National News

Cuomo Is Clear Choice of Convention Democrats and Hillary Clinton

Posted May 24, 2018 12:45 a.m. EDT

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — With the might of incumbency and New York state’s Democratic machine at his back, Gov. Andrew Cuomo cruised to the nomination for a third term on Wednesday, as Hillary Clinton and other powerful friends praised his administration as a model for the state and, perhaps, the nation.

For Cuomo, who effectively controls the state party, the endorsement was inevitable. But the rhetoric surrounding his coronation was geared to ratchet up enthusiasm for the governor, who is dealing with an unexpectedly prickly challenge from the left from Cynthia Nixon.

And while Nixon dropped in Wednesday — shaking hands, giving interviews, and leaving before noon — the moment undeniably belonged to Cuomo, with an assist from Clinton, whose support in the convention hall at Hofstra University seemed little dimmed by her loss to Donald Trump in 2016.

“Now more than ever, we need leaders who will stand up for progressive values,” Clinton said, after reeling off a laundry list of Democratic priorities, from fighting climate change to fighting for the rights of immigrants. “Most of all, we need leaders who believe in producing results and getting things done, leaders like Andrew Cuomo.”

Although not nominated by the party Wednesday, Nixon, who drew less than 5 percent of the delegate vote, intends to collect petitions to appear on the ballot, and she is still gunning to defeat Cuomo in a Sept. 13 primary. “This is our party, too,” Nixon said of her and her progressive supporters.

Wednesday, however, was dominated by Cuomo and his anointed allies, including Letitia James, who secured the party’s nod for attorney general, a position recently vacated after the resignation of Eric Schneiderman, who has been accused of physically abusing several romantic partners. Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor, was nominated for another term.

Once seemingly loath to mention Trump’s name, Cuomo has pivoted in recent months to present his campaign for a third term as a referendum and rebuttal to Republican policies, all the while rarely acknowledging Nixon, her barbs and political maneuverings.

Over the past two months, Cuomo has watched as Nixon has garnered a swarm of media coverage — often intrigued, sometimes fawning — and has seen his once-yawning lead in the polls shrink to merely formidable. The convention, at Hofstra’s David S. Mack Complex, was a crisp opportunity to stanch any momentum toward Nixon, and the state party booked both Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden, who will speak Thursday, to rev up delegates.

Clinton’s appearance, in particular, served to both provide Cuomo with a powerful surrogate to attack Trump and to simultaneously burnish his résumé with regard to women.

Shortly after Clinton finished speaking, Cuomo — who will formally accept the nomination with a speech Thursday — brought a bouquet of roses on stage for Clinton, whom he called an “inspiration,” a “crusader” and a “pioneer,” thanking her for “carrying the torch.”

The speech was followed by a video depicting Cuomo as a defender of women interspersed with clips of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence making remarks about outlawing abortion and keeping women subservient to men, drawing boos from the crowd.

In the moments after appearing with Clinton, Cuomo answered questions from a crush of reporters about his selection by more than 95 percent of the delegates. “I’ve been to a lot of conventions, but this was a really overwhelming show of support,” the governor said. “Frankly, more than I expected.”

Both moderates with decades in politics, Cuomo and Clinton’s political ties run deep: The governor worked as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton and endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Still, Clinton’s selection as keynote speaker was not universally praised, illustrating fissures in the party’s left flank that Nixon is hoping to exploit in the September primary.

Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s 2014 primary challenger who is running against James in a bid for state attorney general, said she had been impressed by the enthusiasm coming out of grass-roots groups that have emerged since the election of Trump. “There’s so much energy and a lot of the energy is in new places,” Teachout said, standing above the convention floor.

Teachout, a delegate, acknowledged that this was still “Cuomo’s convention,” powered by the traditional levers of power that the governor understands better than anyone. “There’s other efforts to open the party up, but it’s still way too closed and top-controlled,” she said. Jumaane Williams, a city councilman from Brooklyn, questioned whether Clinton’s opponent in the 2016 primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, should have been asked to speak, too.

“We know that the Bernie-Hillary thing caused a lot of consternation,” said Williams, who is running for the lieutenant governor’s job held by Hochul and wore a button with the words “stay woke.” “All of it hasn’t healed. So why pick one over the other and cause that divide to continue?”

Cuomo, 60, has been casually mentioned as a possible presidential contender, an ambition he denies. But again and again Wednesday, speakers framed his accomplishments since 2011 — including an increase in the minimum wage, a paid family-leave program and the legalization of same-sex marriage — as deserving of wide approbation.

“Andrew Cuomo is a national leader for the labor movement,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, one of a series of major unions that have lined up behind the governor.

In remarks before the vote, Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, said that Nixon’s candidacy was truer to a “party that fights for its voters, not just its corporate donors,” a reference to Cuomo’s fondness for big-money fundraisers.

But Clinton disputed that anyone but Cuomo was right for the job.

“These are difficult times for our country,” Clinton said, beneath clouds of blue balloons hanging in nets. “But I’ve never been prouder to be a New Yorker or a Democrat than I am today.” It was her first return to the Mack Complex since the first 2016 presidential debate against Trump, and she joked about it being a “reunion,” albeit one with unpleasant memories.

“The kind where you get cornered,” she said, “by the one person you didn’t want to talk to.”