William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
What's the matter with Gov. Cuomo?
He was doing so well.
His poll numbers reflected it. They hovered around 70 percent approval for months on end at the beginning of the governor's term -- extraordinary numbers. New Yorkers are some of the most cynical voters in America, proudly so, and yet they truly thought they had a fearless, ideologically balanced leader in Albany.
I thought so, too.
So what gives?
Why is the governor losing the confidence of so many New Yorkers so quickly -- especially Republicans? Why have the governor's job approval numbers plummeted to 54 percent in just a few short months, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist College Poll released Wednesday. That's still a solid job approval rating for a sitting governor -- no one can stay at 70 percent forever -- but still, something seems to be up. The always confident Andrew M. Cuomo appears to be off his game, at least to this New Yorker. He seems to have lost his mojo.
Is it possible he's living in the dreaded Albany bubble?
It happens to the best of them. It happens to anyone who works in any administration or political campaign. After a while -- no matter how hard you fight it -- you find yourself in an echo chamber, cut off from the average Jane and Joe, listening day after day to pollsters, consultants and yes men. After a while, you start believing your own spin; you start smoking your own dope, as the saying goes.
I foolishly thought Cuomo might be immune to the syndrome, like he was some kind of political Superman. I haven't always agreed with his policy choices, but I have long admired the governor's political antennae. They are among the best I've ever seen. Rather, they were among the best I've ever seen. Someone seems to have dropped a lunch bag over them.
There's been a lot of talk that the governor's gun control bill, the New York Safe Act, is the reason for his sudden popularity decline among Republicans and conservatives, and I'm sure there's some truth to that. But the rapidity with which his numbers dropped suggests that the framework of his popularity had already been eroded -- I think by uncharacteristic indecision.
The governor, who passed a historic 2-percent property tax cap in defiance of the unions and a gay-marriage law in defiance of the Catholic Church, suddenly started to freeze up. He panicked on taking a clear position on hydrofracking after protesters galvanized; he abandoned his promise to bring real mandate relief to counties and municipalities as part B of the property tax cap; and his legislative agenda got secretive and sloppy to avoid scrutiny, even after he had promised transparent government. The Safe Act had to be amended, embarrassingly, after being rushed into law. Its intentions were good, but its execution was flawed.
This isn't the Gov. Cuomo we saw in his first year. What happened to the brash, no-nonsense leader who was going to cut taxes in New York, bring back business and stand up to the special interests, on both the right and the left?
What happened to the Gov. Cuomo who saw a clear path for New York State and wasn't afraid to lead us onto it?
He's got to be in there somewhere. Andrew Cuomo is too smart to stay lost. Maybe he'll be smart enough to jump on his Harley-Davidson after this legislative session ends and ride and ride in search of real New Yorkers to talk to.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.