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Hell hath no fury like the north country scorned; Gov. Cuomo’s consolations may not be enough to overcome SAFE Act resentments


The upstate political and economic scene has bedeviled Albany for decades. Pulled by the sheer population density and representative clout of New York City, state politicians, and governors in particular, are often accused of ignoring the great geographic expanse of industry and people above the state’s capital.

Political heft, it seems, dissipates the farther north one travels, almost like oxygen at high altitudes.

And it’s hard to go farther north in New York state than the north country.

But over the last year, and especially in the past two weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made it a point to pay special attention to the Adirondacks and the north country.

He went whitewater rafting down the Indian River and bass fishing in Waddington and snowmobiled to promote tourism in the Tug Hill region before the new year even began, and then made prominent mention of “Route 98” in his 2014 State of the State address.

If there ever was a governor intent on wooing the north country, it appears to be Gov. Cuomo. But for many north country voters, that romance already may be dead.

“You’re still going to hear, ‘I don’t like him because of the guns,’” said Alan S. Chartock, professor emeritus in political communication at the University of Albany, Executive Publisher and Project Director of the Legislative Gazette, and President and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio.

In January 2013, the state Legislature passed a series of strict gun control laws known as the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, spurred on by Gov. Cuomo’s desire to make New York the first state in the nation to pass such a measure after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

To say that the law met with criticism in the north country would be a major understatement. Unlike any other legislation in recent memory, it galvanized residents across the region into action. With bus tours, informal gatherings and county legislature meetings, they met in opposition to the law, which they said unfairly restricted their Second Amendment rights.

Opponents of the law pledged to vote against Gov. Cuomo during his re-election bid and against any politician who voted for the SAFE Act.

And no amount of tax-cutting or economic proposals are going to change the minds of those voters when they enter the booth in November, Mr. Chartock said.

The most politically salient point in upstate New York?

“It’s guns number one, not taxes,” Mr. Chartock said.

Gov. Cuomo made cutting property taxes, corporate taxes and estate taxes a major portion of his State of the State address and was cheered by north country representatives for his proposals in that regard.

But, according to Mr. Chartock, the proposal to freeze property taxes may have been aimed more at wealthy Westchester County and Long Island residents with large homes and estates than those who own property in the north country.

Keeping homeowners there happy would be a shrewd political move by Gov. Cuomo, given the fact that his rumored Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, hails from the area.

But even if Gov. Cuomo loses the north country, it will likely have little effect on his immediate political fortunes.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released in late November, Gov. Cuomo had a 62 percent approval rating throughout the state and a 53 percent approval rating in upstate New York. In New York City, he had a 71 percent approval rating. He had bounced back from a 53 percent approval rating statewide in June.

And even though many have speculated that Mr. Astorino will run against him, no official announcement has been made.

“The only thing better than lots of opponents is an unknown opponent,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, when the survey results were released.

But even though Gov. Cuomo was able to see the SAFE Act swiftly passed into law, the remainder of the legislative session did not go so smoothly. His efforts to pass legislation aimed at women’s equality and his efforts to root out corruption did not result in any great victories and no decision has yet been made about hydrofracturing for natural gas.

Mr. Chartock said he believes that Gov. Cuomo was surprised by the reaction from New Yorkers on both the SAFE Act and the hydrofracturing issue.

Describing him as a “reactor” who sometimes makes snap judgements, Mr. Chartock said that Gov. Cuomo may not have realized what a visceral reaction Northern New Yorkers would have against the SAFE Act from the right side of the aisle and fracking from the left.

If Gov. Cuomo is re-elected, much of what happens in his next term will determine his prospects for a run at president of the United States, which Mr. Chartock said is his ultimate agenda, despite widespread speculation that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

“You’re never going to tell that guy he’s not going to be president. He’s not going to believe you,” Mr. Chartock said.

Ironically, Gov. Cuomo’s fate may be tied inextricably to his success in reviving upstate New York’s long-flagging economy.

But right now, the north country is playing hard to get.

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