It is not by accident that the president of the United States was near the Capitol of the State of New York this week to address the people on the economy and higher education. It was not an accident that just two days prior it was leaked that the president of the United States, through intermediaries, had asked for the governor of New York, David Paterson, to take his hat out of the race for the election in 2010.
And what an unfortunate spectacle for our community to see: its first African-American president asking only the third Black governor since Reconstruction and the first African-American governor in the State of New York’s history to quit without a fight.
A governor who, in a short and difficult time, has been able to end the dreaded Rockefeller Laws, get our famously unruly Legislature to settle on a budget on time, and lead the MTA out of its most serious financial crisis in recent memory. And on Tuesday the Court of Appeals ruled that Paterson pick Richard Ravitch could indeed serve as lieutenant governor. The former MTA chief had been handpicked by Governor Paterson, leading to some Republicans to file a legal challenge.
It was not an accident that the president said a nice word about the governor and then went on to extol the talents of the state’s current attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo. It was just no accident.
It was all planned, but not by whom you think it was. This was a plan hatched by Andrew Cuomo and his people.
The Cuomo family has had a long and complicated relationship with the African-American community. Mario Cuomo’s roots go back to Queens community of South Jamaica. Without strong African-American support, he would never have been a two-term governor of our great state in the first place. But those of us with long memories remember how the governor aided in the defeat of our first African-American mayor of New York when he released a critical report on the Dinkins administration’s handling of the Crown Heights uprising only weeks before the election–hurting Jewish support for Dinkins–and how he put on the ballot a succession vote for Staten Island, which brought many extra Italian American voters to the polls on Staten Island.
Ultimately, Mario helped bring to power Rudy Giuliani, the mayor with the worst record with the African-American community in living memory. And some say that Cuomo’s actions were all part of a deal that he cut with Rudy Giuliani for an endorsement, which Mayor Giuliani gave over his party mate George Pataki in his first run for the governor’s race in 1994.
And the son is not without sins in his own right.
Andrew raged a bitter primary battle against the then more experienced H. Carl McCall, who of course was the first African-American to run for the office of governor against Pataki in 2002. At that time, Andrew Cuomo’s greatest accomplishment was being the son of Mario Cuomo. McCall, with strong support from our community and a record that included being a state senator and state comptroller, soundly defeated Andrew Cuomo.
And now, Andrew Cuomo is the only one who has anything to really gain from this current debacle. Cuomo cannot run for governor against Gov. David Paterson. For him to do that would be potential political suicide, so he needs a way to get the sitting governor out of the picture. Get him not to run. Using the clout that the attorney general has in the White House, they create the “Giuliani Factor.”
They begin to throw out “If Giuliani runs,” trying to scare folks into saying that Paterson cannot take him on. But does Giuliani want to run? Does he want to be governor? Does he want to deal with the headache of a crazy Legislature? Does he want to do the work? Does Giuliani want to do the fundraising and campaigning so soon after his crushing and humiliating defeat in last year’s presidential race? And is his donor base ready to invest in him after his poor showing when he was presumed to be the front-runner in that race as well? And has he even paid off his debts that he ran up for his presidential bid?
We don’t know what the mercurial Giuliani has on his mind. And we do not expect to know until after the November elections. So why ask Paterson to bow out now? Why not wait until November, or longer, to make any kind of decision?
Giuliani does pose a clear challenge to the governor. He plays to the worst instincts of white New Yorkers. From his days of inciting a police riot against David Dinkins before he became mayor, to ignoring Black and Hispanic New York City residents and criticizing Black male victims of police brutality, it was an ugly reign of terror for people of color during his eight years here in New York City
But there is a catch-22 or a “chicken before the egg” scenario here. If Paterson stays in the race, does Giuliani get in? If Giuliani gets into the race, does Paterson get out? If Paterson gets out and Giuliani stays out, Andrew Cuomo sweeps Rick Lazio–but anyone could mop the floor with Lazio–so, in that case, why doesn’t Paterson stay in?
The whole house of cards is built upon the assumption that Giuliani will run. That is not a foregone conclusion, far from it. And maybe this time New Yorkers will rise above the demagogue tactics of the visceral former mayor.
Getting Paterson out would create a free ride for Cuomo to the governor’s mansion, unopposed by a person of color in a primary. And the Cuomo family has not earned that. Make Andrew Cuomo earn our votes. Don’t let him be anointed.
And Gov. Paterson, stay in the race. You can still win.