2018 New York Gubernatorial Election Preview

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is running for a potential third term as Governor of New York next year. Has he earned it?

During his seven years in office, the Governor has done a few things right. He has displayed restraint in the area of state spending, has worked with the Legislature to enact a property tax cap that has helped families across New York, has been generally supportive of school choice, and has implemented middle-class tax cuts. Furthermore, the Governor has (to date) resisted the urge to support the legalization of physician-assisted suicide or recreational marijuana. This year, the Governor signed a NYCF-supported bill that requires the State of New York to prepare a report on the potential impact of a tax deduction for the adoptive parents of special needs children, as well as another pro-family bill that provides for a study of safe sleep practices for newborns.

However, Gov. Cuomo’s overall record is a dismal one. The Governor has successfully championed the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” the NY SAFE Act, upstate casinos on non-Indian lands, and a deeply ill-advised $15-per-hour minimum wage law. Gov. Cuomo has also unsuccessfully attempted to pass measures such as late-term abortion expansion and the Bathroom Bill. The Governor has repeatedly vetoed pro-adoption tax proposals. The Cuomo administration has become synonymous with dishonesty and corruption; the Governor’s 2013 pro-casino amendment was approved by voters in part because of slanted language that was included on the ballot. More recently, the Governor was criticized by multiple Members of Congress for misrepresenting his discussions with them concerning federal tax legislation. Furthermore, several Cuomo administration officials are facing federal corruption charges. Gov. Cuomo has repeatedly abused his authority by taking executive actions to further a pro-abortion and pro-LGBT agenda; he has implemented regulations to promote transgenderism in the workplace and in public restrooms, and the state’s Department of Financial Services is currently being sued for imposing a hidden abortion funding mandate upon New York employers. Gov. Cuomo’s mean-spiritedness is well-documented, and he has used his position to repeatedly attack those who disagree with his policies; in 2014, he infamously declared that “extreme conservatives”—in other words, conservatives who support the sanctity of life, authentic marriage, and the Second Amendment—had “no place in the State of New York.”

Cuomo’s Potential Challengers

Despite his many flaws as a Governor and as a person, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be a formidable opponent in the 2018 gubernatorial election. The Governor enjoys solid approval ratings (especially in New York City) and has accumulated a campaign war chest of over $25 million.

The first question regarding next year’s election is whether Gov. Cuomo will face a primary challenge from another Democrat. In 2014, Gov. Cuomo was challenged by leftist law professor Zephyr Teachout. Since then, the Governor has made efforts to mollify the far Left through his opposition to hydrofracking, his support for a $15 minimum wage, and his support for criminal justice reform. However, some observers believe that the Governor has tacitly supported the State Senate power-sharing arrangement between the Republican Party and the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). This belief, together with the Governor’s frosty relationship with the left-wing Working Families Party, could create space for a Democratic primary challenge. Former State Senator Terry Gipson has created a campaign committee in anticipation of a possible run for Governor. In addition, actress Cynthia Nixon and New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) have been mentioned as potential primary challengers. However, the most serious potential challenger to Gov. Cuomo’s candidacy on the Democratic side is Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. Mayor Miner, 47, is a former Cuomo ally and former State Democratic Party co-chair who fell out of favor with the Governor in 2013 after publicly disagreeing with his approach to municipalities with fiscal difficulties. Mayor Miner was barred by term limits from running for a third term as Mayor of Syracuse this year. As her mayoral tenure draws to a close, Mayor Miner has publicly flirted with the idea of running for Governor; however, in recent days, she has given consideration to running for Congress against Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) instead. If Mayor Miner challenges Gov. Cuomo, he will likely prevail—but the primary could drain his campaign funds and damage his reputation, and there is an outside chance that the Mayor could win. If anyone other than Mayor Miner challenges Gov. Cuomo in a Democratic primary, he will have an easier time fighting off that challenge.

Assuming that Gov. Cuomo is the Democratic candidate for Governor next year, who would the Republicans nominate to replace him? Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran against Gov. Cuomo in 2014, has announced that he will not run for Governor next year after being defeated in his bid for a third term in his current office. At this time, there are four Republicans that have taken serious steps toward running for Governor in 2018.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R-Red Hook) have each expressed interest in running for Governor. In an unusual twist, Leader Kolb and County Executive Molinaro have also broached the possibility of forming a ticket, although it has not been made clear which man would run for Governor and which would run for Lieutenant Governor. Leader Kolb, 65, has served in the Assembly since 2000 and has led the Assembly Republicans since 2009. A corporate executive by profession, Leader Kolb has prior public experience as Town Supervisor for the Town of Richmond and as a Member of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors. County Executive Molinaro, 42, has extensive political experience despite his relatively young age; prior to becoming Dutchess County Executive in 2012, Molinaro served as a Village of Tivoli Trustee, Mayor of Tivoli, Member of the Dutchess County Legislature, and Member of the New York State Assembly. While both men are qualified to run for Governor, each would struggle with a lack of name recognition (especially in New York City and on Long Island). New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms considers it unlikely that Leader Kolb or County Executive Molinaro will become the Republican candidate for Governor next year.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) has been visiting various counties throughout the state to float the possibility of a gubernatorial run. Sen. DeFrancisco, 71, an attorney, has served in the State Senate since 1993. Before being elected to the Senate, Sen. DeFrancisco served on the Syracuse Common Council as both a Councilor-at-large and then the Council President, as President of the Syracuse City School District Board of Education, and as the Assistant District Attorney of Onondaga County. After chairing the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. DeFrancisco was elevated to his current second-in-command post amongst Senate Republicans in 2015. Sen. DeFrancisco “authored the legislation that led to the implementation of the Amber Alert system” and secured state funding for a “cord blood bank [in Syracuse] that will transform medical waste into life-saving treatments.” Sen. DeFrancisco is known for his leadership in the Senate Republicans’ upstate contingent, which tends to be more conservative than the New York City/Long Island branch of the Party; he is also known for his plain-spokenness and his ability to withstand political pressure. The Senator would offer the state a solid voting record and a wealth of experience, and would likely make a good Governor. NYCF considers Sen. DeFrancisco to be the second-most-likely candidate to carry the Republican banner in 2018.

The candidate favored by the Republican political establishment to run against Gov. Cuomo in 2018 is Harry Wilson. Wilson, 46, is a former executive and investor with experience serving in the U.S. Treasury Department and on President Barack Obama’s auto task force. Wilson has an inspiring personal story; after growing up in a working-class family in Johnstown, New York, Wilson obtained a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Harvard University, entered the financial services industry, and became wealthy. Wilson ran for New York State Comptroller in 2010 and was narrowly defeated by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. A moderate, pro-choice Republican, Wilson has expressed willingness to invest up to $10 million of his personal wealth in a campaign if he decides to run for Governor. Because of his reputation and his finances, Wilson is believed by many to have the best chance to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018.