NEW YORK — Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is indicating to allies he may want to run for New York City mayor if fellow Democrat Eric Adams sinks under the weight of a federal investigation.
Cuomo, who resigned more than two years ago amid allegations of sexual harassment and claims his administration covered up the number of Covid-19 deaths tied to nursing homes, has begun in recent days to gauge the viability of a potential mayoral bid, according to eight people who have talked to him or his inner circle.
And a new poll that began circulating last week measures how voters feel about Cuomo, his accomplishments in office and the controversies that led to his resignation.
“I got the impression that he is ready,” said the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator and ex-member of the New York City Council, who spoke to Cuomo last week. “No one knows what’s going to happen in the city.”
The entreaties come as Adams’ mayoral campaign is facing a federal investigation that has deepened in recent weeks and heightened the uncertainty around the mayor’s political future. Cuomo would not run in a primary race that includes Adams, whom he considers a friend, three people familiar with the former governor’s thinking said.
Diaz, a Pentecostal minister who holds conservative social views, left the City Council after making comments widely considered to be homophobic. But he has remained a steadfast supporter of both Cuomo and Adams despite their differences on issues like LGBTQ rights.
“My opinion is if he runs, he will win,” Diaz said of Cuomo in an interview. “People are in need of a leader. Even though Governor Cuomo and I have our differences, we’ve had many fights in the past, and besides the differences, I think he was a great governor.”
Cuomo could not be reached for comment, and a spokesperson declined to discuss his future plans. He had denied the allegations that led him to leave office.
Scandal-scarred politicians in New York have come up short in past efforts to return to elected office: Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, in particular, failed to win a Democratic primary in 2013 for New York City comptroller.
And a run for mayor by the former three-term governor would come with myriad complexities as he looks to rehabilitate his name.
For one, a run would be hindered by the overlapping base of support Adams and Cuomo share in New York City: working class Black voters, labor unions and the business community. A Cuomo-vs.-Adams primary would split up what has been a successful coalition for both Democrats and potentially aid a more progressive challenger.
Yet some of his backers see a way.
“Though difficult, he could still be competitive,” Basil Smikle, a former executive director for the state Democratic Committee who remains close with Cuomo, said. “He does have support in African-American and Latino communities. He does have the support of more moderate voters.”
A number of factors could make the environment more favorable to a Cuomo mayoral bid as voter discontent has grown over issues like the influx of migrants and public safety. A Marist College poll Tuesday showed just 37 percent of city voters approved of the job Adams was doing.
Cuomo could also have an edge if the chaos surrounding New York City’s budget woes grow, Smikle said.
“I think that could happen if the mayor’s legal problems or the quality of life and crime issues that a lot of people are concerned about worsen,” he said.
Adams’ campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Cuomo’s current residency is unclear — for much of his governorship, he split time between Albany and Westchester County.
But he was born and raised in Queens, lived in the city as an adult, and the only residency requirement for the office is to be living in New York City on Election Day. (POLITICO’s reporting in 2021 raised questions about where Adams was living just weeks before the Democratic primary, but he still walked away as the nominee.)
New York political circles buzzed in recent days after some voters received a poll testing a variety of potential Cuomo comeback messages.
Questions from the poll included whether Cuomo should apologize for his behavior toward women and if he would be a competitive candidate in a hypothetical Democratic primary against Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Tish James.
“It’s beyond exploratory; this is a full message test. They’re putting money where their mouth is,” Evan Roth Smith, pollster and founding partner of Slingshot Strategies, said. “This is expensive stuff. This is thorough, thorough polling.”
Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi denied any connection to the poll.
“The future is the future, and he gets these questions often, which I think are fueled by the fact that many people are facing a crisis in confidence in government at many levels and now view the circumstances in which he left office as the political railroading that it was,” Azzopardi said in a statement.
Cuomo, 65, himself has not ruled out another run for public office as he also faces lawsuits filed against him by women who have accused him of harassment.
“Do I believe I could run for political office again? Yes. I think I have a lot of options, and there are a lot of issues I’m working on now that I care about,” he said in an interview with POLITICO in October. “I haven’t ruled any in; I haven’t ruled any out.”
The former governor has considered jumping back into elected politics before without launching a campaign.
And Cuomo has conducted his own polling since he left office in August 2021, including surveys during the 2022 gubernatorial election after a series of campaign-style ads aired on New York television. He ultimately stayed out of the Democratic primary, which Hochul won.
Kathy Wylde, the influential president and CEO of the business-allied Partnership for New York City, is skeptical Cuomo could mount a successful comeback bid.
“He did the same with Governor Hochul in the governor’s race,” she said. “But I have not heard from him, no. And I think at this point, Adams is safe for a second term.”
Mutual friends of both Adams and Cuomo believe a head-to-head primary between the two men won’t happen.
“He’s legitimately close to Eric Adams, and there’s no way he’d run against him,” said a Cuomo friend who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the dynamic.
The Rev. Al Cockfield, the pastor of a Brooklyn-based church who has strong ties to both Cuomo and Adams, wants the former governor to set his sights higher than the mayor’s office.
“I think Governor Cuomo should run for president of the United States,” Cockfield said. “The nation needs him.”
Publicly, Cuomo has been sympathetic of Adams amid the investigation into the mayor’s campaign and whether it colluded with the Turkish government and received illegal campaign donations.
Adams, whose electronic devices were seized for several days by federal investigators, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
“I think they have been very heavy-handed here with the mayor, publicly humiliating the mayor,” Cuomo said in an interview with Fox 5 in New York City this month.
Cuomo would also face a similar challenge with voters after his decadelong administration ended in scandal. Cuomo is being sued by two women, a former aide and a former member of his State Police security detail over sexual harassment allegations.
Cuomo has sought to counter the allegations in a bombshell report released by James’ office through deposing several of the women who accused him of harassment in the report and having them questioned by his attorneys.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Progressive critics of both the mayor and former governor take a dim view of Cuomo potentially returning to power — a sign of the trouble he would face in the city.
“The city already has one mayor mired in corruption scandals,” said Ana Maria Archila, the co-director of the progressive Working Families Party. “We don’t need another.”
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