By Alan S. Chartock | May 11, 2018

New York politics are certainly in a state of flux.

Ballot positioning is now all the talk, don’t you know? The more votes you get for governor in New York, the higher you get on the ballot. That’s why the Democrats are Line A and the Republicans are Line B. But now something interesting has happened. It turns out that Cynthia Nixon’s acceptance of the Working Families party nomination for governor has actually put the Republicans at risk. It now appears that the red elephants may come in third because the Working Families designation for Nixon may get that party more votes than the Republican candidate, putting the WFP on Line B. That, for a number of reasons, is scaring the stuffing out of the Republicans. 

If you were a bookie, you would still be figuring that Andrew will beat Nixon in the primary and become a third term governor. Right now Andrew Cuomo is leading in the polls but Nixon is coming up fast. Both the Nixon and potential Mark Molinaro candidacies are sure to divide the anti-Andrew vote, which will be substantial. As a result, the polls are showing that the Working Families vote is on the same level as the potential Republican Molinaro vote and that is making the Republicans, who face coming in third, very nervous. They do not want to end up on Line C on the ballot. That in turn has the top Republicans thinking about not nominating Mark Molinaro, a very decent and centrist Republican and instead going with one of their old, Trump-like right-wingers. That can only spell real doom for their electoral chances in very Blue State New York. They are in a state of panic and when that happens big mistakes are made. 

In a recent conversation with the affable and approachable Molinaro, I had the feeling that this is one Republican who just likes to do what is right. The guy was one of the youngest elected mayors in the state, in the tiny town of Tivoli. From there he went on to the legislature and then ran for county executive in Dutchess County, giving him a lot of experience as a manager. Cuomo, of course (remember Zephyr Teachout?) is very unpopular in upstate New York, which in my mind starts in Yonkers and ends in Buffalo. If the Republicans have the brains to nominate him, Molinaro will win big in the upstate region. Even if the guy loses he will remain the Dutchess County executive and he will have what the political wags call a “free ride”. 

On the other hand, there is the possibility, albeit a slight one, that Nixon will beat Cuomo and then you would have a real horse race between Molinaro and Nixon with the odds favoring Nixon. Molinaro sees himself as a Pataki-like upsetter. Nixon’s cause is certainly being helped big time by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The New York mayor has a few tricks up his sleeve. He hates Cuomo and has managed to be elected mayor twice. So we’ll have to wait to see if he has any other surprises forthcoming. Don’t count him out. You can be sure that Andrew sees Cynthia Nixon as a de Blasio project. Remember, de Blasio wants to be President just as much as Andrew does. Conclusion: he has to knock off Cuomo. In fact, both men are trying to kill each other off and right now it looks like an exercise in mutual self-destruction. 

Now the progressives in New York are asking to make it easier for non-registered people to vote in the primaries. That’s what the neighboring state of Massachusetts has. There, you can be “unenrolled” in either party and just vote in a primary of your choosing. Of course that’s not going to happen in New York — the incumbent protection plan will make sure of that.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].