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AG Cuomo announces run for governor

Andrew Cuomo is seen in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
May 23, 2010 6:08:54 AM PDT
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo declared Saturday he is running for governor of the state once led by his iconic father, after a coy stealth candidacy smiled upon by the White House and conducted as he burnished a national reputation as a fighter of corruption. The Democrat announced his long-anticipated campaign online early in the day, then delivered a speech in the afternoon outside a courthouse in Manhattan named after "Boss" Tweed, a figure from New York City's most corrupt days a century ago.

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"The chronic dysfunction of Albany metastasized into the corruption of Albany ... and it was a bipartisan affliction," said the 52-year-old son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo. "Albany's antics today could make Boss Tweed blush."

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The formal announcement comes months after a member of President Barack Obama's administration sought to have a struggling Gov. David Paterson not seek election to the seat he gained by default, indicating a preference for Cuomo.

The intent was to install a solid candidate at the top of the ticket to maintain New York as a Democratic stronghold. This fall, every state office and both U.S. Senate seats are up for election, including the long-perceived weak candidacy of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed by Paterson.

The announcement, for many Democrats, also marks the resurgence of New York politically because it again has a potential presidential candidate in play in Cuomo. Cuomo has already built a national profile by taking on Wall Street excesses and conflicts of interest in the student loan industry.

"New York Democrats will see an opportunity in Andrew Cuomo to elect a governor they are hoping will help turn the state around," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll, which tracks voter sentiment.

Cuomo's unusual choice of a video announcement on a Saturday, after refusing for months to confirm a campaign was under way, was intended to have two primary effects. One was to get out a detailed message on what Cuomo plans to do, not just broad campaign speech rhetoric, according to an official in the campaign who was not authorized to talk about strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The choice of Saturday morning was an attempt to keep the announcement focused on what Cuomo will do for New Yorkers, rather than the political glitz planned for the state nominating convention next week, the official said. It also gets the message into Sunday newspapers nationwide, and Cuomo has continued to work often with print media even in a day of blogs and online news, according to the official.

"We didn't want to do it on the eve of the convention," the campaign official said. "We are focused on dealing with New York's problems."

Cuomo enters the race with much higher popularity and name recognition than several Republicans seeking the GOP nomination, and is far ahead in fundraising.

Amid the fiscal crisis hitting every state, Cuomo says, New York must reduce the size of government, establish independent ethical oversight "because self-policing is an oxymoron," and reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests by limiting campaign contribution limits.

"It's time for the people of the Empire State to strike back," Cuomo said Saturday.

He is calling for a $3,000 tax credit for companies that hire unemployed New Yorkers. He refers to public education as a new civil right that includes charter schools, and says immigration and racial diversity must be seen as a state's strength.

But his effort to run as an outsider to reform Albany will have to overcome some skepticism in New York, where he and his father have been major players in politics for three decades.

In his early days in the public eye, Andrew Cuomo was the ruthless 20-something "Prince of Darkness" campaign commando from his father's three runs for governor - the kid who was part of a law firm questioned in the 1980s for using political influence with the new governor to attract clients. It helped him be named to the "Cuomo Sleaze Team" in The Village Voice.

Later, he was the housing secretary who was part of the Clinton White House's role in pushing questionable mortgages that some say contributed to the subprime mortgage crisis. And he was the 2002 candidate for governor who ridiculed then-Gov. George Pataki as New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's coat holder after the 9/11 attacks - an offhand remark that cost him support, even among Democrats.

For nearly 30 of his 52 years, Cuomo was the elbows-out enforcer for his father, himself a driven, micromanaging politician who leveled opponents and left them cursing in his wake. Andrew, the old line went, was "just like Mario, but without the charm."

In four years, however, Cuomo turned from brash to learned, liberal to pragmatic, political to proven. At least that's what New Yorkers will see next week at his coronation by a party that adhered to his schedule to announce his candidacy, while keeping the stage clear for his entrance. Yet some in New York politics who have known or feared Cuomo for three decades wonder, quietly, if a leopard can really change its spots.

Cuomo faces Republicans Rick Lazio, a former congressman from Long Island; Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive who switched from the Democratic Party for the campaign, also from Long Island; and Carl Paladino, a Buffalo developer aligned with tea party activists. There are no other announced Democratic contenders for the nomination. If any of the Republicans don't win party endorsement, they could still run on other party lines.

The Lazio and Paladino campaigns reacted to Cuomo's announcement by questioning his sincerity, while Levy said Cuomo should detail his plans for reviving New York.

As attorney general, Cuomo and his public integrity unit have brought several cases against New Yorkers he accused of improperly collecting pensions and misappropriating government funds. The biggest pending case now is against Pedro Espada Jr., the Senate majority leader and a Bronx Democrat.

He is divorced from Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. They have three daughters. He has been dating Sandra Lee, a Food Network TV host, for five years.


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