For years, Stephanie Miner has served as a certified, card-carrying nemesis to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Once a trusted confidante whom Cuomo anointed as co-chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, the former mayor of Syracuse in recent years jumps at every opportunity to take on her erstwhile ally.
Now she launches the ultimate challenge to Cuomo with an independent candidacy for governor that may not loom as a major threat on its own, but just might attract enough votes in concert with other left-leaning opponents to present a big time problem for the incumbent Democrat.
If others who can attract Democratic votes remain on the November ballot – like Cynthia Nixon on Working Families and Howie Hawkins on Green – some observers say the trio could siphon enough backing from Cuomo to ultimately benefit Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate.
And that could make things interesting.
For now, Miner launches a gubernatorial bid she believes will succeed because voters are sick of the parade of criminal trials unfolding as a result of corruption in Albany. She claims it was only coincidence that she revealed her candidacy on the day the Buffalo Billion trial got underway in Manhattan, but says it all underscores her point.
“It actually is a coincidence,” she said, “but you can’t announce a campaign without a better than 50-50 shot it occurs at the time of a corruption trial.”
The former Syracuse mayor, whose term was limited following her second stint in City Hall at the end of 2017, really doesn’t sound much different from others in the race. But it only makes sense that she attaches herself to a trial that certainly isn’t going to help Cuomo.
“The system is broken and people believe it’s designed to reward special interests and campaign contributors,” Miner said Monday. “Both party establishments turn a blind eye to this culture of corruption, and if you really want to change it, you have to do it from the outside.”
Miner plans to petition her way onto the ballot with an independent party called the Serve America Movement. Though she won two terms leading the state’s fourth largest city as a Democrat, she thinks voters are fed up enough with Democrats, Republicans, and all the Joe Percocos, Shelly Silvers and Dean Skeloses of the world to look for something different. She talks a lot about the state’s “onerous tax burden” and its leaders’ “transactional politics.”
Molinaro even “welcomed” Miner into the race on Monday, piggybacking on to her anti-corruption message.
“As yet another criminal corruption trial involving the Cuomo administration kicks off in federal court today, it comes as little surprise that this is now a four-way contest,” he said. “Gov. Cuomo’s corrupt and disastrous pay-to-play policies have cost New York taxpayers billions of dollars they can’t afford, lining Mr. Cuomo’s campaign coffers with an obscene amount of money at everyone else’s expense."
Ditto for Nixon. She stood outside the Manhattan courthouse where the Buffalo Billion trial got underway Monday and pronounced the same message.
“It’s hard to do right when so many of our elected officials are getting millions of dollars to do wrong,” she said. “In so many cases, these huge donors become the only constituents that matter, for they are the select few who can make or break your political career with a single check.”
Miner seems to revel in taking on the powerful governor. She recalls being booted from Cuomo’s inner circle after labeling his plans to borrow for future municipal pension obligations an “accounting gimmick.” She said that was “deemed heresy.”
“If you disagree, you’re automatically personally attacked,” she said, “and it’s so much easier to do that rather than look at the substance.”
Few view Miner as the next resident of the big mansion on Albany’s Eagle Street. The latest Siena College Research Institute poll shows Cuomo leading Nixon 61 to 26 percent in the Democratic primary, and Molinaro 56 to 37 percent in the general election. Miner remains unknown outside Central New York, unlike Nixon who has widespread name recognition from her “Sex and the City” days.
Some political veterans like Leonard R. Lenihan of Tonawanda recognize that Miner could detract from the number of votes normally flowing to Cuomo.
“You have the potential for that with a number of left-leaning candidates on minor party lines,” Lenihan said.
But the former Erie County Democratic chairman and Democratic elections commissioner (not exactly close to Cuomo after the governor’s forces tried to oust him from party leadership a few years ago) says the Cuomo campaign will link Republicans to President Trump and overcome any advantage stemming from Democratic defections.
“In a typical election all those minor party candidates could hurt,” Lenihan said. “Whatever problems the governor may or may not have, whoever is on the Democratic line and it will probably be Cuomo, will have the benefit of the emotional reaction to what Trump is doing in Washington.
“If there is one state where we’ll see it, it will be New York State,” he added.
Miner has a long way to go to pose a real challenge to a veteran campaigner with all the advantages of incumbency and more than $30 million in his campaign kitty. She will also not sound that different from Molinaro, Nixon and Hawkins in underscoring the state’s loss of population and jobs.
But she and the others are taking advantage of this moment in time, when the next several weeks will feature daily stories around the state of the Buffalo Billion trial – even if it all fails to personally touch Cuomo. Miner’s message will, in every instance, bring it all back to the state’s recent spate of corruption trials.
“You can see people are fed up with the status quo,” she said, “and want government to solve problems for real people and not the vested interests.”
Robert J. McCarthy covers politics for The Buffalo News.