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Cuomo's stepped-up national profile leads to inevitable talk of 2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is more prominent on the national stage these days, leading some to wonder whether he is running for president.

In Cuomo’s first term as governor, he made a point of never leaving the state, even taking vacations within its borders, saying the state is so beautiful that he never needed to leave it. He discouraged any talk ofseeking higher office.

Lately, though, that has changed.

The governor has been traveling — to California for a fundraiser and to Nevada to speak before the national transport workers union, where he was introduced by its president, John Samuelson.

“I want to see him in 2020,” Samuelson told the crowd as they cheered. “I want to see him take on a national voice for the Democratic Party.”

Cuomo did nothing to discourage the comment, but also has never said that he’s actually running for president. He did tell the transit workers from all around the country about his record on progressive issues in New York, like raising the minimum wage and enacting paid family leave. He seemed to channel Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at some points in his talk, railing against corporate CEOs, who he said now make 371 times more money than the average worker.

“Management always seeks to maximize profit,” Cuomo said. “The less they pay the worker, the more they make. That’s the equation.”

Cuomo has taken the lead in opposing a number of federal changes and proposals made by President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. The New York governor banded with leaders from other states to carry out the provisions of the Paris climate agreement after Trump dropped out.

He’s railed against tax overhaul proposals that he said would result in New Yorkers paying more in taxes. And he spoke out for more gun control after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

“I think it is ludicrous for the White House to say, ‘Now is not the time to talk about it,’ ” Cuomo said. “Now is precisely the time to talk about it.”

Cuomo seldom mentions Trump by name. But he criticized the administration for being too slow to react to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, destroying homes and the island’s power grid.

After the hurricane, Cuomo arranged for the first jet, stuffed with supplies, to land and sent New York National Guard troops and electrical grid engineers. In contrast, the governor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not prepared.

“They made an operational error in not pre-deploying sufficient resources,” Cuomo said. “This was not done correctly.”

The head of the state’s Republican Party, Ed Cox, believes that Cuomo is running for president in 2020, saying his “ambitions go beyond his present positions.” He takes a dim view of it.

Cox said the focus on the presidential race has caused the governor to “make mistakes” at home, like letting the New York City subway system deteriorate. Cuomo has denied that he is to blame for transit issues over the summer and has said he is the one trying to fix them.

But not everyone thinks that the governor is necessarily seeking a higher office. Bruce Gyory, a part-time SUNY Albany professor and political analyst who has advised former governors, cautions against reading too much into Cuomo’s recent actions.

“I have yet to see the things he’s done that normal politicians do when they run for president,” said Gyory. “We have not seen him go to Iowa; we have not seen him go to New Hampshire.”

Steve Greenberg, political analyst and spokesman for Siena College polls, said it does not hurt Cuomo, or any New York governor, to raise his national profile.

But he said before the next presidential election, Cuomo still has to face New York voters in 2018, when he seeks a third term. The governor already has said he’s interested in running again.

“What he’s going to focus on is doing as good as he can do in the 2018 election,” Greenberg said.

As for 2020, Greenberg said, Cuomo can “keep his options open.”

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.
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