New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo marches in the Little...

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo marches in the Little Neck - Douglaston Memorial Day Parade. (May 31, 2010) Credit: File / Charles Eckert

Long Islanders, gloomier than ever about Long Island's future, believe their hometown ex-congressman Rick Lazio would do a better job than Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on the issues most important to the region if he were elected governor - but they still prefer Cuomo by a wide margin, a Newsday/Siena Research Institute poll has found.

At a time when pessimism about both the Island and the state is starkly higher than just nine months ago, the 1,003 Nassau and Suffolk voters questioned earlier this month say Lazio, a Republican, is more likely to hold down property taxes - deemed the No. 1 problem here. But they told pollsters they believed Cuomo, a Democrat, would do a better job cleaning up the dysfunction in Albany. Cuomo leads Lazio here by 55 percent to 33 percent, with 11 percent undecided.

"When your government is so screwed up, you need leadership there," said retired West Islip schoolteacher Donald Annino. He once had Lazio as a student and regards him highly. But the state's dysfunction is the No. 1 issue in the 2010 election, Annino said. And as an Albany insider, Cuomo "has his foot in the door and is familiar with, let's say, the better buttons to push."

The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.


Voters angry with Albany

Frustration with Albany is reflected in the plurality who favor throwing out their incumbent state senators, and the staggering 79 percent who want to see a cap on property tax growth. But it's not clear how either the Democrats or the Republicans can benefit from this anger.

"I'm choosing between rotten tomatoes and rotten potatoes," explained Helene Lee of East Meadow, who said she's hoping to see tea party candidates on her ballot next fall.

Lazio does not seem to have gained much of a boost in the eyes of voters here since he entered the race a year ago; he is viewed favorably by 45 percent of respondents, a scant bump from the 43 percent who liked him in September. Moreover, those with a negative view of him have risen from 23 percent to 31 percent in the same time period. But Lazio's edge over Cuomo on property taxes and Long Island issues offers welcome handholds in a forbiddingly uphill race.

"If I were Rick Lazio, I'd want the state of New York to look like Long Island - then I would feel I had a chance," said Siena Research Institute director Donald Levy.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's run for governor does not appear to have benefited him in the public's eyes, either. The share of Long Island residents with a favorable opinion of him dropped from 52 percent to 47 percent, while the unfavorable share rose from 22 to 29 percent.

Sienna pollster Steven Greenberg believes Levy has plenty of time to shore up his support should he run for re-election.

Mangano largely unknown

More than six months into his first term, meanwhile, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, is still unknown by 42 percent of Nassau voters - the same share who have a favorable view of him.

President Barack Obama's popularity has sunk, with 49 percent holding a favorable view of him, down from 56 percent nine months ago.

And Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has scarcely made a dent in voters' esteem 16 months after being appointed to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is viewed favorably by 24 percent of voters, with 33 percent unfavorable and 43 percent who don't know or have no opinion.

Though senior Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer seems secure, with 54 percent ready to re-elect him, voters would rather see someone else in Gillibrand's job by 49 percent to 25 percent.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, bests his relatively unknown Republican challenger Harry Wilson by 45 to 25 percent, but there are still 29 percent who are undecided.

"Clearly there's a restlessness and a frustration on the part of the voters towards Albany that is unprecedented, no matter how you ask the question," said Marist pollster Lee Miringoff, who has polled on similar questions in New York and other states. " . . . But whether those numbers convert into vote choices, no one really knows."

Lee, the East Meadow voter, shares that uncertainty. "Right now, I feel like whoever's in, I'm going to vote out," she said. She does like her state senator, Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), because of his women's health work and the taxpayer workshops he hosts at the library.

"But he can't yell at Albany and say, 'Look, we have to get this stuff done,' " Lee said. "There just doesn't seem to be anybody interested in getting anything done up there."

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