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Cuomo faces tough job as New York governor

Andrew Cuomo speaks after winning the New York

Andrew Cuomo speaks after winning the New York State gubernatorial race in New York, N.Y. (Nov. 2, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY - In celebrating his decisive gubernatorial victory, Democrat Andrew Cuomo promised last night to overhaul state government and fix New York's severe financial problems.

"The people have spoken tonight and they have been loud and clear . . . What they are saying today is they want reform and they want that government in Albany changed - and that's what they are going to get," Cuomo told a roaring crowd in a hotel ballroom in Manhattan after defeating Republican Carl Paladino.

"The mandate tonight is to clean up Albany and to have elected officials who represent the people of this state and not the special interests and not the lobbyists," he continued.

Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, acknowledged that he must assemble a government and refine his policy proposals before the Jan. 1 inauguration. He identified the major problems, from a large budget deficit and anemic economic recovery to the lost of public confidence.

But Cuomo struck a hopeful tone, saying if residents are united all problems can be solved. "Yes, we have challenges. Yes, we have to clean up Albany. Yes, we have to get the economy running. Yes, we have to rebuild trust with the people," he said. "We are going to do all of that because we've faced worse than this before . . . We're going to be united. That's what made this state this state."

Experts said Cuomo must quickly assert his authority, particularly with the legislature, and through a handful of big initiatives show that government can remedy everyday problems, such as high property taxes. His victory provides momentum but probably only through early next year, experts said.

Cuomo's biggest challenge will be closing next year's budget deficit, which according to a report released Tuesday by Gov. David A. Paterson's budget office, totals $9 billion, an increase of $850 million since August.

Cuomo has vowed not to raise taxes, to cap state spending and to institute a one-year freeze on the salaries of state employees. He also wants to reduce costs by retooling Medicaid and consolidating agencies.

However, these initiatives require cooperation from the legislature, which historically has been supportive of unions representing state workers, teachers and health care workers. "Putting a clear agenda in front of voters gives a chief executive a lot of political capital, but does not guarantee he gets what he wants," said Robert B. Ward of SUNY's Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Ward and others said the new governor must win over voters, and therefore lawmakers, by persuading them that vital services can only be preserved in the long run by tackling the current imbalance between state revenue and spending.

William T. Cunningham, an adviser to Govs. Mario Cuomo and Hugh Carey, said the younger Cuomo wisely reminded state employee unions how cooperation among labor, business and government helped New York City avert bankruptcy in the mid-1970s. With contracts expiring in 2011, he must win concessions to help close the deficit.

"There will be no honeymoon from work for the new governor," Cunningham said. "But I believe there will be a honeymoon with his legislative colleagues, at least for the first few months, because the deficit is huge and the public is angry about state government."

Richard Iannuzzi, who heads the powerful New York State United Teachers union, said he was looking forward to "rolling up our sleeves" and negotiating with Cuomo, whose proposals have put him at odds with the teachers union and did not win their endorsement.

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