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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo's opening gambit aims for middle ground

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference where he announced he will run for New York state governor. (May 22, 2010) Credit: AP

Andrew Cuomo's opening tactic in the governor's campaign is clearly designed to stake out central turf on voter issues - and throw competing players off balance.

In a 22-minute announcement video, he starts off with "Wall Street gets bonuses and the taxpayers get the bill." Read into it, if you wish, a shot at bonus beneficiary Rick Lazio, GOP hopeful for governor.

Quickly Cuomo moves over to the corruptions of Albany, with its high taxes and low performance - a "national disgrace." That is ground, of course, his foes have sought to seize for themselves while waiting for the attorney general to declare his candidacy.

"Democrats and Republicans share the blame," Cuomo says. Which Democrats, you may or may not wonder. There have been questions whether a second Governor Cuomo might really prefer a Republican majority in the Senate.

With positions outlined, and details still to be inspected, there's much to read into in the addresses of the day for a general sense of the candidate. Soon after the bipartisan blame in the video, it moves on to a clip of the Declaration of Independence, with rhetoric that when the government fails, "the people have the obligation to act. . . . We want our government back."

Now we are edging into a message that has the ring of tea party chic, which at the moment seems the loudest chorus on the airwaves.

Saying "sometimes the answer is just no" - while signaling respect to public employees - Cuomo calls for a freeze on state taxes, a freeze on state workers' salaries, a cap on rising property taxes. He talks of collapsing 20 percent of agencies, and taking on still-to-be-named "powerful special interests."

Here he seems to overlap in tone with the explicit and popular fiscal-conservative planks of newly Republican rival Steve Levy. But while Cuomo too talks of a financial review board, he does not propose to invest it with the power to arbitrate cuts.

"I will not delegate my responsibility to make the tough, but essential decisions," he says. Later, Cuomo warns that "there will be those who seek to exploit our fears; voices of darkness and division. Don't let them divide us," he implores. Draw your own conclusions as to whom he means.

In his opening address, he gives his personal story of the past few years an always-appealing comeback theme. He talks of having run for governor in 2002 and lost, then cites "a very difficult time in my personal life," an allusion to his high-publicity divorce years ago. He hails friends and family and New Yorkers for giving him a second chance.

Lazio's prompt reply statement attempted to crack Cuomo's theme of we-the-people against the entrenched failing government.

None too subtly, given voters' mood, Lazio tries to frame the AG as an incumbent governor - claiming Cuomo "bears responsibility for the worst four years in the history of New York government." Lazio stretches the facts by calling Cuomo "a central figure in Albany for 30 years."

For his part, Levy says of the Cuomo fiscal proposals that seem to match Levy's previous ones: "It is important that voters remain cognizant of who has been the leader in advancing these ideas and has a proven record of implementing these concepts as an executive."

By using the "New New York," Cuomo employs, well, kind of an old, old slogan. The first Governor Cuomo, Mario, used it for a recession-time capital program in 1991, and Andrew Cuomo used it himself in 2002. But then again, the message has a best-of-the-old-and-new quality. Cutting things in different directions at the same time can be the challenge in an election.

Maybe the competition gets thrown off balance by Cuomo's broad approach as the campaign builds. The Democratic nominee-to-be clearly hopes so.

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