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Cuomo to press anti-Trump message with Ellis Island inauguration

Immigrants arrive to Ellis Island for a naturalization

Immigrants arrive to Ellis Island for a naturalization ceremony on Sept. 16, 2016. The ceremony marked U.S. Constitution and Citizenship Day, which was on Sept. 17. Credit: Getty Images/John Moore

After campaigning for re-election largely on national themes, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is going to kick off his third term on the same note.

On New Year’s Day, Cuomo, a Democrat, will deliver his inaugural address from Ellis Island, once the nation’s busiest immigration station. It welcomed more than 12 million immigrants to the United States before it was closed in 1954.

Cuomo, 61, made his support for immigration and his opposition to President Donald Trump’s agenda the center of his re-election campaign. It worked, analysts said, so it’s no surprise Cuomo is going to the well again.

“It’s great symbolism especially as he continues to brand himself as the un-Trump,” said Robert Bellafiore, a Republican consultant and former press secretary to ex-Gov. George Pataki. “The setting becomes part of the message — and the message is he’s not Trump.”

Trump built his support in Republican primaries by promising to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport illegal immigrants. That hasn't played well with the New York electorate, analysts said.

Cuomo has outlined his immigration views in sharp contrast to Trump's and choosing Ellis Island underscores that, analysts said — especially when the federal government is shut down over Trump's insistence on getting  billions of dollars for  a border wall.

"At a time when the federal government is closed over immigration policy, it says: Here's an alternative on immigration," said Elmira College political scientist Jim Twombly. 

“He is standing in the place that is defined with immigration and is defined with immigrants in a positive way,” said Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College. “And it's tied to the Statue of Liberty … It’s going to resonate with people throughout the state and through parts of the country.”

The governor is considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate. Though he has denied plans to run, focusing on immigration and taking his speech to Ellis Island on a New Year’s Day keeps the speculation alive, Muzzio said.

“It doesn’t do anything to end the presidential speculation because the power of it [Ellis Island] goes well beyond New York State,” Muzzio said. “And he’s talking to a national audience.”

 "He has said he’s not running for president. But a lot of what he’s said on the campaign trail and since certainly sounds like a 2020 candidate," Twombly said.

Cuomo spent most of his 2018 talking about Trump rather than his opponents — actress Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro in the general election. Cuomo talked often about immigration, U.S. Supreme Court nominees, abortion and the new federal tax law.

Ed Cox, the Republican Party’s state chairman, said Cuomo is trying to set himself up to run for president

"He's traveling to Ellis Island — which is in New Jersey — to be inaugurated as governor of New York," Cox said Friday. Doing so, Cox said, shows Cuomo is "afflicted with White House delusions."

New York and New Jersey had a long-running legal fight over Ellis Island, with the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruling that 90 percent of it belonged to New Jersey. Aides have noted that Cuomo will deliver his remarks at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, which is part of the small segment of the island considered to be part of New York.

When he announced the details of his third inauguration, Cuomo said it would “serve as a fitting location to launch a new term fighting for New Yorkers and for the soul of this nation.”

And the speech will go on, despite a federal government shutdown. Cuomo announced the state would pay — at a rate of $65,000 per day — to keep open Ellis Island and Liberty Island during the shutdown. New York isn’t the only state paying to keep open federal historic sites or parks during the stalemate.

"Keeping the torch lit, I think," Cuomo said in a recent radio interview, "is a perfect metaphor of America at her best."

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