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Cuomo's speech criticized by some over unity theme

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before Nassau County Executive

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is sworn into office for his second term by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Feinman at Bethpage High School in Bethpage. (Jan 2, 2014) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State speech ended on a crescendo that said New Yorkers are united like never before, but poll data, advocates for the poor and some politicians point to a tale of two states.

"We are upstate, we are downstate, but we are one. We are Latino, we are African-American, but we are one," Cuomo said in a rallying cry that teed up his 2014 agenda and re-election campaign. "We're New York City and we are Buffalo, but we are one. We are Democrats and Republicans, but we are one. That is the promise of this great state. That is 'e pluribus unum,' out of many, one!"

Yet, in the latest statewide polls, advocates for the working poor and Republicans say New Yorkers are divided deeply by political party, and by region and race.

Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll called it a "tale of two states."

"Downstate is much more positive about the future of the state. . . . Also, there is a huge partisan divide," Greenberg said.

"Democrats are much more positive currently than they have been over the last few years," he said. "They are much more positive about the direction of the state than Republicans. Not surprisingly, independents are somewhere in the middle."

In his Jan. 8 State of the State address, Cuomo cited the responses of New Yorkers after recent disasters, including superstorm Sandy, as evidence of a diverse state that comes together in time of need.

But traditional divisions among upstate, downstate and suburban residents are deepening, leading to more strident partisanship, Greenberg, advocates and some politicians said.

The results of the latest Siena poll, taken in November, showed a statistical tie among New Yorkers overall over whether the state was headed in the right direction.

But most Democrats, most New York City voters and most black voters said the state was on the right track, while most Republicans, most upstaters and a plurality of white voters saw the state as being on the wrong track.

Despite a year of economic recovery, New Yorkers' overall outlook was more pessimistic than in January 2013, when 57 percent felt the state was on the right track.

Among those questioning the notion of "one New York" are the poor and middle class, said Mark Dunlea of the Hunger Action Network, a nonprofit that lobbies for the working poor in New York.

"Most people don't think that way these days," Dunlea said. He said the poor and working poor see good-paying, full-time jobs being replaced by part-time jobs while the cost of living rises.

Polling also reflects a striking split among voters on expected hot-button issues for 2014. They include Cuomo's long-delayed decision on whether to allow hydrofracking for natural gas upstate, which is opposed by his liberal base as unsafe, but supported by energy companies and some communities hungry for new revenues; his 2013 gun control laws, which are popular downstate but continue to generate protests upstate; and his renewed effort this session to pass his women's agenda, which was defeated last year over a provision that bolstered late-term abortion.

"We don't just have a tale of two cities in this state, we have a tale of different parts of this state," Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) said in his opening session speech on Jan. 13. "We see cranes going up in New York City, but we don't see cranes going up in Rochester. . . . Millions of residents disagree with some of the quote, progressive agenda."

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