"Voters have had enough of Albany politicians winking at them while doing nothing to solve their problems," said Paterson campaign manager Richard Fife. "Since it's clear Mr. Cuomo is running for governor, it's time for him to stop ducking the hard questions of how he would close a $7.4-billion deficit, balance the budget and pass ethical and fiscal reforms."
Fife's broadside comes in the wake of a Daily News story, written by the paper's gossip columnist, that said Cuomo, who heretofore has said he is focused on seeking re-election as attorney general, would announce his candidacy for governor "at the end of March."
Cuomo's spokesman Sunday refused to confirm or deny the report.
"Attorney General Cuomo is focused on doing the best job he can for the state of New York," said spokesman John Milgrim. He did not respond to queries about the Paterson campaign's statement.
State and Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, a Paterson ally, said "it is a long time" before Cuomo and Paterson must decide whether they are candidates for governor. The first traditional test of statewide candidates' appeal is the straw poll at the annual Democratic Rural Conference, scheduled for April 30-May 1 in Niagara Falls.
"I think that people's decisions will all solidify after the budget work is done and then we'll see what happens," Jacobs said.
Cuomo's interest in running for governor has long been the worst-kept secret in state political circles. A Democratic primary challenge from Cuomo has loomed over Paterson since shortly after he ascended to the governor's office in March 2008, after Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned during a prostitution scandal.
The Daily News story comes after a week of renewed focus on whether and when Cuomo would enter the governor's race. Top labor leader Stuart Appelbaum on Wednesday called on Democrats to unite behind Cuomo and several Democratic county chairmen called for Cuomo to enter the race.
This as campaign finance reports released earlier this month showed Paterson has but $3 million in the bank - five times less than Cuomo's $16.1 million. Despite that and approval ratings that dipped into the 20s before recovering slightly, Paterson has always insisted he will seek re-election.
"Paterson understands that if he runs in a primary, he may lose," said a prominent Democrat. "His viewpoint is that there is certain honor in trying and losing and there is no honor in not trying."
Cuomo's presence in the race also affects the potential candidacy of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who is exploring a challenge to Paterson. Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman and a close Levy ally, called Cuomo "probably the most formidable candidate for governor."
"I don't know if [Levy] even gets into it if Cuomo is in it," Schaffer said.
Timeline of events for governor's race
April 30-May 1: Democratic Rural Conference meets in Niagara Falls and conducts a straw poll for candidates for statewide office.
September 14: Primary election
November 2: General election