New York

Former Cuomo Staffer Considers Running Against Governor in Democratic Primary Next Year

Hans Pennink | AP
  • New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is considering a potential primary challenge against fellow Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year, according to key Democratic Party sources.
  • The former Cuomo staffer is considering the challenge as the governor faces accusations of sexual harassment and alleged mishandling of nursing home deaths. Biaggi has called on Cuomo to resign.
  • Biaggi may run for other higher offices, including state comptroller and lieutenant governor, some of the people familiar with her thinking said.

New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is considering a potential primary challenge against fellow Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year, according to key Democratic Party sources in and around Albany.

The former Cuomo staffer is considering the challenge as the governor faces accusations of sexual harassment and alleged mishandling of nursing home deaths. Biaggi is among the many critics of the workplace culture in the governor's offices. She has called on Cuomo to resign.

Biaggi may run for other higher offices, including state comptroller and lieutenant governor, some of the people familiar with her thinking said. Tom DiNapoli, the state comptroller, has said he wants to run for reelection next year. Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul has not recently said whether she will run for reelection.

A political spokesman for Biaggi did not deny any element of this story. Biaggi herself didn't deny in a recent tweet that a new website of hers was a sign of bigger things to come. "Stay tuned!" she responded in a tweet earlier this week with a winky face emoji to an observer who asked her "could this indicate something new and exciting in the offing?"

Biaggi was asked earlier this year about her name being floated for governor in an interview with the Jewish Insider. The paper noted that, while she did not deny the possibility of running for governor outright, she explained that it wasn't something she was thinking about doing at the time.

"It's not something that I am thinking about doing," she said then. "But I certainly am here to make the most impact in people's lives, and I am very much open to the energy of the universe guiding me in that direction. We'll see where it leads."

Biaggi has relatively little name recognition, and any campaign for a position such as a governor would likely be a longshot. Cuomo, DiNapoli and Hochul are prolific fundraisers. The governor's 2022 campaign has over $18 million on hand after the first half of 2021. Biaggi, who is also up for reelection next year, has just over $185,000, according to New York State campaign finance records.

A recent Sienna poll shows that even with Cuomo being under scrutiny for multiple scandals, voters within the state are mixed on what to do about him. The survey found 23% of voters want him to immediately resign, and 39% think he should finish his current term and not run again. A third want him to remain in office and seek another four-year term. 

While he has not recently said whether he will run for reelection next year, Cuomo raised over $2 million over the first six months of the year with the help of multiple New York business leaders despite the scrutiny.

Biaggi's potential move to run for either governor or another top state position could hinge on a report being crafted by New York state Attorney General  Letitia James, who has been investigating the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo.

James has not given a timeline on when she expects the investigation to conclude. The details of that report could prove to be the difference on whether Biaggi or anyone else decides to get into a primary fight against Cuomo. The governor has denied any wrongdoing.

Biaggi, who worked as a lawyer in Cuomo's administration, has called for him to resign. She painted a bleak picture on what it was like to work for the three-term governor.

"It is a culture where people are incessantly berated and yelled at," Biaggi, a progressive who represents New York's 34th District, said in an interview earlier this year. "There is intimidation tactics that happen if you're not considered someone who is going to just carry out the orders or the commands of the governor in a way that, perhaps, that he sees fit, even if you believe that it's unethical."

Text messages between Biaggi and secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa that were shared with New York Magazine show the governor's advisor berating the soon-to-be state senator for a tweet.

Biaggi's district includes portions of the Bronx and Westchester County. Her new campaign website hints at issues that are linked to all of New York, and not just her district.

"Alessandra is devoted to bringing ethics to Albany and to putting the people before the powerful. She works tirelessly on your behalf to improve New Yorkers lives and to hold the powerful accountable," the website says.

Another link brings viewers to an issues page where it says, "Alessandra is hard at work creating a New York that works for all of us." It lists four different policy concepts, including "accountable and open government."

In that section, under a section titled "Where we need to go," the Biaggi site says: "We will fight sexual harassment until they stop doing it. I believe we've made great strides in enhancing the legal framework surrounding sexual harassment" and notes "right now, the state of New York and our legislature are failing in that regard."

After putting in an email and zip code under the banner "Stand with Alessandra," potential donors are encouraged to give in order to "help Alessandra organize and win change on the issues important to all New Yorkers. Alessandra cannot do this alone and every donation means a lot."

She started paying a well-connected consulting firm in November 2020 after she was elected to the state Senate.

State campaign finance records show that her campaign started paying Aisle 518 on Nov. 19, weeks after she pulled off a major upset over longtime independent Democratic Conference leader Jeffrey Klein. That firm is owned by Tim Tagaris, a former senior advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign for president and the digital fundraising director for the Vermont lawmaker's 2016 run for the White House.

They boast clients on their website such as Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign, Stacey Abrams' 2018 campaign for governor, Gabby Gifford's gun violence group, her husband Mark Kelly's Senate campaign and Sen. Chris Murphy's reelection campaign.

Since the Biaggi campaign's initial payment, state records shows that each month, from January through late July, it spent over $3,000 for Aisle 518's services and what the filings describes as "campaign consulting." Aisle 518 did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Her political team did not deny any aspect of this story after CNBC asked whether she is considering running for governor or another higher office.

"We upgraded the website to make it more accessible and attractive and we expanded on some of the key issues facing the state that the Senator feels strongly about and is active on. Aisle518 is an excellent firm and we want to make sure the Senator's message is reaching people, so we hired them," David Neustadt, a political spokesman for Biaggi, said in an email to CNBC on Wednesday.

After receiving that response, CNBC asked Neustadt whether his boss is considering running for governor or another higher office in 2022, and whether he had anything further to add to his statement. "Nothing more," Neustadt said in a followup email.

While Biaggi doesn't have Cuomo's financial resources, she does have ties directly to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which could help raise a ton of money in small-dollar donations.

During her initial run for state Senate, she received the support of the Working Families Party and received endorsements from progressive lawmakers Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Biaggi saw support from a prominent labor union, the 32BJ SEIU, which has over 160,000 members, according to the Gotham Gazette.

Progressive Democrats have tried to challenge Cuomo before, only to fail. Liberal actor Cynthia Nixon ran in a primary against the governor but ended up losing by 30 percentage points.

Copyright CNBCs - CNBC
Contact Us