By most measures, New York is pretty much already a one-party state. All three statewide office holders are Democrats, as are both U.S. Senators, and 22 out of the state’s 27 members of Congress. A Democrat hasn’t lost statewide since 2002; a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried the state since 1984.
But when Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested on a public radio station on Friday that “extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault—weapon, anti-gay…have no place in the State of New York” it set off an uproar on right wing radio stations, blogs and Twitter feeds.
Never mind for the moment that even a cursory listen of Cuomo’s remarks reveals that he was not talking about whether or not extreme conservative New Yorkers are welcome in the state, but the political prospects of extreme conservative political candidates—a subject Cuomo knows well, since he defeated a Tea Party-backed opponent by 27 points in 2010 to win his seat.
By the end of the weekend, stories that the governor of New York thinks that conservatives have “no place in New York” were posted on Glenn Beck’s website “The Blaze;” and the National Review online, where a blogger said that Cuomo was promoting a “culture of death” and wanted to banish “anyone with a heart for the unborn to New Jersey.”
In an open letter to the governor, Beck himself wondered if Cuomo wanted to bring tyranny to the state. “Would you stand against your constituents and blot them out into the darkness merely because you disagree with them, or because it serves you or your party politically?” he wrote. “Would disenfranchised peoples have ever gained their freedoms in this country were it not for the right to free speech, and the pluralistic and truly diverse society that free speech facilitates?”
On the website of the Archdiocese of New York, an aide to Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote that, “It is deeply troubling when an elected official, who took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of our state and nation, casts out of polite society all those who disagree with him. Remarks like these reflect not only a noxious political climate in our nation, but a deep-seated spiritual malady that St. Augustine called the libido dominandi, the lust to dominate and rule.”
A number of conservative bloggers called for a state boycott and Sean Hannity took the occasion to threaten to move out of state, although it appears as if taxes and the lack of local fishing holes had more to do with his apparently imminent departure.
“Now I want to tell you something—I was born and raised in New York,” Hannity said on his radio show on Monday. “I want you to know that and I can’t wait to get out of here. I really can’t. I don’t want to pay their 10-percent state tax anymore. I live in the second-highest property taxed county in the entire country in Nassau County. I can’t wait to sell my house to somebody who wants it. I can’t wait to pay no state income tax down in Florida or Texas. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m leaning Florida because I like the water and I like to fish.”
On Sunday, the Cuomo administration fired back, naming in particular the New York Post and its influential Albany bureau chief, Fred Dicker—a one-time Cuomo supporter who turned on the administration after the governor re-upped a tax on upper income earners that was set to expire in 2011—for misleadingly reporting Cuomo’s claims.
On an open letter posted to the governor’s website, Mylan Denerstein, counsel to the governor said, “As we approach the political season we expect the campaign dialogue to become more heated on both sides. We understand the New York Post is an opinionated newspaper and that Fred Dicker is an extreme conservative. However responsibility must not be forsaken. Dicker’s story that the Governor said Conservatives have no place in New York is unfair, false and the exact opposite of what his tenure as Attorney General and his state administration has been all about.”
She added, “The Governor was making the point that he makes often: New York is a politically moderate state and an extremist agenda is not politically viable statewide. New York has a long history of electing Democrats and Republicans statewide who are moderate rather than on the extreme ends of the political spectrum. That is an inarguable fact.”
Republicans in New York have jumped on Cuomo’s remarks, hoping for an opening in a state where the governor boasts of a 66 percent approval rating and where he leads his potential Republican gubernatorial opponents by more than 50 points in recent polls. Rob Astorino, the county executive of Westchester and a possible opponent to the governor, harkened back to Martin Luther King, Jr, on Monday, calling Cuomo’s comments “just the kind of intolerance that is directly opposite to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached” and said that, “What Andrew Cuomo has revealed by these statements is his true self, because we see just how angry and radical his views are.” State GOP chairman Ed Cox called on Cuomo to apologize.
Members of the governor’s inner circle dismissed the criticism as just the latest right-wing outrage moment, and one that is factually entirely without merit. But the controversy comes as Cuomo has been gearing up for his re-election bid. He already has $33 million in the bank, and has been more willing to embrace his progressive flank by pushing for medical marijuana, universal pre-K and yes, even expanded abortion rights.
No matter one’s reading of Cuomo comments, they appear to be having some effect. Donald Trump, who had been threatening to run for Governor as an “extreme conservative”, travelled to New Hampshire on Tuesday and suggested that he would like to run for President instead—his views, apparently, no longer welcome in the Empire State.