National News

Stephanie Miner to Make Independent Bid to Challenge Cuomo

Posted June 18, 2018 6:59 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2018 7:07 p.m. EDT

Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse and a former top official in the New York Democratic Party, is kicking off an independent run for governor, the latest surprise twist in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s bid for re-election.

Miner, once an ally of Cuomo’s, became something of an outlier in Democratic circles when she emerged as a vocal and persistent critic of the governor and his policies, beginning five years ago and culminating now in a direct challenge as he seeks a third term.

“I cannot be a silent witness to what I think is a corrupt political culture that is hurting real people every day,” Miner said in an interview announcing her run.

Her entry adds intrigue to a governor’s race already rife with it. Polls show Cuomo with comfortable leads over Cynthia Nixon, the actress and education activist, in the Democratic primary and Marcus J. Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive and the expected Republican nominee, in a general election matchup.

But the governor may now face a four-way race in November — an unruly and unpredictable scenario that could provide an opening for Republicans.

Nixon, who has done little to mask her distaste for Cuomo, has already won the nomination of the Working Families Party, meaning she, too, could stay on the ballot in the general election. Nixon has said she will decide in consultation with Working Families leaders whether to campaign through November if she loses the Democratic primary. (A Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, is also running.)

Miner, a registered Democrat, said she had been approached in recent months about running with the Democratic Party, the Reform Party, the Working Families Party and even the Republican Party. Ultimately, she said she decided to take advantage of New York election laws allowing candidates to create their own political party by gathering signatures of supporters.

“Our political process is broken and we need to change it from outside the system,” Miner declared.

She called her candidacy a “rebuke of Andrew Cuomo’s policies and a rebuke of where we are as a state,” ticking off in an interview the fact that the former speaker of the state Assembly, the former leaders of the state Senate and Cuomo’s “right-hand guy,” Joseph Percoco, have all been convicted in federal corruption trials in recent years.

Miner plans to run under the banner of an upstart new group, the Serve America Movement, which calls itself SAM, formed by people disaffected by the existing party structure after the 2016 elections. She will be the group’s first candidate.

“Stephanie is, from our perspective, the vanguard, the pioneer, the first one to go,” said Scott Muller, a leader of SAM and a former general counsel of the CIA. He said the plan is for Miner to petition to create a SAM Party in New York, with the eventual goal of a national party presence.

“We are going to do everything we can do under the law to help,” Muller said. “She will be our first priority.”

Molinaro issued a statement welcoming Miner into the race. “This is now a four-way contest,” he declared.

Nixon said that she and Miner were running different races. “She’s more of a moderate and I’m definitely a part of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” Nixon said. Cuomo’s campaign declined to comment.

For months, Miner has publicly flirted with running for governor, though few political insiders seemed to take her particularly seriously, given Cuomo’s strength as a two-term incumbent and Miner’s previous dalliance with a potential run for Congress.

Throughout, Miner has said that her decision would not be affected by Nixon’s run. But Nixon and Miner met privately this year, before Nixon announced her bid, when they and their spouses shared a meal in Syracuse, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

Miner acknowledged that she faces a steep path. Last August, a Siena College poll showed Cuomo beating her even in her hometown in a hypothetical Democratic primary, 47 percent to 38 percent.

She has a little more than $200,000 in leftover campaign cash from her eight years as mayor and, although she opened a state committee two months ago, she said she had not begun actively raising money for her bid for governor. Cuomo had more than $30 million in the bank as of January and has been aggressively fundraising in recent months.

“If this were just about personal ambition, there would have been a lot easier ways for me to do that,” she said.

Miner dismissed the idea that she could play spoiler for Cuomo, possibly throwing the office to a Republican. “The status quo needs to be spoiled and ended,” she said. Miner got her start in politics as a regional representative for Cuomo’s father, Mario M. Cuomo, the former governor. The younger Cuomo appointed her a chairwoman of the state Democratic Party in his first term, but by 2013 the two had begun to clash over the governor’s more austere approach to helping struggling municipalities: Instead of providing cash aid, the governor allowed for more borrowing.

Miner called it an “accounting gimmick” in a New York Times Op-Ed that rankled a governor known to value loyalty, especially among those, like Miner, whom he had elevated to a position of power.

In the current governor’s race, Miner is likely to amplify many of the same criticisms that Cuomo’s other rivals are airing. In the interview, Miner took particular aim at Cuomo’s ethics, his economic development record upstate and the worsening woes of New York City’s subway system. All are topics that Nixon has made central in her primary challenge.

“People are fleeing upstate because of a lack of opportunity and they’re fleeing downstate because of a lack of affordability,” Miner said, adding, “If things were going so well in New York state, like the leaders in Albany are telling us, then why have 1 million people walked away from their families, their friends, their networks and said we have to go to other places to get opportunity?”

She is being guided by a tight circle, including Sherman Jewett, who will serve as her campaign manager; a consultant, Stephanie Junger-Moat, who will serve as her campaign’s executive director; and a digital team. Joe Rose, a former city planning official under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York as well as a former aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said he had been in touch with Miner as she has considered a run in recent months and had committed to help raise money for her.

Muller, a former partner in the Davis Polk & Wardwell law firm, said members of the Serve America Movement would help financially, as well. The group first met with Miner about six weeks ago.

“It’s going to be a ride,” he said of the race.