After years of strategizing and months of stalling, the long anticipated Cuomo campaign is official.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's announced his campaign for governor in a video message (scroll down to watch) detailing his "New NY Agenda" for comprehensive ethics, fiscal and government reform. The Democrat then delivered a speech in the afternoon outside The Tweed Courthouse, the building named after "Boss" Tweed, a figure from New York City's most corrupt days a century ago.
"The chronic dysfunction of Albany metastasized into the corruption of Albany ... and it was a bipartisan affliction," said the 52-year-old son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo. "Albany's antics today could make Boss Tweed blush."
The announcement comes as New York Democrats head into their nominating convention in Rye next Tuesday. Cuomo stalled about as long as possible, postponing his campaign announcement several times in recent months. The delay has brought him both criticism and praise.
"If you want to get into the big leagues, you have to come out and say where you stand on these issues," said Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, a former Democrat who hopes to be Cuomo's Republican challenger. "You have to stop speaking through unnamed sources, as Mr. Cuomo is doing, and subject yourself to the tough questions."
Cuomo has managed to avoid many of those tough questions, for instance, about how to close the State's massive budget deficit. And he's been able to appear above the political fray, while using his Attorney General role to go after alleged corruption in Albany, most notably building high profile alleged corruption cases involving State Senator Pedro Espada Jr, and the New York State Pension Fund.
"You have the Attorney General running a rose garden strategy in the biggest swamp in America," says Democratic political strategist Dan Gerstein. "Andrew's done a lot of very smart things in terms of immunizing himself from Albany and painting himself as above the fray, as an advocate for the public interest and it's paid off. He's managed to really shorten and compress the campaign."
Cuomo was also initially at the helm of the investigation into whether Governor David Paterson tried to help cover up domestic violence allegations involving a senior aide. Critics urged Cuomo to recuse himself from the Paterson probe. At the time, Paterson was still seeking reelection. But in the ensuing weeks, Paterson dropped his campaign, clearing the Democratic field for Cuomo. And Cuomo ultimately decided to hand the investigation off to independent counsel Judith Kaye.
Political observers say Cuomo will undoubtedly benefit from the crowded four-way contest on the Republican side.
"I don't think anybody has had this kind of opportunity to kind of walk into the governorship," says former State Comptroller Carl McCall, who faced an unsuccessful challenge from Cuomo in the 2002 Democratic Primary for Governor. "The Republicans are in disarray. He has a very clear path."
That 2002 campaign was considered to be disastrous for Cuomo. In part, because he angered members of the African American political establishment who believed it was McCall's turn to run. Eight years later, having been elected to statewide office in 2006, Democrats agree Cuomo is much better prepared. Many assume he's getting sound advice from his father Mario, who was elected governor in 1982.
Early polls show Cuomo with a comfortable lead over all of his potential Republican rivals. And with his campaign finally about to be official, the gloves are coming off. Republican Rick Lazio aimed at Cuomo Thursday with his strongest personal attack to date. Referring to Cuomo's character, Lazio described "that sense of avarice and narcissism -- of worrying about your own personal ambition as opposed to doing the right thing for the people of the State of New York."
The Cuomo campaign issued its usual "no comment" on Lazio's broadside. But that strategy is about to change very soon.
Cuomo is expected to make several public official campaign appearances over the weekend, including marching in the Salute to Israel Parade on Sunday.
Cuomo's unusual choice of a video announcement on a Saturday, after refusing for months to confirm a campaign was under way, was intended to have two primary effects. One was to get out a detailed message on what Cuomo plans to do, not just broad campaign speech rhetoric, according to an official in the campaign who was not authorized to talk about strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The choice of Saturday morning was an attempt to keep the announcement focused on what Cuomo will do for New Yorkers, rather than the political glitz planned for the state nominating convention next week, the official said. It also gets the message into Sunday newspapers nationwide, and Cuomo has continued to work often with print media even in a day of blogs and online news, according to the official.
"We didn't want to do it on the eve of the convention," the campaign official said. "We are focused on dealing with New York's problems."
Cuomo enters the race with much higher popularity and name recognition than several Republicans seeking the GOP nomination, and is far ahead in fundraising.
Amid the fiscal crisis hitting every state, Cuomo says, New York must reduce the size of government, establish independent ethical oversight "because self-policing is an oxymoron," and reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests by limiting campaign contribution limits.
"It's time for the people of the Empire State to strike back," Cuomo said Saturday.
He is calling for a $3,000 tax credit for companies that hire unemployed New Yorkers. He refers to public education as a new civil right that includes charter schools, and says immigration and racial diversity must be seen as a state's strength.
But his effort to run as an outsider to reform Albany will have to overcome some skepticism in New York, where he and his father have been major players in politics for three decades.
In his early days in the public eye, Andrew Cuomo was the ruthless 20-something "Prince of Darkness" campaign commando from his father's three runs for governor — the kid who was part of a law firm questioned in the 1980s for using political influence with the new governor to attract clients. It helped him be named to the "Cuomo Sleaze Team" in The Village Voice.
Later, he was the housing secretary who was part of the Clinton White House's role in pushing questionable mortgages that some say contributed to the subprime mortgage crisis. And he was the 2002 candidate for governor who ridiculed then-Gov. George Pataki as New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's coat holder after the 9/11 attacks — an offhand remark that cost him support, even among Democrats.
For nearly 30 of his 52 years, Cuomo was the elbows-out enforcer for his father, himself a driven, micromanaging politician who leveled opponents and left them cursing in his wake. Andrew, the old line went, was "just like Mario, but without the charm."
In four years, however, Cuomo turned from brash to learned, liberal to pragmatic, political to proven. At least that's what New Yorkers will see next week at his coronation by a party that adhered to his schedule to announce his candidacy, while keeping the stage clear for his entrance. Yet some in New York politics who have known or feared Cuomo for three decades wonder, quietly, if a leopard can really change its spots.