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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Cuomo's crew seeks to show how so many get so much so wrong

Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, seeks to

Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, seeks to explain positions. Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

'Don't misunderstand us."

That seems to sum up the messages Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his top aides are sending this season as his various proposals and actions meet their expected doses of scrutiny and criticism.

The approach differs from Gov. Eliot Spitzer's political sermonizing or the undisciplined responses of the executive chamber under Gov. David A. Paterson. In the hard transactions of government business, Cuomo and company sound convinced that the key to devilish debate is in persuasively parsing the details.

One example is the executive's move to "privatize" the Long Island Power Authority, which has encountered a heap of skepticism. Past analysis suggested such a move would raise rates; specifically, a 2011 consulting report by the Brattle Group. But Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, said Lazard Ltd., the administration's adviser, found that it was "a flawed report" with "as many holes as Swiss cheese."

When ex-Transportation Department employee Mike Fayette asserted he'd faced dismissal for talking to the news media about repair work in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the department balked at commenting. As the story spread, Howard Glaser, state operations director, publicly detailed Fayette's flawed prior disciplinary record. Glaser then argued it was highly misleading to say the troubles that led to Fayette's retirement were about information control.

Stephanie Miner, Syracuse's Democratic mayor, chose different forums to oppose a pension proposal that Cuomo issued as a fiscal relief option for localities. She even called it a fiscal gimmick. On that one, Glaser replied that this was "not an accurate read of what we're proposing."

When Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli ventured to say that Cuomo's budget plan "pushes off some hard choices for another day," it was Robert Megna, the budget director, who called a telephone news conference to contest a critical report from DiNapoli's office. "We believe the comptroller's staff did him a disservice on some of the comments that were made in the report, which we think misrepresents or just totally gets wrong some of the things in the budget," Megna said.

One ally of the governor said of the latter two exchanges, "I don't see them as particularly new to public discourse. When you over-generalize something, details do get glossed over. We eventually iron out some of these details and in the legislature, pass stuff that most people are happy with."

Perhaps the most barbed and emotional debate in the anti-misunderstanding drive involves a Cuomo proposal that anti-abortion groups say could profoundly expand abortion rights in an unconstitutional way.

To that, Cuomo counsel Mylan Denerstein stated in a published commentary: "Opponents have misleadingly argued that the governor would create 'abortion on demand' because of the inclusion of a 'health exemption' of the mother. However, a health exemption is already the law of the land."

Denerstein also cited allegations that the proposal would expand who could perform the procedures as "another often-said mischaracterization by anti-choice opponents."

Just this week, Cuomo disputed what may have been seen as a misunderstanding that his upcoming campaign fundraising trips to Florida involved plans for the 2016 presidential race.

"Is it about New York or 2016? It is about the state of New York and my campaign in the state of New York," he told reporters. OK, but in Florida? "It's about the fundraising. There is potential fundraising for me in the state of Florida," he said.

Another misunderstanding dispelled, maybe.

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