Cuomo has tough road, but payoff could be big

Then-New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo speaks at Then-New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in Saratoga Springs. (Oct. 30, 2010) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Still basking in the glow of his landslide victory, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo faces a potential "expectations gap" as he rolls out tough measures to solve the state's fiscal crisis that could anger some past supporters and hurt his long-term popularity, political experts say.

Cuomo's close-to-the-vest campaign strategy and the well-publicized antics of his GOP opponent Carl Paladino prevented much campaign debate about the state's looming $9-billion budget deficit next year and other politically sensitive matters, they say. But he takes office Saturday and if he's successful in tackling New York's problems, Cuomo - though the son of one of America's best-known liberals, Mario Cuomo - could cast himself as a fiscally conservative Democrat well positioned for a possible White House run someday.

 

No 'free ride'

"I doubt he'll get a free ride or a honeymoon because the expectations are very high for him," said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, noting Cuomo's high voter approval ratings. "The campaign didn't force his hand in any significant way. However, he does have a significant set of public expectations that he'll do something with the problems in Albany, with the budget and economy."

If Cuomo gains a reputation as a tough decision-maker like New Jersey's new Republican Gov. Chris Christie, there could be some long-term benefits for him despite the short-term political pain.

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"I believe if Andrew Cuomo brings in a capping of real property taxes, if he stops the raising of state taxes and starts the prudent reform that is necessary - pension reform, etc. - that he can make a national reputation for himself," former GOP Sen. Alfonse D'Amato said in a video interview for "Campaign Season," a joint Newsday/News 12 Long Island documentary. The film, about the 2010 governor's race, airs this weekend.

 

Popularity could suffer

State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said Cuomo understands a loss of some popularity might be the cost of good government.

"Andrew Cuomo's challenge is to convince the various interest groups that today's pain will yield tomorrow's gain, and a lot of people will have ruffled feathers," Jacobs said. "I don't see how it's possible to confront these problems and not have a softening of his popularity."

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Some critics said Cuomo did not provide enough details during the campaign about his plans, including what he would do about Medicaid costs, escalating state college tuitions and the long-term expenses of the state pension system.

Cuomo aides point to his 252-page campaign booklet that they say will serve as a template for governing. It calls for a one-year freeze on state employee salaries, no state income or sales tax increases, a 20 percent reduction in the number of state agencies and a 2-percent cap on property tax hikes.

"We didn't demonize anyone - the whole campaign was about building a coalition to govern," said a Cuomo aide who asked not be named. The aide said Cuomo deliberately campaigned with state legislators to build support for his agenda, but that the new governor considers talk of ambitions for a higher office someday to be "delusional" at this point. Cuomo was unavailable for an interview for this story.

Cuomo's popularity with labor, a traditional Democratic mainstay, may be the first to suffer. Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the state Civil Service Employees Association, says its 70,000 state employees don't want Cuomo to boost his national reputation at their expense,

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"For whatever reason, he thinks it's to his political advantage to move to the right in his rhetoric," Madarasz said. He noted that the CSEA, which endorsed Cuomo's 2006 state Attorney General bid, didn't support Cuomo this time because of his budget proposals.

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Ken Brynien, president of the New York State Public Employees Federation, which supported Cuomo for governor, said he was "surprised" by Cuomo's intention to use leftover campaign funds to fight union opponents. "It's hard to get people to buy into something when you're threatening them," Brynien said.

But D'Amato, once the state's top Republican and a supporter of Cuomo for governor, said Cuomo's future could be bright if he fixes New York's finances. "I don't think the days of more government spending are . . . being embraced even by Democrats today," D'Amato said. "They recognize that there is a limit - and that we've hit that limit."

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