Stephanie Miner Rules Out Bid for Congress, but May Yet Challenge Cuomo

Stephanie Miner Rules Out Bid for Congress, but May Yet Challenge Cuomo


By LISA W. FODERARO           JAN. 25, 2018

During her tenure as mayor of Syracuse, Stephanie Miner garnered attention for her willingness to criticize Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat.  Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Stephanie Miner, the former Democratic mayor of Syracuse, announced Thursday that she would not challenge a Republican congressman in her Central New York district, but instead was seriously considering a run for governor.

To date, no major candidate has stepped forward from either party to oppose Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this fall, and Ms. Miner’s public ruminations about such a challenge are sure to rankle state Democratic Party officials.

“I’m still seriously considering it,” Ms. Miner said about a campaign for governor.

In 2014, a relatively unknown candidate, Zephyr Teachout, a law professor, took on Mr. Cuomo and garnered a surprising 34 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.

Just as Ms. Teachout highlighted some of Mr. Cuomo’s perceived shortcomings, suggesting that he had tilted too far to the right, Ms. Miner, an unapologetic progressive, wasted no time in pointing out Mr. Cuomo’s vulnerabilities.

In an interview in Midtown Manhattan, Ms. Miner, who is teaching a course on municipal finance at New York University, chastised the governor for his handling of the transit crisis, with the subway system troubled by delays and breakdowns.

 “Anywhere and everywhere I go, people talk about the transit issue,” she said over coffee at Pennsylvania Station, where she was preparing to board an Amtrak back to Syracuse. “People’s frustration and anger is palpable. I think he bears a great deal of responsibility.”

Some political experts said that Mr. Cuomo could be damaged by another primary challenge by a progressive woman.

“If she does primary Cuomo, I’d be worried, if I’m Cuomo’s people — not necessarily that she would win or get within 10 points of him,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College. “But even a loss by her — if it were close — would be damaging. So the governor would have to go all out.”

Ms. Miner, who years ago worked for Gov. Mario M. Cuomo as a regional representative, first asserted her independence from state Democrats in 2013 when she openly criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an Op-Ed in The New York Times. The piece — a wonky exploration of rising pension costs and other big-city fiscal problems — concluded that Mr. Cuomo “has left cities strapped.”

In the interview on Thursday, she also faulted what she called the governor’s “transactional” approach to government, which, she said, was designed to get “good headlines,” but has “not changed the dynamic of the upstate economy.”

Ms. Miner’s decision came as a disappointment for Democrats who were hoping she would challenge Rep. John Katko, a Republican who represents the district that includes Syracuse, where she was mayor for eight years until term limits forced her to step down on Dec. 31.

The district has swung between Republicans and Democrats, and some observers believed that Mr. Katko might be vulnerable since he voted for President Trump’s tax plan, which hurts high-tax states like New York by capping the deductibility of state and local taxes.

Geoff Berman, executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, said the loss of Ms. Miner’s candidacy against Mr. Katko was a blow to the party’s efforts to make inroads into the Republican-controlled Congress. “It’s unfortunate that Stephanie chose not to capitalize on her local name ID and help the party take on Washington Republicans,” Mr. Berman said.

When asked of Ms. Miner’s consideration of a primary challenge to Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Berman deflected, saying the governor’s progressive agenda “sets a solid foundation for a third term.”

Bill Mulrow, chairman of Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign, also defended the governor’s progressive record, pointing to measures like a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, gun control, a ban on fracking and free college tuition at public colleges for the middle class.

“Gov. Cuomo has the strongest progressive record of any elected official in this country — period,” he said. “And we look forward to building on that record in the third term.”

This is the second time Ms. Miner, 47, has publicly declared that she would not run for Congress. After the tax vote, she said she would reconsider an earlier decision not to challenge Mr. Katko. But this time, she sounded resigned.

She said she did not relish the idea of “getting on a plane on a Sunday night and coming back on a Thursday and having to raise money five hours a day, every day.”

As for antagonizing state Democratic stalwarts by flirting with a run against Mr. Cuomo, the leader of the party, Ms. Miner said such concerns would not factor into her decision.

“I think now more than ever people realize that in a democracy, all of us have a responsibility to be active and voice our opinion about where we think we are going,” she said. “There are lots of different ways to be active. Sometimes that means running for office.

“Sometimes that means standing up and saying things that are uncomfortable. Sometimes that means making tough decisions. Ruffling feathers is a natural part of being a leader.”

Follow Lisa W. Foderaro on Twitter: @lisanyt

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