New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo headed to California for fundraising. A sign of presidential ambitions?

Fueling speculation about a possible presidential run, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will travel to California for fundraisers Tuesday with lawyers, financiers and entertainment industry leaders, according to sources familiar with the events.

The two-term governor, expected to run for a third in 2018, will start with a breakfast at a law firm in San Francisco, which Giants president Larry Baer will attend.

In the evening Cuomo will head to Beverly Hills for a reception with Hollywood executives at the home of Laura and Jeff Shell, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman. The Motion Picture Assn. of America organized the event.

Among those expected to attend are DreamWorks cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg, CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves and Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger.

Tickets for the two events range in cost from $1,000 to $50,000, according to a Cuomo advisor. Cuomo’s office did not respond to telephone and email inquiries for comment.

The trip is not the first to California for the Democratic governor, who has previously established ties to the entertainment world. Nor is it necessarily a sign of national aspirations. One member of the organizing committee for the Los Angeles event said the motive behind it was, in part, to maintain New York City’s favorable tax credits.

But the trip is nonetheless heightening interest as Cuomo — who until recently rarely traveled out of state and avoided any speculation about presidential ambitions — appears to be elevating his national profile.

Cuomo has made pointed remarks challenging the policies of the Trump administration, though not usually calling out the president by name, while also venturing farther from New York.

In May, following a wave of anti-Semitic acts, he traveled to Israel to show support for the Jewish community. In September he visited Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assess hurricane damage.

A few days later he spoke in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Transport Workers Union of America, which could provide crucial labor support in a potentially crowded Democratic primary.

“There is a buzz out there,” said Ken Sunshine, a public relations consultant and friend of Cuomo.

Sunshine said he had “no idea” whether Cuomo is planning a presidential campaign but thinks he would be a strong contender.

“I can’t think of anybody potentially who could take on Trump than a much better qualified, tough New Yorker — and a really tough New Yorker, in the best sense of that word,” Sunshine said.

Cuomo, like California Gov. Jerry Brown, is the son of a giant in state politics who believed in activist government. His father, Mario Cuomo, served three terms as governor, and died in 2015. Prior to assuming the post his father held from 1983 to 1994, Cuomo served as New York attorney general and, before that, secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton.

He has had notable progressive achievements as governor — including legalizing same-sex marriage, instituting a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, and aggressively regulating gun sales despite a strong pro-gun base in upstate New York.

“He can point to a record of accomplishment that few elected officials can anywhere,” Sunshine said.

But Cuomo’s tenure has also been marred by open feuding with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over taxes on the wealthy, public education, repairs to the city’s beleaguered subway system, and even the fate of a white-tailed deer captured in Harlem.

And some on the left of the political spectrum view Cuomo as a moderate who may have a hard time convincing Democratic primary voters of his liberal bona fides.

“The governor has passed some important legislation, but his alliance with the Senate Republicans has fundamentally undermined our ability to make New York a progressive leader in many critical areas,” said Bill Lipton, New York state director of the Working Families Party, which has had a tense relationship with Cuomo.

Lipton cited climate change, criminal justice reform, housing and inequity in public education as areas where Cuomo could do more.

State campaign finance records show Cuomo has already amassed a considerable war chest for 2018, with more than $25 million in the bank as of July.

Under federal campaign finance law, funds raised for a state campaign cannot be transferred to federal campaigns, but unused contributions may be refunded and then re-solicited for use in a federal election.

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

Twitter: @AgrawalNina

Times staff writer Meg James in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°