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Inside and outside: New Yorkers assess Cuomo at NYC rally

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference where he announced he will run for New York state governor. (May 22, 2010) Credit: AP

Chris Bastian and Erika Nijenhuis came from Brooklyn Heights to lower Manhattan on Saturday afternoon to see Attorney General Andrew Cuomo give his first public speech since announcing his candidacy for governor earlier in the day.

They were too late.

Shortly before the event started at 2:30 p.m., organizers closed off public access to the pathway that runs behind City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse, where Cuomo addressed a crowd of more than 100 supporters.

So Bastian and Nijenhuis, who are married and both registered Democrats, stood behind metal barricades and strained to listen for what they could hear.

"It would be interesting to see if he would be more effective than Spitzer because they come from the same background," said Nijenhuis, 49, referring to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a lawyer and Democrat who was elected governor after serving as state attorney general. "The dynamics are different, because now you have a completely dysfunctional Senate."

The two were not completely sold on Cuomo. Bastian, 50, a transportation planner, said he didn't know if Cuomo would have been his first choice as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

"Who else?" his wife, a lawyer, said.

"There aren't a lot of options," Bastian conceded.

Nijenhuis said that with Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) having a "iron lock on the Assembly," it wasn't clear that Cuomo could actually change anything.

"He has to create enough momentum that the Assembly has to go along," she said.

As Cuomo spoke about his vision of reforming New York, the number of people standing at the barricades grew to about 20.

The scenario within the barriers was different. Before the campaign event began, three volunteers stood by the barricades asking people who came up to them if they were there for the press conference - without mentioning what the news conference was about. Those who said no were turned away.

Inside, supporters waved signs emblazoned with the slogans "Clean up Albany: Make It Work" and "Andrew Works for Me."

As a reporter spoke to a supporter wearing a Cuomo button in front of the stage before the rally began, a campaign volunteer said that once the event started all reporters would have to move to a penned-in press area located behind the crowd.

Jim Houston, 54, a schoolteacher from Ramsey, N.J., who works in Rockland County, said he likes Cuomo's agenda and hopes that as governor he would help schools get the supplies they need.

"He knows politics and he knows law. Hopefully he can work in politics within the law," Houston said, referring to the fate of Spitzer, who resigned amid a prostitution scandal.

Houston, an independent, said his daughter is an intern in the campaign.

One supporter, asked why he was there, said that he works in the attorney general's office. He added that he was not being paid to be at the event.

Shortly before Cuomo took the stage, with rocker Bon Jovi's song "Work for the Working Man" blaring through the PA system, reporters were asked to move toward the press area.

Rob Gaeta, a financial analyst from TriBeCa, came to the event after hearing about it on the news, but didn't arrive in time to get past the barriers.

"I definitely think he'll do a great job. He's got the lineage and values to get done what we need done," said Gaeta, 41, referring to Cuomo being the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo. "He's shown that he's not influenced by the special interests, he's not afraid to do what's right and he's shown that in his ability to go after Wall Street and corruption."

As he finished speaking, Cuomo's voice came over the public-address system, talking about cleaning up politics. "He's just saying what I'm saying," Gaeta said.

A registered Democrat, Gaeta said Cuomo could "bring some hope back to this state."

"People have lost trust in government," he said. "People really want someone who's going to look after them, and he's the guy to do it."

Brenda Phillips, 51, also stood at the barricades, trying to hear the candidate's speech.

"I came to hear what he had to say, but they won't let me in," said Phillips, who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and is a customer service representative at a commercial bank. "New York is such a mess. I'm wondering what he's going to do about unemployment."

While disappointed that she couldn't get into the rally, she did not waver in her support of Cuomo.

"I love that family," Phillips said. She did not walk away empty-handed. When the rally ended, a supporter gave her a Cuomo poster.

The rally, blessed by a sunny spring day with a light breeze, had only one slight, unexpected interference. Microphones mysteriously picked up clapping, cheering and whistles coming from an area to the east, nearer the Brooklyn Bridge.

There, another rally celebrated what would have been the 80th birthday of Harvey Milk, the Woodmere native who moved from New York to California in the early 1970s and became the first openly gay politician elected to public office in that state. Milk, who won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and became an icon of the gay-rights movement, was assassinated in 1978 by another city supervisor who had resigned.

Maura McGurk, 39, a painter who lives on the Upper East Side, was an organizer of that rally. She said she hadn't known about Cuomo's event.

Asked what she thinks of the newly announced candidate for New York's governorship, she said, "I need to know a little more."

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