William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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FROM THE WORLD OF SELF-DESTRUCTION – AT 10:47 A.M. ET:  One of the great questions already being asked about 2016 is this:  If Hillary doesn't run, who will the Dems turn to? 

The Democratic bench is very thin.  It's clear Joe Biden would like to run, but Biden will be going on 74.  The alternative, it's been suggested by the mass punditry, is Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

Not so fast, guys.  Cuomo, who had a spectacular first year in office, is now engaged in an orgy of self-destruction. 

There is a great state-news reporter on the New York Post named Fred Dicker.  He's one of these old-time reporters – there are very few left – who actually knows his facts, gets them right, and believes in telling it straight.  He paints a devastating picture of what's happened to Andy: 

Gov. Cuomo has veered sharply away from the reform and pro-business policies he followed during his first two years in office and is “adrift’’ on a course of murky proposals, frequent indecision, and political obsessions focused on re-election next year and the presidency in 2016, insiders have told The Post.

The insiders, some of whom have known Cuomo for decades, said the governor has become so obsessed with maintaining what until recently were record-high job-approval ratings that he has refused, for fear of alienating politically potent liberal voting blocs, to make tough decisions to cut costs for fiscally troubled local governments, reduce regulations to attract businesses, and approve hydrofracking for natural gas.

“It’s all about maintaining his numbers now, not about the best policies for the state,’’ said a source who knows Cuomo well.

“If he makes the political tough decisions, his numbers will go down, so what he’s trying to do is avoid anything controversial. That’s why he’s adrift,’’ the source continued.

The insiders describe Cuomo as hypersensitive to criticism and prone to argue at great length with anyone who says his administration has, as one of its own members put it, “run off the tracks.’’

“He’s running around like a banshee, blaming his staff and everybody else for the problems of his own making,’’ said a highly knowledgeable source, adding, “I’ll be a dead man in Albany’’ if his identity is disclosed.

New York is the largest out-migration state in the country.  More people leave this state than any other, because of high taxes, high living costs, and diminishing business and job opportunities. 

Cuomo came in pledging to reverse that.  In his first year he took on the public-service unions and started to cut taxes.  We thought we had a real reformer, a moderate, reasonable Democrat who wouldn't automatically bow to the factions that run the Democratic Party.  A Democratic Chris Christie.

It's all changed now.  Cuomo is becoming just another Dem.  He exploited the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, by getting passed the most extreme gun-control laws in the country.  He made a speech literally screaming about gun control, Howard Dean style.  He's gone from statesman to madman in a year.  And I think it has mostly to do with appeasing the Democratic voters he'd need to get the 2016 presidential nomination.

Now his poll numbers are diminishing.  And it's clear from his increasing shrillness that he can't take the heat. 

I've always had doubts that Cuomo would play outside New York.  Now I'm certain he wouldn't.  He's acting terminally obnoxious.

He soon must make a momentous decision on whether to allow fracking in upstate New York, which has valuable oil deposits.  For most governors, it would be a no brainer.  But Cuomo is looking to appease the Dem environmental religionists:

Business leaders, meanwhile, see the long-delayed hydrofracking decision — which could come this week — as the definitive test of whether Cuomo is serious about changing New York’s reputation as the least business-friendly state in the nation.

“The New York/Pennsylvania border is like the old Berlin Wall, with Pennsylvania being free West Berlin, with prosperity and good jobs thanks to gas drilling,’’ said a top New York business official.

“The New York side is communist East Berlin — poor, humbled, and humiliated, with no high-paying jobs to speak of,’’ the official continued.

COMMENT:  Cuomo has no safe place to go.  Do the right thing, he alienates the Democratic base and the wine-tasting crowd in Manhattan.  Do the wrong thing and the state, and his record as governor, suffer badly. 

If Hillary doesn't run, and Cuomo sticks a fork in himself, the Democratic presidential contest in 2016 could turn into a wild free-for-all.  I don't think the party would automatically give the nod to the aging Biden.  Of course, if Hillary runs, all this speculation is down the drain.

February 11, 2013