Andrew Cuomo’s Popularity Wave

Sarah Laskow | April 18th, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in politics just by doing what you said you were going to do. Paterson, Spitzer, Pataki — all of their poll numbers took a huge hit during budget seasons. Gov. Andrew Cuomo corralled the state legislature into passing the budget on time, and his poll numbers have never been better.

The media has turned gung-ho about Cuomo, too. Last week the Daily News swooned over his deal with the police union: “Hail to Cuomo for demonstrating that productive, taxpayer-friendly labor negotiations really are possible in Albany,” the paper wrote. Back in October of 2010, Chris Smith wrote cluck-cluckingly in New York magazine about Cuomo’s play-it-safe campaign: “Cuomo is missing out on the opportunity to address the pervasive anxiety in New York’s electorate and make a principled emotional connection with the politically disaffected.” In March of 2011, he wrote that “The budget story Cuomo tells…is skillfully crafted, entertainingly performed, and irresistibly compelling” and ceded to Cuomo “a brilliantly played first 100 days in office.” And last week, State Room’s editor pointed out that this reporter was falling into the same trap — that maybe before she said Cuomo had made a smart move by hiring Jason Helgerson, it might be prudent to point out that “Cuomo is being called smart/savvy a lot lately.”

There’s an underbelly to all this praise, though, at least as far as the media is concerned. At the beginning of Cuomo’s administration, much was made of his tight-lipped press shop, and it’s still possible, particularly on big stories that don’t jive with the story Cuomo is writing for himself, to find sentences indicating that calls to Albany got little response. Even Matt Bai, writing in The New York Times Magazine about Cuomo’s father, was rebuffed: “In the weeks after I visited Mario,” Bai wrote, “I tried repeatedly to reach the current governor to talk about his father. He declined to return the call.”

But Andrew Cuomo is, after all, a politician. He has to screw up sometime, right? And when he does, the sting of all those unreturned calls and ignored emails could push the press to be less than kind. The fall of popular politicians is just as good a story arc as their rise.

But what if Cuomo endures? There have been wildly popular governors in this country before — just not in recent New York State history. The best way for Cuomo to keep on riding his wave of popularity is to continue making promises he can actually keep. If he’s lucky, the economy’s recovery will start speeding up, and he can take credit for it.

The most important thing, though, is that he knows when to quit. With politicians, popularity never lasts forever. Just ask Mike Bloomberg. His poll numbers were just as good as Cuomo’s, until this last term. In politics, popularity never lasts forever.