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Cuomo faces challenges from political right and left in 2014

Zack Seward
File photo

All 213 members of the state legislature are facing re-election later this year, as is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But Cuomo also has the challenge of balancing competing interests as he tries to win another term by a big margin.

The governor begins this year with his standing slightly diminished from the record highs he enjoyed during his first two years in office. His slide began shortly after his 2013 State of the State message, when he outlined a progressive agenda, including the Women’s Equality Act which included an abortion rights provision, public financing of political campaigns, and strict new gun control laws.

“No one needs ten bullets to kill a deer,” Cuomo shouted, during his speech on Jan. 9, 2013. “Too many innocent people have died already.”

Cuomo won on the gun control legislation; the new law was passed in a matter of days.

But the women’s agenda and public campaign financing stalled in the state Senate, which is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats.

The passage of the tougher gun laws marked a months-long dip in the polls for Cuomo, though he still holds a respectable approval rating of more than 60 percent. The governor, who spent much of the summer in upstate areas where his popularity had declined, would presumably like to win back more conservative voters. In recent months, he has focused more on fiscally conservative issues like cutting high taxes. He’s been focusing on business tax reduction plans and on lowering property taxes.

“Which are the single worst tax in the state,” said Cuomo in the fall.

But Cuomo’s priorities may come into conflict with those of newly-elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wants to raise income taxes on New York’s wealthiest to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. Mr. de Blasio, in his inaugural speech, made clear that he isn’t backing away from his plan. The new mayor already has allies in the legislature, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Cuomo said he does not think a new tax on the rich is a good idea, but hopes to strike a compromise.

Mark Dunlea is with Hunger Action Network, the lobby group for food pantries and soup kitchens. He sees the emerging progressive coalition as a hopeful sign, and says the governor should not just focus on "the rich one percent." 

“They’ve got to take care of the 99 percent as well,” Dunlea said.

But Cuomo will likely face a GOP opponent more conservative than the governor, and will need to try to sway potential supporters from voting Republican next November. High property taxes are a major concern among suburban voters, and Cuomo could face a challenge from popular Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group, and a long time Albany political observer, says Cuomo will have to juggle a number of disparate interests if he wants to have a successful legislative session and a successful campaign.

“The governor has pressure on the right as well as on the left,” said Blair. “He’s a talented politician, but that’s going to be an increasingly narrow path to walk on.”

There will be other pressing issues to resolve besides taxes, including anti-corruption reform and perhaps some changes to the controversial implementation of the new Common Core education standards.

And the issue that dominated the beginning of 2013, the gun control laws, will also be a factor in early 2014. Opponents say they will also hold a demonstration against the laws at the 2014 State of the State on Wednesday. They will have one less complaint however. In the final days of last year, a state judge struck down a key provision of the gun laws that decreased the legal number of bullets from ten to seven. 

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.