Andrew Cuomo became a Democratic bright spot on a night of national losses Tuesday as he captured the governor’s office — a seat his father held for three terms and a brass ring that eluded him in an ill-fated first effort eight years ago.
Cuomo was declared the victor by the Associated Press literally as polls closed, a coronation nearly two years in the making — and undisturbed by an attempted challenge by gaffe-prone, self-destructing Buffalo developer Carl Paladino.
According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, Cuomo’s margin of victory was certain to be one of the ten biggest in state history. With 41 percent of the vote in, he had 60 percent, to Paladino’s 37 percent.
“The people have spoken tonight and they have been loud and clear,” said Cuomo, who has vowed to succeed where 2006 gubernatorial winner Eliot Spitzer failed, insisting he’ll grapple with the state’s notoriously intractable legislature without using “Steamroller” tactics.
Cuomo blasted Paladino and Republicans for tactics of “divide and conquer. They were trying to exploit the fear they were trying to exploit the anger. ... They tried to put wedges in the beautiful mosaic that is New York.
“They thought ... that they could take our diversity and make it a weakness,” he said.” But they can’t. My friends, they really didn’t know who they were talking to and who they were dealing with.”
Paladino, meanwhile, was unrepentant about his string of controversial comments, blaming the media throughout the day and saying, “You don't want the media noticing you ... it ain’t pretty and it sure ain’t fair.”
The GOP nominee, who had repeatedly said his call to take a "baseball bat to Albany" was "a metaphor," produced an orange-red bat and took pretend swings, warning Cuomo to listen to the voters and said,"Make no mistake, you have not heard the last of Carl Paladino."
Democrats also celebrated Sen. Chuck Schumer's easy win for a third term over Republican political strategist Jay Townsend. And appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand captured victory over former Rep. Joe DioGuardi in a race that was a special election to fill the unexpired term of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Other than Cuomo and the two U.S. Senate races, it was a tougher night for New York Democrats. The party's dominance of the state's congressional delegation suffered deep losses, reversing gains made during the anti-Iraq war, anti-Bush administration fever of 2006 and 2008.
Rep. John Hall, who captured a Republican-leaning seat in the 19th District in a sleeper race in 2006, was trounced by self-funder Nan Hayworth, conceding shortly before midnight. And in the 20th District, where Rep. Scott Murphy retained last year the GOP-tilting seat Gillibrand captured in 2006, the incumbent Democrat conceded to military man and first-time candidate Chris Gibson.
The 29th District seat once held by scandal-scarred Eric Massa, a Democrat who resigned in disgrace earlier this year amid a scandal about inappropriate touching of male staffers, was called for Republican Tom Reed late in the evening.
And shortly midnight, CNN called the 13th District — the seat once held by Vito Fossella — for former FBI agent Michael Grimm in a huge upset over Democratic Rep. Mike McMahon. However, McMahon had not conceded and it was unclear if the call would hold.
At least one other seat seemed set to flip to Republicans, and at least one other was on the brink, out of the 11 the GOP had put in play in a reliably blue state with the help of self-funders and outside groups pushing an infusion of late cash into targeted districts.
The mood at the Sheraton New York in Midtown, where Democrats held their election night bash, was cheerful but oddly subdued.
There was no ticket presentation -- Schumer, Gillibrand and Cuomo each spoke separately -- and the room emptied out before wins for Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General candidate Eric Schneiderman had been called.
Still, the night was infused with history, as Cuomo – who bowed out of his first race for governor in 2002 after a disastrous trail of missteps - officially captured his father’s old job 16 years after Mario Cuomo was defeated by George Pataki.
Cuomo spent the last eight years making amends for the 2002 run, in which he angered the state’s black establishment by challenging then-state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the highest black elected official at the time. He won the AG’s office in 2006 but was always believed to have his eye on the gubernatorial prize.
Cuomo was supposed to coast to victory against former Long Island congressman Rick Lazio. But the sleepy general election became an explosive tea party media bomb when Paladino captured victory in the GOP primary in September.
The GOP flamethrower had a two-week window in which he seemed like a viable candidate, who had captured with his “mad-as-hell” slogan a wave of voter anger – especially in upstate and Western New York, where voters have long resented the urban and suburban drivers of the state.
But he quickly self-immolated, telling POLITICO in an interview that Cuomo had had affairs while married that he had proof of – which he never produced – and getting into a viral-video confrontation with New York Post reporter Fred Dicker and threatening to “take (him) out.” At another point, he delivered a speech written for him by a virulently anti-gay Hasidic leader in which he condemned allowing children to be “brainwashed” into thinking homosexuality is a “valid” lifestyle.
Cuomo, for his own part, veered from one strategy to another but ultimately found his footing as Paladino wounded himself repeatedly. He angered black officials and labor unions by taking a largely centrist stand throughout much of the campaign, but his decisive margin of win will make it difficult for his detractors to challenge him, at least for a time.
On stage, Cuomo was joined by his three daughters with ex-wife Kerry Kennedy, his girlfriend Sandra Lee – of Food Network fame – and his parents, Mario and Matildo.
Cuomo, who long shuddered in his father’s shadow, exhibited a new ease with the relationship.
He said he was told throughout his travels around the state that his father “stands for principle and integrity and quality in government and how they missed that in Albany today.” He walked over and gave his dad a peck on the cheek.
Schumer spoke shortly after his race was called at 9 p.m., getting him off the stage before the polls closed in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was in a close fight (that he won, according to AP).
Gillibrand praised Hillary Rodham Clinton in her speech as her “inspiration” for getting into public service. Gillibrand, who was appointed to the seat when Clinton became U.S. Secretary of State, now faces another race in two years.
Gillibrand had been seen as a prime target for the New York Republican Party, but the committee, which has been wracked by infighting and unhappiness with state GOP chairman Ed Cox and executive director Tom Basile, was never able to field a strong nominee against her.
But the House losses cut deep into whatever bright spots the Democrats could take.
Rep. Mike Arcuri in the 24th District, a first-termer, lost to Richard Hanna. And Rep. Dan Maffei's race in the 25th was too close to call. Maffei faced a tough challenge from Ann Marie Buerkle, a former anti-abortion activist who was boosted by an infusion of cash from GOP groups like American Crossroads.
Of the party's two Long Islanders, Rep. Tim Bishop's reelection race in the 1st District is still too close to call, while Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in the 4th fended off her challenger.
In the 15th District, Rep. Charlie Rangel, despite his ethical woes, won as was widely predicted –- getting more than 80 percent of the vote in early returns against GOP Rev. Michael Faulkner.
In the 23rd District, a split ticket once again cost the GOP a victory after Democrats captured a win in a special election there last year. Rep. Bill Owens, the Democratic incumbent, managed to hold on because Doug Hoffman, the Conservative nominee who helped kick-start the tea party movement with his candidacy last year, took enough of the vote to prevent Republican Matt Doheny from winning.
Hoffman had dropped out after losing the GOP primary, but because of New York election law his name remained on the ballot, and he had enough of a die-hard conservative base that he snared a strong percentage of the vote.
The race in the 13th District, where McMahon won the seat in 2008 after GOPer Fossella left in disgrace, was a sleeper. McMahon had voted fairly conservatively and had hundreds of thousands of dollars more than rival Grimm.
AG candidate Schneiderman, meanwhile, had been the Democratic candidate Cuomo was said to be least interested in seeing replace him -- an ambitious liberal state Senator with ties to labor unions.
However, in the final days before the election, Cuomo strongly propelled Schneiderman, flying around the state with him and even criticizing his rival, Dan Donovan.