Gov. Cuomo supporters are unsure about his political future as some argue the federal corruption trial could hurt his chances at winning a reelection.
ALBANY — As he gears up to run for reelection in 2018 — and potentially for president in 2020 — looming threats could turn the upcoming year into into a make-or-break time for Gov. Cuomo’s political future, insiders say.
“It’s going to be an interesting year — one with the potential of great things but also potential for debacle,” said one Cuomo supporter.
Entering 2017, the governor is not only warring with many of his fellow New York Democrats, which could seriously affect his agenda, but he also faces potentially damaging fallout from a federal corruption trial that will focus on his administration.
Nine Cuomo associates, including former top aide and close friend Joseph Percoco, have been indicted on bribery and bid-rigging charges tied to some of the governor’s signature upstate economic development programs.
Sources say some, including Percoco, are being pressured by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to flip — though there has been nothing to suggest so far that Cuomo did anything unlawful.
But even if Cuomo is not criminally implicated himself, a number of his supporters fear embarrassing and sensational revelations from the trials involving his former aides, friends and donors could cast harsh light on how his administration does business and cause serious damage to his political future.
Cuomo revealed last week he has spoken with federal prosecutors about Percoco and others. He suggested he could be called as a witness, though he said he doesn’t expect to be.
“It’s not really about (Percoco),” said one Democratic supporter of Cuomo. “It’s how the office looks. It’s how the operation and the governor look when all the evidence comes out.”
Another Democratic insider agreed, saying, “I don’t believe he’ll ever be indicted, but I think there’s certainly enough that could come out during the trials that could really hurt him.”
"The $64,000 question is will this ever go to trial?"
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was never criminally charged in the Bridgegate case, but sources note his approval ratings since the convictions of two aides have sunk to an all-time low.
“That’s when it will begin to kick in, when the trial begins,” said one legislative Democrat. “When the day-to-day coverage comes out, it’s not going to be pretty.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s ongoing wars with Mayor de Blasio, state Controller Thomas DiNapoli and state Assembly and Senate Democrats leave him with few allies should times get tough, the sources warn.
One Cuomo supporter said de Blasio, if he wins reelection in November, could wreak havoc for the governor on the left. And legislative Democrats, particularly in the Assembly, are livid at Cuomo over a lack of a pay raise.
Even if one is agreed to by the end of the year, the hostility toward the governor won’t likely fade quickly, the source said.
"He has not had to deal with an antagonistic Democratic Assembly before," said one Dem insider.
On the plus side, one supporter noted that despite the scandal that rocked his administration, Cuomo’s poll numbers haven’t suffered. And he’s been trying to position himself as a national critic of President-elect Donald Trump, a role that could help him politically in New York. Cuomo was recently elected policy chairman of the Democratic Governors Association for 2017.
Meanwhile, DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are said to be watching Cuomo’s fortunes closely, with an eye toward their own possible gubernatorial runs should his numbers plummet.
Many believe there’s little chance either would mount a primary challenge against him. But it wouldn’t necessarily have to come to that.
Political experts say if Cuomo makes it through 2017 with his approval numbers relatively intact, Schneiderman and DiNapoli would likely seek reelection to their current offices.
But if Cuomo’s numbers and power are weakened considerably, he could recognize his vulnerability and decide against a reelection run, they say.
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi dismissed talk that 2017 is any more perilous for Cuomo, saying “the Ken Lovetts of the world write this story every year and always ignore our continued record of success.”
He cited six consecutive timely budgets, a $15 minimum wage, legalization of gay marriage, "the lowest middle class taxes in 70 years and the strongest paid family leave and gun control laws in the nation."
“We view every year as make or break, as do the New Yorkers who elected the governor expecting results,” Azzopardi said.
Scott Sandman, who worked 11 years as a staffer for former Republican Gov. George Pataki, including as a senior speech writer, is the latest Republican to join the Cuomo administration. He started last week as state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities communications director.
Sandman is at least the fourth Republican hired by Cuomo this year, joining a list that includes two high-level former Senate GOP staffers and a former top aide to Christie.
Schneiderman, who says he is planning to run for reelection, last week held his first Left Coast fund-raiser.
The Thursday event held at the California home of “All In The Family” legendary producer Norman Lear attracted other well-known names such as Albert Brooks, Bobby Kennedy Jr. and Angelica Houston.