got involved," beginning with Clinton’s 2000 Senate race, she said.

In other words, every appearance Gillibrand made in Philadelphia was in some way tied to women’s issues or women’s campaigns. Even an appearance on "The Daily Show" with Trevor Noah focused on the family leave issue.

Gillibrand’s interests seemed a bit broader during the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, where she paid a visit to the Iowa delegation.

There, she delivered the kind of getting-to-know-you speech that prospective presidents often give before politicos from early-primary states.

Gillibrand said Thursday that she did that at the time only because then-Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, asked her to do so.

The Iowans asked her to return this year, but Gillibrand declined the invitation, saying she didn’t have the time.

But Gillibrand said her decision to turn down the Iowa invitation "doesn’t say anything" about her political future.

"It was just about priorities," she said.

Then again, this week in Philadelphia revealed one possible hint that Gillibrand’s priorities might change in 2020 or 2024.

When the Clinton campaign asked her to call in to a big convention watch party in New Hampshire – home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary – she said yes.




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