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Governor Cuomo takes a back seat at National Convention

Governor Andrew Cuomo is one of many New York politicians who have chosen to scale back their participation in the national Democratic convention in North Carolina. While the others are Democrats seeking re-election in Congress, Cuomo is eschewing what could have been a prime time speaking slot.  

Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo made history when he gave a riveting speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, just two years into his first term as governor.

“Mr. President,” Mario Cuomo said to the millions of Americans watching that night. “This nation is more a tale of two cities than it is just a shining city on the hill.”
Nearly thirty years later, his son Andrew, now also in his second year as governor, is not giving a prime time speech, or any address at all, and will attend the convention for just the final day, when President Obama accepts the party’s nomination. Cuomo, who is considered to be one of the top two or three potential candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, says he’s too busy right now governing New York.  

“I have a lot to do as governor of the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “And I do that best being in New York.”

Steve Greenberg, political analyst and spokesman for Siena College polling, says nearly three decades later, things are different, and politically, Andrew Cuomo is making the smart choice.

“The downside risk to speaking at the convention far outweighs any upside potential,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg says when Mario Cuomo gave his speech in 1984, the address put him on the map as the national liberal voice in opposition to then President Ronald Reagan’s conservative policies. Greenberg says Andrew Cuomo, in part because of his famous father, is already on the map, and has been for some time. The younger Cuomo has already been federal housing secretary under President Bill Clinton, and a nationally known state attorney general, and is one of the most popular governors in the nation.  

“He doesn’t need to do anything to add to the already constant chatter,” says Greenberg, who says even by not doing something, Cuomo is still creating talk.

“Just by not taking a major role, everybody’s talking about ‘why isn’t he taking major role?’” Greenberg said.

Ultimately, though, Mario Cuomo did not seek the presidency. He openly deliberated about his options for months. Then in December of 1991, with a plane waiting on a nearby tarmac to take him to New Hampshire to register for the first in the nation primary, Cuomo said no, blaming the Senate Republicans for holding up the state budget. In the process, Mario Cuomo had earned himself the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson”.

Greenberg says Andrew Cuomo is not likely to repeat that choice and has learned from the mistakes, as well as the successes of his father’s political career.

And Andrew Cuomo seems to agree with that. In the only time in his term as governor that he has addressed the presidential speculation, he said it was flattering but, “I’ve seen this movie before,” Cuomo said. “I know how it turns out”.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.