Governor Andrew Cuomo has been on a huge, huge roll since he was elected in 2010, but this month it looked as though he might have run into a ditch after an embarrassing revelation about the way money from gambling interests had been flooding into a group that's been flooding the state with commercials supporting the Cuomo agenda.
But no, here comes a new Siena poll that shows Cuomo with a whopping 70 percent favorability rating. Less than a quarter of New Yorkers are unhappy with the job he's doing. This may be unprecedented. Give me a topic, and I'll find you a quarter of New Yorkers who are unhappy about it.
The Siena survey said the most popular explanation voters provided when they gave Cuomo thumbs-up was that he's making government more effective. This is a low bar, given that the prior administrations involved a governor who had to quit over a sex scandal followed by a governor who could not even manage to nominate a U.S. senator without creating confusion and humiliation for all concerned.
Still, New York voters are obviously delighted that an adult is now in charge in Albany. Cuomo's secret recipe also includes a healthy regard for upstate voters tired of politicians who seem to view the region as little more than the bleak setting for indie movies like Frozen River.
Cuomo's favorability rating in this Republican neck of the woods is also an extraordinary 70 percent. (New York City clocks in at 71 percent. It's 70 percent for voters in the suburbs around the city.)
So what's not to like? Well, there's an interesting correlation between Cuomo's great poll numbers and the gambling money revelations. (Can we call it a scandal when the guy's so popular? Maybe a dust-up?)
Like all governors, Cuomo came in with an ambitious agenda. His included a cap on local property taxes, and a rollback on the cost of public employee benefits. Later, he added gay marriage. They all became law. Plus, budgets were on time and balanced. There were no maddening stalemates, embarrassing inaction. It hardly seemed like Albany. Maybe one of those Wizard of Oz tornadoes had picked up New York and deposited us in Iowa.
It began with the last State of the State speech, in which Cuomo called for building America's largest casino/convention center at Aqueduct racetrack. That was, at minimum, a thought far outside any traditional box.
When people plan their next big gathering in New York, they don't necessarily envision magical hours in Queens. But Andrew was sure. Yes, the whole thing would be a long way from the attractions of Manhattan. But it was practically right next door to... Kennedy Airport. People could just get off the plane and go to the convention center, which would also have that big gambling casino. So who needs Broadway?
So far, this sounds like an episode of Celebrity Apprentice in which Donald Trump challenges his teams of washed-up country singers and female wrestlers to come up with a marketing plan for the biggest convention center in the whole country! And the classiest casino ever! Next to the most exciting racetrack this side of Belmont! Brought to you by my friends at Genting, a Malaysian gambling company.
Cuomo then got the legislature to pass a bill authorizing seven casinos for the state. Subsequently a trio of New York Times reporters recently revealed that gambling interests had given more than $2 million to Committee to Save New York, a business-labor coalition that has supported Cuomo's agenda with some very effective ad campaigns.
A modestly cynical reader might have worked out this scenario:
-- Cuomo becomes governor, toting that ambitious agenda.
-- Committee to Save New York is formed to help get the agenda passed.
-- Gambling interests donate big bucks to Committee to Save New York.
-- Agenda expands to include major gambling proposal.
Genting kicked in $400,000 to the Committee to Save New York, the Times reported. The New York Gaming Association, a group founded by Genting and other gambling interests, donated $2 million.
There's no evidence any laws were broken, and Cuomo says he backed the expansion of casino gambling well before the Big Gambling cash spigots were place in the "on" position. Still, the image the Committee to Save New York gave during those earlier battles was public-spirited citizens versus entrenched special interests. Gambling companies versus the teachers unions does not sound nearly so inspiring.
If this comes back to bite the governor, it'll probably be down the line. In order to get the private casinos authorized, he'll need another vote by the state legislature and then a voter referendum. It's during that referendum that people are really going to start following the money.
And what about those casinos? Many politicians have long opposed them, citing the social problems they bring. My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that when New Yorkers can already lose the family mortgage money on everything from slot machines at the racetracks to online poker at home, the social-ills ship has already sailed. We already have five tribal casinos upstate. New Jersey has casinos. Connecticut has casinos.
If New York City had a casino, it would bring in a ton of money.
The Malaysian developer plan, by the way, seems to have run aground. Cuomo said it just hadn't "really worked out." But he made it clear that casino development was still on the front burner. There were a lot of gambling companies interested, he said. There would be competitive bidding.
If you're with me this long you may be wondering why nobody's talking about putting the casino in Manhattan, which seems like the logical spot for a tourist attraction. The reason, which is so Albany, is that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's district is in Manhattan, and Silver doesn't like casino gambling.
Nevertheless, I'd be willing to lay down odds that if casinos ever come, the first big one is not going to be in Queens.
Tune in tomorrow for the next episode.
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