Several questions dominate the Democratic primary race between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and actress/activist Cynthia Nixon, but two surmount all others:
• Is this, as Nixon says, “no time for centrists”? That is, should Democrats in one of the highest-taxed states in the country, shift further to the left, imposing higher taxes to achieve social goals?
• Is it wise to continue the national flirtation with celebrity candidates who seek high office but lack any experience navigating the difficult crosscurrents of politics and policy?
The answer to both is no. Cuomo should be renominated for another term in office.
That’s not the only reason to stick with Cuomo. No governor since DeWitt Clinton has been a better friend to Western New York. There were serious problems with the Buffalo Billion program relating to criminal manipulation of the bidding process, but that’s a separate issue from what has been Cuomo’s laser focus on helping Buffalo up off the mat. The goal was correct and no other governor has been so determined.
Could the programs have been better managed? Plainly. Were they worth pursuing anyway? Absolutely. They have changed both the mindset and the economic trajectory of this part of New York.
Is Cuomo a centrist, as Nixon says? Or is he an enthusiastic liberal, as he wants today’s left-leaning Democratic voters to believe? It vexes people that Cuomo can’t be pigeonholed.
He imposed a tax on millionaires. He pushed for same-sex marriage. He implemented a free-tuition program for the state university (though critics from the left, including Nixon, say it didn’t go far enough).
He also had the nerve to stand up to the teachers unions. He pushed for – and got – a property tax cap. He lowered state income taxes during his two terms. His economic development efforts have helped not only Western New York, but areas all around upstate.
Nixon is both passionate and, on the subjects she cares about, well informed. She is especially focused on improving education in New York – always a worthy goal – but her approach would hurt the state. Her plan to raise taxes to bolster the state’s already sky-high levels of education spending risk driving high-earning New Yorkers out of the state, sending an unhelpful message to employers and leaving fewer taxpayers to shoulder the increased burden.
Nixon’s inexperience is also a problem. America’s experiment with celebrity politicians hasn’t worked out well. The idea that a passionate outsider with name recognition can solve the very real problems of government policy stems from genuine frustrations, but whatever the answer is, it isn’t in electing unqualified, novice candidates to top positions. It’s an open invitation to chaos.
Certainly, there is plenty of room in public life for people as engaged in important issues as Nixon is. But not every interested person performs best in elected office and, even for those who do, it doesn’t begin at the top.
Like anything else, running a government is a skill that comes with practice. Without the demonstrated ability to handle the levers of government – including dealing effectively with the leaders of the coequal State Legislature – voters are taking an unwise gamble. It makes no more sense than turning to an airline pilot to perform your heart surgery – or vice versa. It doesn’t compute.
Leading a large state with complex issues isn’t work for someone who needs on-the-job training. Cuomo has done a great job for Western New York and deserves once again to represent Democrats in the general election.