RYE BROOK — ▶ Attorney general accepts Democratic nomination for governor
Andrew Cuomo took on a Democrat-controlled state government that's become a national embarrassment and a Republican Party gunning for him as he took a big step Thursday toward winning the governor's job once held by his father and Democratic icon, Mario Cuomo.
Accepting his party's nomination, Cuomo mixed liberal Democratic themes like support for gay marriage, embracing immigrants, and protecting abortion rights with Republican principles like capping property tax increases, reducing state spending and shrinking government. He also said that "New Yorkers can't afford a tax increase at this time."
"We believe in E pluribus unum: In many, one," Cuomo said. "That idea made this state the greatest state in the nation and it will once again."
Cuomo took slaps at his Democratic colleagues in Albany, where a national reputation for dysfunction, gridlock and ethical scandal has been cemented over the last four years, even as a fiscal crisis threatened the state's solvency.
"People are hurting," he said. "The state government that was supposed to be part of the solution was part of the problem."
He had most of the Democratic delegates on their feet cheering as he avoided dwelling on some of his thornier proposals, including support for charter schools that compete with traditional public schools and the need to cut state spending supported by special interests like organized labor.
"I saw a lot of references to change and references to restoring New York," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll who attended Cuomo's nomination. "Given the overwhelming feeling of people right now that the state is headed in the wrong direction, it's an obvious message for him to try to capitalize on."
A Siena College poll released Monday found 72 percent of New Yorkers feel the state is headed in the wrong direction, despite some signs of economic recovery. At the same time, the poll gave Cuomo a 67 percent approval rating for the job he's done as the state's attorney general, extraordinarily high, especially in a time of voter anger at incumbents.
Republicans will try to capitalize on that anger, which led to losses for scores of incumbents in New York elections last fall, almost all of them Democrats.
State Republican Chairman Ed Cox went on the attack Thursday, saying Cuomo made "naive regulations" as federal housing secretary under President Bill Clinton that led to the collapse of mortgage markets and a national recession. Cuomo and several business publications dispute claims he's to blame for the housing crisis.
Cox also said that when he ran for attorney general, Cuomo "said he was going to clean up Albany. Well, the sheriff of Albany went then to the jail house, put his feet up on the desk, and closed his eyes to the culture of corruption that has afflicted Albany over the past three-and-a-half years."
He was referring Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Democrats who resigned in disgrace after scandals, and three Senate Democratic leaders now under investigation. Cox didn't mention this year's corruption conviction of longtime Republican Senate leader Joseph Bruno.
Cox said Cuomo only acted on investigations after the cases were revealed in newspapers. He said Cuomo is incapable of fixing the state's fiscal crisis, including the $9.2 billion deficit in a $130 billion state budget that is nearly two months late amid gridlocked negotiations.
"Andrew Cuomo now says, 'I'm a fiscal conservative,'" Cox said, in announcing his website, www.PrinceAndrewWatch.com. "Well, he's been a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat during his entire career."
Greenberg agreed Republicans have plenty of time to make their case and potentially chip away at Cuomo's lead in the polls, now three times that of his Republican opponents.
Republican Gov. George Pataki had similarly low name recognition and public support but went on to beat Mario Cuomo in 1994.
Andrew Cuomo will face one of several Republican candidates, including former congressman Rick Lazio, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, who is associated with the GOP's tea party movement.
Cox tried to dismiss reports that his favored candidate for governor, Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy, was losing support. A Queens Republican leader jumped Wednesday from Levy to newly announced GOP candidate, Meyers Mermel, a finance consultant.
Cox said Levy and Lazio each have between 40 percent and 49 percent of the support of Republican delegates at this time. The convention begins Tuesday in Manhattan.
"This is a Republican year," Cox said. "The Democrat gang has driven New York state into this fiscal ditch of bankruptcy."