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Cuomo's plot to reposition NY primaries

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Baldwin on Aug. 13,

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Baldwin on Aug. 13, 2019. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s idea to move New York’s presidential primary date to the second week in February created fireworks among the state’s political class on Thursday night, when word first leaked out. By Friday morning, Cuomo acknowledged during a radio interview that it was unlikely to happen, especially because changing the presidential primary date from April 28 would mean Democrats would have to forfeit up to 50 percent of their presidential delegates.

But, The Point learned Friday afternoon of a new plan in the works that calls for keeping the presidential primary on April 28 while adding the Congressional and state legislative races to that date. Eleven other states have such a mega-primary process.

The issue arose because Cuomo has to sign a bill establishing the April 28 presidential primary date by Oct. 2. If he vetoes that bill, the date for New Yorkers to pick the delegates to the national conventions automatically defaults to Feb. 4. However, unifying the federal and state primaries — now set for June 23 — to the April date would require the State Legislature to return to Albany later this year and pass a new measure. 

Why is this fire drill taking place?

An early primary gives challengers less time to mobilize. Advantage: incumbents. Plus, the higher turnout from the presidential contest could dim the influence of activist groups such as those that launched the career of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, took on the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, and nearly won a victory in the Queens district attorney race. 

Given the political climate, some New York incumbents are looking for all the help they can get, especially the senior and/or more moderate members of the state’s congressional delegation who fear becoming the next Joe Crowley. Polling has shown that a combined primary helps incumbents because more moderates will turn out for what is likely to be a presidential nomination still up for grabs. Those same voters would be more inclined to support familiar down-the-ballot names such as Jerry Nadler, Eliot Engel, Yvette Clarke, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Maloney, Tom Suozzi and Kathleen Rice. 

The move also would help Cuomo drive his legislative agenda and avoid the craziness at the end of the state legislative session in June, when activists would have the perfect timing to demand more left-leaning measures from frightened incumbents running for the Senate and Assembly. Cuomo would sell the plan with the argument that It would save the state at least the $30 million in election costs to run a second primary. Not to mention that the plan also would save mainline Democrats from spending a fortune defending incumbents.

The question now is whether Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins want to protect their incumbents as well.