Cuomo deftly sidesteps easy pigeonholing

Governor Andrew Cuomo makes an announcement regarding superstorm

Governor Andrew Cuomo makes an announcement regarding superstorm Sandy recovery aid at Long Beach City Hall. (Dec. 16, 2012) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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Back in 2000, cartoonist G.B. Trudeau cast his irrepressibly cynical "Uncle Duke" character as a presidential candidate running on the slogan "Whatever It Takes."

This somehow sprang to mind in appraising the never-ending efforts of diverse observers, shills, and activists to pinpoint Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's location on the national left-to-right political spectrum -- and Cuomo's propensity to sidestep easy pigeonholing efforts.

Gay marriage in New York marked a win for cultural liberals. The early fiscal proposals of 2011 were applauded by Republicans to the point where the state GOP talked about Cuomo following Republican ideas. The matter of shale-gas drilling that poses industry against environmentalists? Still to be decided, prompting concerns from both sides about where Cuomo's going and when.

Left-of-center MSNBC host Chris Hayes drew a lot of blogosphere attention last month when he slammed Cuomo for his nonaggression approach to the Senate Republicans. He accused the governor of cutting the chances of enacting progressive legislation for the sake of his own image and expediency.

But the website of the right-of-center National Review last week prodded alarms elsewhere about Cuomo's on-air statement that "confiscation could be an option" when it comes to assault weapons -- as could permits or mandatory sale to the state.

Public-service unions sniped at Cuomo's drive last year for a newer, cheaper pension tier while they were prodded to agree to multiple contract years without wage hikes.

Just the same, Cuomo drew flak from conservative commentators for a big tax deal that didn't cancel all of a surcharge on top earners and for stopping short of trying to change a law that bars contract expirations.

"I'm a progressive who is broke," the governor has said.

Last year, some "Occupy Albany" protesters bashed Cuomo for allegedly holding the state's wealthy harmless amid a severe economic crisis. This year, groups such as East End Tea Party and the Suffolk 912 Project are voicing objections to Cuomo's "regional economic development councils." They claim a link to UN sustainable-development programs and a threat to local choices.

Cuomo has continually used the term "progressive" to describe his agenda, including items expected to be touted in his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 9.

On the national scene -- where the governor may or may not some day prove to be a candidate -- he has been a Clintonista. He served Bill Clinton's White House as housing secretary and, along with the state's other Democratic players, supported Hillary Clinton for president in the 2008 primary.

Much of the puzzling over the how-conservative-or-liberal label is reminiscent of his father's time in the spotlight. Gov. Mario Cuomo spoke of government with a "heart and a head," "progressive pragmatism" and "all the government we need but only the government we need."

Whatever his spectrum measurement is worth, this Democratic governor seems to land somewhere near the New York center. New York's political center, of course, will always be somewhere to the left of Alabama's, Arizona's, Wyoming's or Utah's.