Focused on Trump, Cuomo poised to avoid third term 'blahs'

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo may have the antidote to ward off an early case of the third-term doldrums that plagued other governors: A steady dose of President Donald J. Trump.

Since 2018, Cuomo has made opposition to the controversial Republican a primary focus, and an energized inauguration at Ellis Island last week to kick off the next four years in office was no different. In outlining his legislative priorities for the year, touted as the "justice agenda," Cuomo billed it as the cure for the "social depression" emanating from the White House.

"This governor has been given a gift via the Trump presidency," said Bob Bellafiore, a former adviser to then-Gov. George Pataki.

A governor's first term is traditionally defined in response to their predecessor and the second is an opportunity to carve out their own path. But Bellafiore said the third term is where  governors can find themselves lost in a "malaise" and their greatest challenges are often of their own makings.

As to why governors seek a third term, he said they usually feel like there is work left to accomplish, such as Pataki's goal of helping New York recover after the 9/11 terror attacks. Sometimes, though, they simply become comfortable in the office or unsure of their next act in life.

"You have to have a rationale," said Darren Dopp, a former spokesman for then-Gov. Mario Cuomo. "I think Andrew remembers that from his father."

It's this antagonistic relationship with the president - through at least 2020 - that Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory believes will enable Cuomo to overcome the "third-term blahs" that plagued both Mario Cuomo and Pataki.

It should be clear early in the legislative session whether there is any let down, as the governor has a self-imposed deadline of 100 days for many of his big ticket priorities, which he pledged to include in the budget if they're not immediately taken up by the Legislature.

"We are going into next year with more energy, vision and drive than at any point in the last eight years," said Melissa DeRosa, a top adviser to the governor.

"Anyone who thinks this governor is slowing down doesn't know Andrew Cuomo. He's not capable of slowing down," she said. "He's hard wired to keep pushing the envelope.‎"

That would be in contrast to Pataki's administration, which Dopp felt "ran out of gas" in the third term. Pataki did not pursue a fourth term.

Yet Cuomo's third term is also unique because it begins with his party in complete control of state government, which could be a blessing and a curse.

He no longer has to overcome any roadblocks Senate Republicans throw up on liberal legislation, but loses a political scapegoat for any failure to deliver on far-left priorities, like a government takeover of health care or drivers' licenses for undocumented immigrants, which he might not support.

Additionally, Cuomo is is beginning the new legislative session with icy relations between himself and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie due to a recently authorized legislative pay raise that was tethered to a ban on outside income for lawmakers.

"They're starting the year off with a little bit of sniping," Dopp said.

The governor may feel emboldened for any political battles due to November's election results, when he received about 60 percent of the vote.

Still, the Legislature might become more hostile if they perceive Cuomo to be a lame duck, with no plans to run for another four years in 2022. That was the case in Pataki's final term, when Bellafiore said the legislative leaders became recalcitrant.

"I think they knew he had no interest in a fourth term," he said, noting that the politically divided chambers united to override multiple vetoes in those final years.

And unlike his father, Cuomo has firmly declared he will not seek to run for president and instead finish his third term. The start of Mario Cuomo's third term was dominated by the question of whether he would run for president, which he finally declared in December 1991 that he would not do.

"Even after he was not running, there was speculation that he would still be drafted," said Terry Lynam, a veteran of the administration.

"The current governor has been pretty definitive that he has no intention of running," he added. "There won't be that same degree of speculation over his head." - 518.454.5427 - @poozer87