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Cross-endorsements loom for Cuomo, year after bid to change Wilson-Pakula

Last April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo moved to strip New York's political party leaders of a key legal power they had wielded for 66 years -- the authority to let a nonmember run as the party's candidate for an elected office.

But the proposal quickly died. Lawmakers were uninterested in the measure, which was prompted by stunning federal charges that Republican officials were willing to sell cross-endorsements for cash to a New York City mayoral hopeful, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D, WF-Jamaica).

Now, with life going on as before, Cuomo, New York's top Democrat, prepares a re-election run. Insiders expect he'll have the Independence Party and Working Families Party ballot lines in November -- via the same Wilson-Pakula law that has governed cross-endorsements since 1947.

State and Suffolk Independence chairman Frank MacKay supported Cuomo's casino-gambling proposal, and other policies, and is considered likely to back him later this year as he did in 2010.

The union-backed, leftier-leaning Working Families group poses a trickier scenario. Last time, Cuomo put off accepting the line, citing a federal investigation, but took the endorsement, after party leaders said they'd back his agenda, including public-employee wage freezes and the property tax cap.

These rival minor parties shared -- and still share -- a practical incentive to back Cuomo. By law they each need 50,000 votes for governor to keep automatic ballot status for four years. Still, there's chatter within the WFP about nominating party executive director Dan Cantor; Cuomo allies doubt they'll take the risk.

Cuomo and the party have had notably discordant moments. One WFP player, Communication Workers Local 1180 president Arthur Cheliotes, a backer of Mayor Bill de Blasio, said recently on taxing the wealthy that Cuomo would "have to decide if he's a governor of all the people or just the rich people." And in 2011, Cantor urged Cuomo -- to no effect -- to return contributions from billionaire Charles Koch, who funds anti-union causes. They also differed over "Occupy Albany."

For GOP Westchester Executive Rob Astorino, who's expected to challenge Cuomo, one cross-endorsement seems assured. State Conservative Party chairman Michael Long noted Friday, "I've said, if Astorino announces, I thought the party would rally around him." Was Cuomo's bill, now all but forgotten, a baring of teeth? Still empowered, Long said: "Just a growl."

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