One of the seasonal rites that political pundits love is guessing what will be in the annual State of the State speech. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his third in Albany Wednesday.
This year, the game has an added element of fun. With the 2012 presidential race over, campaign junkies can't help but speculate on who will run for president in four years. Yes, it's early but, hey, football fans start predicting who'll go to the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season -- and presidential races have now become four years long.
The governor and his advisers would certainly downplay any talk of Cuomo 2016, but we political aficionados can't help ourselves. We're like professional horse bettors at the track, with our racing forms and binoculars. Even if we don't have a horse in the race, we still want to handicap it.
Cuomo has to make anybody's short list as a contender for the Democratic nomination in four years. So how executive and in charge (dare I say presidential?) he looks in these big media speeches becomes more crucial to the handicappers.
The governor is going into this speech with a terrific contrast to our lawmakers in Washington. For decades, Albany suffered a reputation as a town of corrupt partisan deals where next to nothing ever got done. Against all odds, in two years under Cuomo's leadership, the State Capitol's image has largely turned around. Compared to the cliff-dwelling, brinkmanship and partisan gridlock of our nation's capital, Albany looks like a model of bipartisan cooperation.
Who'd have thunk it?
The unlikely reality of two consecutive on-time budgets alone is enough to make voters ask why the people in Washington can't do the same thing.
Style is important in these yearly addresses, but so is content. The State of the State is the governor's opportunity to tell New Yorkers where we've gone and where we're going. When there's a solid record of accomplishment to tout, it's much easier to sell a vision for the future.
Here, Cuomo is again well-positioned. He can go over two years of historic achievements that few (including me) thought would get done: those on-time balanced budgets, which closed multibillion-dollar deficits; the property tax cap; the Marriage Equality Act; government ethics reforms. These are just some of the accomplishments Cuomo should rightly point to.
But where he wants to take the state in the future is what residents and insiders will pay the most attention to Wednesday. This is not the time to be timid. Another New York governor, Teddy Roosevelt, had an impressive record of success and coined the phrase "bully pulpit." Cuomo now has one and you can expect him to use it.
New York State has to find its own way to economic recovery. If the governor believes measures such as natural gas fracking and casino gambling are critical, this is his opportunity to push hard for them. In the wake of Sandy, Long Islanders will be listening closely to what Cuomo proposes be done with the Long Island Power Authority and how to avoid gas shortages after future storms.
And after the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., as well as the shooting in Monroe County on Christmas Eve, you can count on Cuomo to call for a bipartisan agreement on new state gun-control laws.
The governor will tell us all about the condition of the ship of state Wednesday. But political insiders will be charting the direction of Andrew M. Cuomo.
Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.