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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo's risky ownership of prison-break response

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Governor

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, left, listen during a news conference in front of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., June 10, 2015, where David Sweat and Richard Matt, escaped using power tools. Credit: AP

Hours after two convicted killers pulled off a stunning escape from the maximum-security cells at Dannemora, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had his public-emergency adrenaline pumping.

The public got to see it in photos of the governor clambering around the pipes and other fixtures of the Clinton Correctional Facility, where Richard Matt and David Sweat had plotted, sliced, slithered and climbed their way to wherever. Cuomo led news conferences at the scene. He did a series of news shows. He theorized about the once-in-a-lifetime break.

Nearly two weeks later, with the perilous pair still in the wind, Cuomo has come to politically own the emergency. Perhaps any governor might have. But by visibly leaping to the forefront, he waived the distance between himself and his correction commissioner, Anthony Annucci, and for that matter everyone else down the bureaucratic ladder to the front-line staff.

Owning a crisis as it still unfolds is inherently risky. Whatever fate awaits these runaways, an accounting looms for his state prison system. On Monday, the governor ordered a "thorough investigation to determine all factors potentially involved." From outside the administration, you'd expect lawmakers and others to hold their own inquiries.

The administration will seek to draw a line on where official blame for the breakout should stop and start -- that is, how high up the chain of command.

By now, we have seen Cuomo steer a jarring path through other emergency responses, with his foot mashed down on the gas pedal.

Last fall, when an Ebola case in New York raised alarms, he seemed to thrust New York City officials out of the way and closed ranks with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, imposing a quarantine policy that Cuomo just as quickly appeared to soften. In 2012, superstorm Sandy put the governor center-stage, where he read the riot act to the Long Island Power Authority and did a two-step on responding to a gasoline shortage in the aftermath of the wreckage.

Big news stories seem to keep bringing us photos of Cuomo in tunnels.

After Sandy, he toured the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Before last year's elections, Israeli officials ushered Cuomo and then-legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver through Gaza tunnels for some mutual photo-opportunism.

As for Dannemora, critics who refused to be named privately blasted Cuomo's on-the-scene optics, suggesting he was getting in the way or favoring one law-enforcement agency over another or distracting from Albany where legislative stasis was setting in. Others blamed staffing levels.

Citing Cuomo's feel for tooling with muscle cars, one GOP consultant who declined to be identified said: "He thinks everything is a 1962 Ford that he can fix by getting under the hood."

Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, said: "He's a hands-on governor in everything he does," dismissing criticism of his role as "willfully disingenuous and silly."

Hank Sheinkopf, a Cuomo consultant in last year's campaign, noted the governor's presence for other crises and said, "It's smart because it shows he's in charge and running the government."

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