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Cuomo To Speak On First Night Of Democratic Convention

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Mike Groll
Office of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will headline the first night of the Democratic National Convention, with a speaking slot in prime time Monday night.

Cuomo, though he’s been governor for 9 years, did not fully command the national spotlight until this spring, when he conducted daily televised briefings during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York.

His straightforward portrayal of the facts and reliance on scientific data to make decisions stood in contrast to a lack of federal leadership by President Donald Trump and his administration, and it earned Cuomo acclaim.

In April, some polls showed that Democratic voters would rather that Cuomo run for President, than the party’s nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Siena College polling and a longtime political observer, said it’s a chance for Cuomo to once again gain attention for his style of governing.

“From the governors’ point of view, he’s riding high right now with his New York constituents, and this is chance to show himself off on the national stage,” Greenberg said.

Alexis Grenell, a political strategist who has worked on Democratic campaigns, including that of progressive democrat Zephyr Teachout’s bid for New York Attorney General, said featuring Cuomo on the first night of a convention when the pandemic is a major concern, makes good strategic sense.

“That’s the reason the DNC gave him a prime time spot,” said Grenell. “The governor’s 100 days of daily press briefings, that national news covered, hanging on every word has clearly made him someone that the DNC feels is good for them.”

The governor’s speech could once again fuel speculation for a Presidential bid by Cuomo in 2024 or 2028. Grenell said based on the ticket this year, she thinks democrats will be seeking more diversity in their candidates in the future, and are diverging from the moderate wing of the party that Cuomo has long represented.

“I think the fact that Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate tells you more about the direction the democratic party is going in, in terms of representation, and that really is just not where Andrew Cuomo is at,” said Grenell, who said there’s a “strong thirst” to see “greater diversity at the political decision making table”.

Greenberg said he does not think Cuomo will use the speech to set himself up for a future presidential run. The governor has said repeatedly he has no interest in doing so.

“I think Andrew Cuomo is going into this speech, because he’s always been close with Joe Biden, he wants to see Joe Biden elected,” Greenberg said. “I think Andrew Cuomo is just looking forward to having a President he can work with effectively, rather than the President he has now, who he says he cannot work with”.

Cuomo said he plans to use his prime time speech at the DNC to reinforce the idea that government, and its leadership, matters. And he said the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated that.

“Ask yourself, ’when was the last time government was as essential as it did today’?” Cuomo said. “Maybe the last time we went to war, maybe the depression.”

“Government is making life and death decisions,” Cuomo continued. “It’s going to reshape the way that people think about government for a long time.”

Cuomo said he will use the virus as a metaphor for what he sees is a sickness in the nation’s “body politic”, which he said is “weak and divided”.

The governor said he also plans to publicly thank the 30,000 medical workers who came from across the country to help New Yorkers during the height of the pandemic in the state. New York now has the one of the lowest rates of infection in the nation, with .71% of Sunday’s testing results positive for the virus.

Comparisons have been made to the 1984 Democratic National Convention speech made by Cuomo’s father, the late former Governor Mario Cuomo, in what became known as the “tale of two cities” speech, and propelled Mario Cuomo onto the national stage.

The governor was asked by a reporter if he feels pressure, because of his father’s legacy.

“Only everyday,” the governor quipped.

Andrew Cuomo said his speech will be different though, partly because of the venue. Instead of a convention center with a crowd to react to the words spoken, Cuomo will be by himself, with just a video camera, when he delivers his remarks.

“I think five or six minutes is all I get,” said Cuomo, who said he has a relatively lengthy time slot, compared to other speakers. “What are you going to do with five minutes?”

The convention will be, of course a virtual one, with most of the speakers, talking from their homes or offices. With no cheering or crowds, it might be difficult to judge the success, or the failure, of Cuomo’s or anyone else’s speech.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.