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Will Cuomo have a primary challenger next year?

Stephanie Miner Twitter

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is considering a possible challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary for the 2018 governor’s race.

Miner said if she does run for governor, it won’t be a conventional campaign.

Miner, who sat down for an interview with public radio and TV, has just over three months remaining in her job as mayor and she said she’s focused on finishing up there. She’s prevented by term limits from running for mayor again.

She recently took time out to take a trip to Israel, a move seen in New York as a preface to any kind of run for higher office. And the 47-year-old Syracuse native and graduate of the University at Buffalo law school said she’s considering what political steps to take next.

Miner said she hasn’t decided yet, but if she does enter the 2018 race against Andrew Cuomo, she would not run as a conventional candidate.

“If I were to decide to run for governor, I would be a huge underdog,” Miner said. “I’m not going to run a race in order to match (campaign) contributions. So I think you have to do it based on ideas.”

Cuomo has a massive $25 million campaign war chest, designed to scare off potential challengers, and has said he intends to seek a third term.

But the recent presidential election demonstrated that money does not always translate into success. President Donald Trump raised and spent far less money than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

And in 2014, Zephyr Teachout, an unknown law professor with no money, challenged Cuomo from the left in a Democratic primary and made significant inroads in his base upstate.

Miner began her career in politics in the early 1990s as the regional representative for the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor’s father. She said when she drove with Mario Cuomo during his visits to central New York, it was like having “Socrates in the back seat” as the former governor peppered her with questions.

“I learned a lot,” Miner said. “I admired him.”

She was the state Democratic Party co-chair under Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he became governor in 2011, but they quickly had a falling out. Miner opposed the governor’s plan to bail out financially struggling cities by permitting them to borrow against their own public pension systems. Cuomo called the maneuver “pension smoothing.” Miner called it an “accounting gimmick” and wrote an op-ed in The New York Times. She quietly left her position as co-leader of the state party a few months later.

Miner said Cuomo hasn’t done enough to help upstate cities, and she believes the governor’s relentless economic development announcements aren’t helping enough people.

“It’s benefiting people who are developers, and I think it’s benefiting people who know how to work the system in order to get access,” she said. “But it’s not getting to families who have children who are living in the cities.”

Since the 2014 elections, Cuomo has made an effort to appeal to progressives and the left of the Democratic Party. He championed a phase-in to a $15 minimum wage, something he did not initially support, and enacted paid family leave. He’s borrowed ideas from Democratic presidential challenger and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, including a program to offer free college tuition to some middle-class students. Most recently, Cuomo said he might back a single-payer health care plan for the nation.

On Monday, Cuomo railed against corporate CEOs when he spoke to union workers who are on strike against the Charter Communications Company, which provides cable service to much of New York under the name Spectrum.

“Corporate management, they don't give a damn,” the governor shouted as union members cheered.

Cuomo said the company is not living up to promises to improve customer service and build out broadband.

“If they don't get their act together and fulfil that agreement, they're going to be out of the state of New York,” Cuomo said.

The head of the state’s Republican Party, Ed Cox, said he thinks Cuomo still has a number of weaknesses and said Miner should go ahead and challenge Cuomo.

“Bring it on,” said Cox, who added that even the fact that there’s talk of a primary challenge to Cuomo shows that the governor is “vulnerable.”

Bill Mulrow, the chairman of Cuomo’s re-election campaign, said in a statement that the “governor doesn't talk about progressive issues, he actually gets them done” and cited Cuomo’s record, including gun control and the banning of hydrofracking in New York. Mulrow said the campaign “looks forward to building on that record in the third term.”

If Miner decides not to challenge Cuomo, she has another option. She could run for Congress for the swing seat now held by Republican John Katko. Miner said she has not ruled that out.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.