ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s fight against the two biggest political controversies of his decade in office has already sparked the long-established practice of politicians quickly eyeing an opportunity for a top elected job.
Democrats and Republicans, including several on Long Island, are taking a close look at the growing prospects of running against a damaged Cuomo if he seeks reelection to a fourth term in 2022 or seeking an open seat should he be impeached, resign or choose not to run. He faces an attorney general's investigation into sexual harassment accusations and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating how the administration handled COVID-19 in nursing homes. The Assembly also has begun an investigation that could lead to impeachment.
Cuomo denies the allegations and urges New Yorkers to await the facts and conclusions of the probes before writing his political obituary. A Siena College Research Institute poll this month gave Cuomo mixed messages: The governor was still seen favorably by most voters, although the percentage of voters who would prefer to see someone else run has risen to 52%.
"Offices don’t open up that often in New York and it attracts candidates," said Richard Fife, a Democratic consultant who has advised past governors. "When a seat opens up, especially when it has been occupied for 10 or 12 years, you have a number of people who look at it and say, ‘Is this my shot?'"
On Long Island alone, those said to be weighing their options include Democratic Rep. Thomas Suozzi of Glen Cove, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck Plaza and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone of West Babylon. On the Republican side, Rep. Lee Zeldin of Shirley is weighing the prospects of running for governor.
"Most don’t want to just tilt at windmills and raise money and travel the state if they don’t have a chance of ultimately succeeding," Fife said. "So, if an incumbent looks vulnerable, or even more appealing is if the seat will be open, that’s going to attract people."
Other candidates who have shown interest in running for governor either directly or through surrogates and supporters include Democratic Attorney General Letitia James; Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who was the GOP nominee for governor in 2018; state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), who is a leader of the progressives in the State Legislature; Senate Majority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx; and Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean, a Republican.
Political operatives expect more will join them, but often in forays led by supporters.
"No one wants to be in a position to be campaigning before anything happens, so everyone is going to refrain from celebrating before they reach the end zone," said veteran political strategist George Arzt.
A source close to Bellone said the Suffolk County executive has been contacted by donors and strategists in the last two weeks about announcing an exploratory campaign.
A person close to DiNapoli said the comptroller has gotten many calls urging him to consider a run, but Cuomo’s situation is fluid and must play out first.
Suozzi, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in the 2006 Democratic primary against Eliot Spitzer, is also getting calls to run.
"I’d love to run for governor, but I don’t know if it makes sense right now," Suozzi said in an interview. He added such talk "is premature" and Cuomo is entitled to due process in the continuing investigations.
The potential opening for the governorship that has been held for 21 of the past 38 years by a Cuomo also creates a rare opportunity for Republicans, said GOP consultant David Catalfamo. He was on Republican George Pataki’s 1994 campaign when the little-known legislator upset Mario Cuomo with help from a grassroots movement referred to then as ABC — Anyone But Cuomo.
"I think people have to watch what happens on the Democratic side," Catalfamo said. "I would suggest that somebody who was from the progressive wing would have a very difficult time competing statewide and that might create opportunities for Republicans."
Zeldin told Newsday he is exploring a run for governor in 2022 after four terms in Congress and four years in the state Senate in a state dominated 2:1 by Democratic voters. The Iraq War veteran said New York needs to be saved from high taxes and other problems and "it doesn’t matter whether you are a Republican, a Democrat or an independent."