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Cuomo to speak on first night of Democratic convention

Cuomo at a daily coronavirus brefing on June 18,2020
Governor Cuomo's office
Cuomo at a daily coronavirus brefing on June 18,2020

Gov. 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 nine 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 governor's 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 added 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 is not giving much away. This is how he answered a  reporter who asked during a conference call for a preview: “No, why would I do that? Then you may not watch on Monday.”

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 DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.