Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his entourage spent nearly 29 hours in Israel. Some believe the governor was testing the waters for a possible presidential bid in 2016, but the man himself says he's focused on his re-election as head of the Empire State.
The visit to Israel was a rare trip outside the state for Governor Cuomo, who managed to cram eight scheduled events into his short stay. The delegation, which also included Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Co-Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, arrived Tuesday.
Capital New York reporter Laura Nahmias traveled to Israel with the press pool. She says it was interesting to see how the governor reacted to being outside of the U.S. "We usually see him in situations where he is firmly in control of his surroundings and this was - he actually seemed delighted and he was marveling at all the sights in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv in a genuine way, I think because he was actually amazed to see some of the things that he saw."
Wednesday, Cuomo and company met up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, ate pizza with students from New York who are studying in Israel and visited the Western Wall. Nahmias describes it as a whirlwind tour, even with the country at war. "He had a dinner with the mayor of Jerusalem and the Israeli ambassador. He went to the Church of the Holy Sephulcre, he saw the Western Wall, he had a luncheon with New York students studying in Israel, and we also made a trip south to Israel's border with Gaza and saw parts of the Israeli missile defense system, known as the Iron Dome, and a series of tunnels that the Israeli government says were dug between Gaza and Israel by Hamas in order to carry out terrorist attacks. You know I'm out of breath just saying that, and we did all of that in 29 hours!"
The New York Times commented on Cuomo's trip by saying he was "willfully stepping into diplomatic quicksand." Citing records it obtained under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, the paper noted that Israeli officials tried to arrange a meeting between the governor and Israel’s ambassador to the United States in January, but Cuomo’s office said he could not squeeze him in. Perhaps more telling: Cuomo's visit came during a period of significant tension between Israel and the White House.
New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer isn't reading too much into the trip by his fellow Democrat. "He's just giving solidarity to Israel and I think that's a good thing."
Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, argues the trip was "political." "The statewide elected officials' going to Israel in an election year is a well-trod path, given the large and influential number of Jewish voters there are in New York State. And by the governor saying he's gonna use his campaign contributions to pay for the trip I think makes it clear that this is really a political trip for the governor to strut his stuff in an election year."
Before departing Israel, Cuomo was taken to a Hamas tunnel. Cuomo spoke with reporters at the airport. "Our main goal was to come in and express unity and solidarity, and let them know that the people of New York and the people of the United States stood with them in this fight and I think we did that, and I think that was very warmly received. This is a country that is under siege, and it's good to know that you have friends."
It seems broadening that friendship is on the governor's to-do list: Cuomo mentioned holding a joint Economic Development Summit with Israel, but details have yet to be worked out.
Cuomo, whose state has the second-highest population of Jews behind Israel, commented on the breakneck pace of the trip, which he called "a fantastic success." Cuomo: "We have to get back to work, Jack, some of us have jobs, we have to get back." he added "We did everything that you could possibly do in Israel, except sleep"
The Daily News reports Cuomo laughed when asked at the airport if he was raising his profile for a potential 2016 presidential run. He said he was focused only on his re-election this year. Interviewed Sunday on Fox News, Cuomo sidestepped a similar question.