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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose elected position makes him the top figure in the New York State Democratic Party, was asked Wednesday in Syracuse what he'd think if disgraced former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner were elected New York City mayor.
"Shame on us," he said.
Which sounds rational. But as soon as the remark got around, a key aide to the governor insisted the remark was "tongue in cheek . . . a quip . . . an off-the-cuff joke."
If it was a joke, its punch line remains a mystery.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo was asked in Buffalo his reaction to the Weiner candidacy.
"None," the governor said. "No reaction. Look, my face didn't move. No reaction."
As bits go, that one actually sounded a lot funnier than "shame on us."
For months, Cuomo has professed neutrality in the crowded mayoral race while political tea-leaf readers tried to guess how he may tilt. Candidate Bill Thompson served as co-chair of Cuomo's 2010 campaign. Candidate Bill de Blasio worked for U.S. Housing and Urban Development when Cuomo was its secretary. Candidate Joseph Lhota was his Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman.
This little kidding-or-not tempest arises just as Weiner tries to convince people his candidacy is something other than a joke, and as his rivals spin and strategize over how they'd be affected.
Bruce Gyory, a consultant to the Thompson campaign, is one of several analysts who say Weiner, for the moment, has a "high floor and a low ceiling" -- meaning he starts with a substantial 15 percent in public polling but won't be able to add much to that. Thompson has said publicly he welcomes Weiner to the race.
An ally of Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) expressed the view that Weiner's presence could help her, that he could draw support away from Public Advocate de Blasio.
Behind the scenes, an ally of Independence candidate Adolfo Carrion said just the opposite -- that with de Blasio collecting labor endorsements, he stands out as the "lefty" candidate while a new competitor makes a claim on more centrist Democratic votes.
An aide to one of the Republican mayoral campaigns said nobody really knows yet how Weiner's role may play out within the Democratic field. But, he said, it does make it easier to bash the Democratic contenders as "a bunch of characters" who can't be taken seriously.
Maybe Weiner's re-emergence makes it more difficult to tell the jokes from the straight lines.
Whatever his ultimate impact on the race, Weiner's entry into what is now a six-way primary contest this week makes the strategizing extra-complicated because a runoff is held between the two top finishers if no candidate gets 40 percent of the tally.
With a runoff now looking likely, each candidate tries to form a working theory of who may run first and second.