A candidate with an upstate state of mind
Posted June 21, 2018 7:48 a.m. EDT
ALBANY, N.Y. _ I recently poked fun at Cynthia Nixon for suggesting, with Manhattan myopia, that upstate begins near Ithaca. That column included a tongue-in-cheek quiz to help identify an upstate mindset.
Quick example: When people refer to "the subway," do you assume they're talking about your favorite restaurant?
Stephanie Miner would never suggest that upstate New York begins in Tompkins County. The former Syracuse mayor entered the governor's race Monday with a decidedly upstate perspective.
When I spoke to her, she was even armed with an additional upstate quiz question:
When you enter a house, do you automatically stomp your feet at the doorway _ even in July, when there's no mud or snow? If so, congrats, you may be an upstater.
Give Miner credit for a sense of humor. Give her more credit for being one of the few elected Democrats in recent years to be a loud and persistent critic of Andrew Cuomo's policies and tactics. Many agree with Miner privately, but few have had the courage to say so publicly.
Miner says that Cuomo's way of doing business benefits him, the status quo and people at the top, but hurts ordinary New Yorkers, who deal with crumbling bridges and subways and a Capitol that's become a national punchline.
"State government needs to be completely disrupted," Miner told me. "The only way to do that is to be honest about it and say that both parties are complicit in a culture of corruption."
Once a top official for state Democrats, Miner is running for governor under the Serve America Movement, a party that sees the 2016 presidential election as a reason for change. SAM's argument, basically, is that if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the best the major political parties can offer, big changes are needed.
Hard to disagree, I'd say.
Miner's criticisms are similar to what Nixon, running as a Democrat and Working Families Party nominee, and Marc Molinaro, the Republican in the race, have been saying about Cuomo. Nixon uses the harshest language _ "Andrew the Bully," she says _ but they all depict state government as hopelessly corrupt and stress that Cuomo, despite promising to fix Albany, is a big part of the problem.
As it happens, Miner, 48, announced her surprise campaign just as the bid-rigging trial of SUNY Polytechnic founder Alain Kaloyeros was set to begin. Miner says the timing was coincidental, but joked that it's hard to dodge troubling news from state government.
"That's how bad it has gotten," she said. "It's impossible to have an announcement without it being surrounded by a corruption investigation, indictment or trial."
Nobody is better positioned to criticize the emptiness of Cuomo's economic-development policies than the mayor of an upstate city. Miner says economic development under Cuomo has mostly been about empty promises and his own self-aggrandizement.
Meanwhile, upstate has continued to wither.
During our conversation, Miner mentioned the upstate population outflow. She talked about sky-high taxes amid poor services. She noted the need to cut growth-stifling regulations. She said government shouldn't be picking winners by handing out subsidies for big corporations.
"The theater of press releases and ribbon cuttings isn't doing any good," Miner said.
Her prescription? Among other steps, shutter every state economic development program that hasn't worked _ "which is just about all of them," Miner said _ and use the money to invest in infrastructure that would spur private economic and job growth. Fixing the upstate economy, she added, is about more than cutting taxes.
Cuomo has $30 million to spend on the upcoming campaign, but I still argue that he's vulnerable. I'll point to a recent Siena poll, which found that just 7 percent of New Yorkers think the governor is doing an excellent job.
By contrast, 19 percent think Trump is doing an excellent job, even though the president is significantly less popular overall.
Still, it's fair to call Miner's campaign quixotic and to wonder how she could ever win. After all, it's been about 100 years since anyone from west of Albany has been elected governor.
The political power, as always, rests with downstate voters.
It's easier to predict that Miner and Nixon (assuming she stays on the fall ballot) could draw enough votes from Cuomo to elect Molinaro. In other words, she could be a "spoiler" _ a term I hate.
Miner says that isn't her goal. But for the big chunk of voters in the Anybody But Cuomo camp, that outcome sounds pretty good.
What's great is that New Yorkers have excellent alternatives to the status quo in this election, especially with Libertarian Larry Sharpe and Green nominee Howie Hawkins also running. Voters may still elect the bully with the money, but nobody can say they didn't have a chance to make a better choice.
cchurchill(at)timesunion.com - 518-454-5442 - Twitter: (at)chris_churchill
Contact columnist Chris Churchill at 518-454-5442 or email: cchurchill(at)timesunion.com
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