Pivotal political contests will animate much of 2018

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo hasn’t made it completely clear that he intends to run for reelection.  He is widely expected to be a key witness in the upcoming public corruption trial of his chief lieutenant and political enforcer Joe Percoco. That trial has engulfed Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion program and LP Ciminelli, the firm that has long dominated Western New York’s government funded construction industry.

Forgoing a reelection effort would allow Cuomo to avoid the inevitable headlines that the trial is expected to attract, protecting him from the type of reputational damage that could undermine a presidential campaign effort in 2020.  If Cuomo chooses not to run, operatives expect him to back Mayor Byron W. Brown, a loyalist and party chairman.

The Governor’s handlers are panicked by internal polling that shows Cuomo trailing former United States Attorney Preet Bharara among likely Democratic primary voters.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is also considering the primary. DeBlasio is a proud liberal who has often sparred with Cuomo and the Republican lead State Senate Majority, a coalition that Cuomo architected to thwart leftists influences downstate.  Other Democrats considering the contest are Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon, of Manhattan; and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

Republicans are lining up to challenge Cuomo, which could make for the most contested primary in decades.  The Minority Leader of the State Assembly, Brian Kolb, has already announced his candidacy.  Investment banker and 2010 candidate for State Comptroller Harry Wilson is pledging to spend ‘at least’ $10 million.  Duchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, are expected to enter the race shortly.

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra plans to seek the office.  Giambra is close to Cuomo, and would likely receive the backing of the Governor’s formidable political organization in the event that neither Cuomo or Brown secure a primary win.

Robert Porter is also rumored to be considering the race.  Porter is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a tenured Syracuse University Professor, former President of the Seneca Nation of Indians, and an attorney with the prominent international firm Denton’s. It is expected that Porter would have the monied backing of Native American gaming and tobacco interests.

Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham University law school professor who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 primary, is reportedly considering a run on the Green Party line.

United States Senator Kirstin Gillibrand

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand is seeking reelection to a second full term in Washington.  Her presidential ambitions are well known, and she has played a prominent role in the national discourse surrounding sexual harassment, but she says her focus is on reelection in 2018.

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In the plausible event that former Senator George Maziarz is acquitted of campaign finance violations in Albany County Court, which could come as soon as January, he is widely expected to mount a statewide ‘comeback’ campaign that reasserts his relevance in state politics. Prior to retirement from the State Senate, Maziarz had been among the State’s most powerful political figures.

Maziarz is an affable politician whose comfort with retail politics, moderate style, and pliable policy priorities could make him a perfect contender for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.  He is a substantial figure with low name recognition, creating an opportunity to introduce a fresh new brand.

Other potential contenders include former Utica-area Congressman Richard Hanna; and Hudson Valley area Congressman Chris Gibson.

Congressman Brian Higgins

Higgins represents the City of Buffalo and its first ring suburbs.  He is a centrist Democrat from South Buffalo who was elected to the District when it was much more competitively drawn. He barely defeated Republican Nancy Naples, then a popular County Comptroller who sounded the alarm bells during the Giambra administration. He then cultivated a record that one would expect of a Democrat with close ties to the Conservative Party.

Liberals in the 26th Congressional have been unsatisfied with some of Higgins’ centrist policy positions, though he has been a generally forward thinking voice on waterfront development and urban design. He holds high level positions on the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees, but his critics note that he hasn’t used those roles to take many stands in national debates.

Republican State Senator Chris Jacobs, a popular moderate Republican with a history of performing strongly in Democrat-enrolled strongholds, has long eyed the seat.

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Congressman Chris Collins

Collins represents the affluent outer ring suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester, along with the less affluent countryside in between. The Democratic National Committee has been targeting the Collins seat since his high profile endorsement of then-candidate Donald Trump for president.  Operatives have been effective inflaming discontent in the district, but it such an overwhelmingly conservative district that it has been difficult to recruit a sacrificial lamb — especially when they would be expected to fundraise $250,000 from personal contacts each quarter.

Republican Nicholas Stankevich intends to primary Collins for the Republican nomination. Democrats Sean Bunny, a former Assistant Erie County District Attorney; and Tom Casey, an engineer, have also announced.

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