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Cuomo's departure marks end of an era in Democratic politics

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is seen on Aug.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is seen on Aug. 2, 2021.  Credit: TNS/Don Pollard

ALBANY — For 40 years in a 44-year stretch, there’s been a Cuomo running on a statewide ballot in New York either in a primary or general election.

The family name became synonymous with the Democratic Party in the state, skipping only the 1998 election cycle without being on the ballot.

With Andrew M. Cuomo, 63, resigning after an investigation that concluded he sexually harassed 11 women, the era is over. The party is changing, analysts told Newsday. Political style is changing.

The dynamics in which an imperial governor dominated a docile, split State Legislature are changing too.

"His father’s era, his era is over," said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic consultant, of Mario and Andrew Cuomo. "The Cuomo name was the name associated with New York Democratic politics for half a century. It’s hard to imagine that ever happening again."

"What was that longest running musical? The Fantasticks?" asked Lee Miringoff, veteran Marist College pollster, comparing the Cuomos to the off-Broadway musical than ran for 42 consecutive years, a world record in theater.

"It’s unique in modern political history for a family, a father-son to not only dominate Democratic politics but also governing," Miringoff continued. "There’s always crosscurrents in politics, but the Cuomo name has been able to control those currents for decades. It’s a marquee name that seems to have run its course."

The elder Cuomo first ran for statewide office in 1974, in a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. He lost, but incoming Gov. Hugh Carey named him secretary of state. Four years later, Cuomo was elected as Carey’s lieutenant governor.

Mario Cuomo went on to win gubernatorial elections in 1982, 1986 and 1990, before losing to Republican State Sen. George Pataki in 1994.

The next election cycle, 1998, didn’t feature a Cuomo.

In 2002, Andrew Cuomo ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Trailing badly to H. Carl McCall, he quit campaigning days before the primary vote but still appeared on the ballot.

He began his comeback in 2006 by winning election as attorney general. He won gubernatorial terms in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Cuomo planned to run again in 2022 but announced on Aug. 10 he’d resign in the face of an attorney general’s report concluding he sexually harassed multiple women and broke multiple laws in doing so.

Further, he faced an imminent impeachment vote by the state Assembly. It has been investigating not just the harassment accusations but also allegations of undercounting nursing home deaths because of COVID-19 and using state personnel to produce a pandemic memoir that landed him a $5.1 million book deal.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, is set to take over Tuesday. She is expected to be part of crowded field seeking the party’s 2022 nomination.

On Friday, state workers were seen carrying boxes and artwork out of the Executive Mansion in Albany and loading the material into moving vans. The state Office of General Services told The Associated Press the governor will need to vacate the state mansion by the time he leaves office.

Besides the faces and personalities of State Capitol politics, the dynamics are changing too, Sheinkopf said.

From Nelson Rockefeller (in office 1959-73) on, New York had a series of "imperial governors," who, by and large, imposed their will on the Legislature. This was partly because the Legislature was split — a Republican-led Senate; Democrat-controlled Assembly — which left the governor as the deciding factor in the Albany triumvirate.

"Andrew twisted arms to get what he wanted and a split Legislature helped," said Sheinkopf, who ran political campaigns for and against him.

But in the 2018 elections, an anti-Trump "blue wave" washed away Senate Republicans and left Democrats firmly in control. Now, they have a supermajority in both houses — enough to override vetoes — and have a much more active role in setting the Albany agenda.

In addition, the Legislature features many new, younger members and has pushed a much more progressive approach than Cuomo, who is seen as more centrist.

"So instead of Democrats fighting Republicans, you have the Legislature fighting him," Sheinkopf said. No matter who wins the 2022 gubernatorial election, he said the structural battle will continue because legislators will "continue to feel greater power, greater ideological thrust."

The result, he said, is the days of a governor calling all the shots might pass along with Cuomo.

"Andrew was the last imperial governor we may see for some time," Sheinkopf said. "The dynasty ended because times changed and he added to this with his personal behavior."

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