New venue for Cuomo's State of State speech

Andrew Cuomo gives his victory speech on election

Andrew Cuomo gives his victory speech on election night in November. (Credit: AP )

ALBANY - Hoping to spur public involvement in state government, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo announced plans Wednesday to deliver the State of the State speech in the convention center here so 1,000 residents can attend.

The Jan. 5 address, which kicks off the legislative session each year, usually takes place in the ornate Assembly chamber before lawmakers, state officials, past governors and lobbyists. The public is excluded because of space constraints.

Cuomo also announced that leaders of the legislative majorities - State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) - will address the convention center crowd. Both moves are believed to be the first in state history.

"The change in setting is a metaphor for the change we must undergo as a state," Cuomo said. "We must reconnect with the people and rebuild a relationship of trust."

Besides closing a budget deficit of more than $9 billion, Cuomo has said his greatest challenge will be getting residents to believe in Albany again and to see its actions improving their lives.

Tickets to the speech, which Cuomo is calling a "Message to the People," will be distributed by lottery. The convention center holds 2,500 people compared with the Assembly chamber's 900.

However, the Assembly chamber has served as the backdrop for State of the State speeches since 1923 when Gov. Alfred E. Smith decided to deliver his remarks in person, several historians said. Previously, written copies were distributed to lawmakers, but the governor gave no oration.

Governors use the State of the State to outline their policy initiatives for the coming year. It mirrors the president's State of the Union address.

Cuomo decided to change the speech venue after learning from Silver that the anticipated crowd would far exceed the size of the Assembly chamber. Cuomo denied he was trying to slight the lower chamber, whose Democratic majority is seen as opposing some of his ideas, including a property tax cap.

Skelos, through an aide, said he would use his speaking time to call for the tax cap, a balanced budget, reductions in state spending and taxes, creation of private-sector jobs and restoring public confidence in Albany. Silver declined to comment.

Cuomo's moves were welcomed locally, particularly the speaking role for Skelos. "He's showing he's looking to do things differently," said Kevin Law of the Long Island Association business group who has attended eight State of the State speeches. "He's saying to the legislature . . . 'we have to work together to solve the state's problems.' "

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