ALBANY – President Obama is inviting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo along as one of his guests when he travels to Buffalo this week as part of a bus tour swing through upstate New York and Pennsylvania.
Cuomo – who has been saying he did not know if he will have a role when Obama visits Buffalo, Syracuse and Binghamton, and possibly other stops later in the week – will take part in the president’s trip to the University at Buffalo on Thursday, the governor announced in a radio interview Monday.
“I want to welcome him that morning,” Cuomo said in a public radio interview about Obama’s arrival at the Buffalo airport Thursday morning. He did not say if he will attend the UB event or just participate in a handshake ceremony at the airport. Cuomo officials said those details are still being worked out.
Officials say the Buffalo stop is the only one Cuomo will be making with Obama during the president’s two-day swing; Cuomo said he wants to spend time with his three daughters, including two who are heading off to college at Harvard and Brown universities.
The White House declined Monday to release the names of public officials and others who might be with the president at the events this week.
That Cuomo will attend an event with Obama is hardly surprising. Indeed, it would have made news if Obama, a Democrat, were to make a bus trip across parts of upstate without at least an appearance with the Democratic governor of the state.
The trip comes as Cuomo continues to find his name mentioned in national media circles as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. That speculation will leave any assortment of pundits on all sides watching for any gestures, smiles, hugs or shout-outs given to Cuomo on the airport tarmac by Obama, especially at a time when his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is also said to be mulling a possible White House run in 2016.
Obama made news, of sorts, in 2009 when he traveled to the Albany area shortly after the White House leaked word that the president had lost confidence in then-Gov. David A. Paterson to win the governor’s race in 2010. Photographers captured an awkward, half-embrace of Paterson by Obama shortly after Air Force One landed at the Albany airport. At a speech later that afternoon, Obama gave a far more glowing assessment of Cuomo, who was then the state attorney general and was already angling to run for governor in 2010, than he did of Paterson.
During his visit this week, Obama will be pushing his agenda to make college more affordable for middle-class families with stops Thursday at UB and Syracuse, and Friday in Binghamton and Scranton.
Obama has visited the Albany area, one of the few bright spots in the upstate economy, three times since taking office in 2009, including stops at General Electric, the University at Albany’s nanotech center and Hudson Valley Community College.
In his upcoming trip, he will be heading into some of the most economically hard-hit areas of upstate. Cuomo has tried to make the upstate economy a focus since taking office in 2011, but Obama’s visit may put a harder focus on the area’s problems in the course of less than 48 hours during his trips to Buffalo, Binghamton and Syracuse.
The president is also heading into an area where poll numbers show neither he nor Cuomo doing well among residents compared with their ratings in downstate regions. A recent Siena College poll found 58 percent of upstate residents think the United States is heading in the wrong direction. Statewide, Obama is viewed favorably by a 56 percent to 41 percent margin. But upstate, 45 percent view him favorably, compared with 55 percent unfavorably. Statewide, two-thirds of Democrats view him favorably. while two-thirds of Republicans view him unfavorably.
Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College, said there could be reasons beyond spending time with his daughters for Cuomo to limit his time with Obama to just the Buffalo trip – assuming he was invited by the White House to be with Obama for both days.
Muzzio said Cuomo, and Obama, may not want to encourage protesters – or have the national media witness them – who could turn out to demonstrate over everything from the Cuomo administration’s inability to decide so far whether to permit natural gas “fracking” in New York to the state’s tough, new gun-control law. It was that gun law, adopted in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings, that Cuomo touted as a measure the state took while noting that Washington – without naming Obama – could not come up with new gun restrictions.
The Baruch professor said Obama may also not want to send any confusing signs that he is somehow cozying up to Cuomo at a time when Clinton, who served Obama for four years as secretary of state, is mulling a White House run.
But Muzzio said there could also be a pattern at play in which Cuomo tends to shy away from the national political media and does not attend, or limits his appearance at, events such as National Governors Association meetings or even last year’s national Democratic Party convention.
“It’s strange he avoids national publicity. It’s striking. Here the president of the United States comes, and you think it would give him some Democratic kudos, and he just doesn’t do it,” Muzzio said of Cuomo.
“What personal or strategic reason may be behind it, I don’t know. I’ve often thought that if he’s not out in public more you can’t make a gaffe.”
James Campbell, a distinguished professor of politics at UB, said there is little political risk for Obama to be photographed hugging Cuomo or publicly praising him even as his former secretary of state ponders her political future. The common theory within the Democratic Party is that Cuomo, who once worked as then-President Bill Clinton’s housing secretary, would never challenge Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary if she does run.
“There’s no risk for President Obama being seen with any potential Democratic hopefuls, particularly being seen with a potential hopeful who would not challenge Hillary if it came to that,” Campbell said.
Campbell was more struck that Obama’s trip to Buffalo comes at a time when his administration has been hit by its share of troubles, not the least of which is a still-shaky economy.
“Western New York seems to be a refuge for national Democrats who are having some trouble,” Campbell said, recalling the 1999 visit to Buffalo by Bill and Hillary Clinton just a month after Bill Clinton’s impeachment. That event was attended by more than 20,000 people.
With an eye to his re-election next year, Cuomo has been dramatically increasing his visits to upstate in recent months, especially to the Buffalo area, as compared with his first two years in office.
BuffaloNews.com is your destination for comprehensive coverage of President Obama’s visit to Western New York on Thursday.
From the time Air Force One touches down through the bus tour’s departure, The Buffalo News will provide:
* Live video from the airport and President Obama’s speech at UB.
* A running blog with frequent updates from Western New York’s largest news gathering team scattered throughout the area to best cover the visit.
* Thorough and up-to-date articles, notebooks and sidebars.
* Photo galleries from various points of the day, including a vantage point from within the presidential travelling party.
* Video recaps following the speech and including onlookers’ thoughts on the appearance.
You will find it all on BuffaloNews.com and by following @TheBuffaloNews on Twitter.