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Cuomo said to seek support of conservative Latino clergy

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 19,

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has said there is "no place" in New York for conservatives opposed to abortion and gay marriage, reportedly has called state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), a conservative minister, to help secure support from conservative Latino clergy.

Michael Benjamin, a good-government advocate and a former Bronx assemblyman, quoted Diaz on Twitter as having said at a meeting of conservative ministers that "things are getting heated." Diaz said Cuomo had called him for support in the governor's race, said Benjamin, who Diaz confirmed was at the meeting Thursday.

In an interview later, Diaz wouldn't comment on what he called a "private conversation" with Cuomo.

"I won't deny it," Diaz said. "I'm not denying anything, I am not confirming anything. The governor and myself, as you know, have not been friends, so we are trying to start a relationship," said Diaz, who opposes abortion and gay marriage.

Cuomo had no comment.

The governor has railed against "extreme conservatives" in criticizing his opponent, Republican Rob Astorino, who is endorsed by the state Conservative Party. Astorino opposes abortion and gay marriage. But he says he wouldn't try to erode those rights as governor and accused Cuomo of using the issues to distract voters from the economy and corruption.

In a radio interview in January, Cuomo said extreme conservatives "have no place in the state of New York."

In his Sept. 10 campaign kickoff in Buffalo, Cuomo said, "That's what we're dealing with in November, a hyper-conservative mentality: against a woman's right to choose, against equality . . . those hyper-conservatives, you cannot participate [with] within a democracy."

After he was criticized nationally for the comments, Cuomo's aides said the governor meant there is no place for conservatives in statewide offices.

"Writing off anybody is a mistake," said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll and a longtime political observer.

But Carroll said the sharp rhetoric serves to energize Cuomo's more liberal supporters, after he had to fend off liberal challenges to win the Working Families Party endorsement in May and to win the Democratic primary this month.

"A lot of people in the polls say Astorino is a far-right conservative, which he's not," Carroll said. "So it's working."

Diaz said the evangelical ministers will soon meet with Astorino as well as Cuomo before any endorsement is considered.

Cuomo led Astorino 54-29 percent among likely voters in Wednesday's poll by Marist College with The Wall Street Journal and NBC 4 New York. That poll showed Cuomo had 64 percent of the "non-white" vote, although there was no breakdown for Latinos. But the poll also showed Cuomo matching his lowest approval rating, at 42 percent.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive, has sought the support of Latino and conservative clergy since he kicked off his campaign in the Bronx. He used fluent Spanish to say he was seeking support from voters unaccustomed to voting for a Republican.Astorino said he expects to earn the Latino vote.

"We proved we can do it in Westchester where we have a significant population -- 22 percent -- and we carried the majority of the Hispanic vote," Astorino said in an interview before attending a Latino event where he said he would be endorsed by salsa musician Willie Colon.

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