Friday, May 21, 2010

The Age of Andrew

Cuomo Would Pick Ticket,

Seeks Pledges for Reform

By Henry J. Stern
May 21, 2010

Although Andrew Cuomo has not yet announced his candidacy for governor, he has already moved to shape the Democratic ticket and secure commitments from candidates for the Legislature to support his program.

His activity is described in a comprehensive article in today's Times by Nicholas Confessore, appearing on pA20, headed BEHIND SCENES, CUOMO TRIES TO INFLUENCE WHO WILL BE HIS SUCCESSOR. Confessore's lede:

"He has yet to announce his own long-anticipated candidacy for governor, but that has not stopped Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo from trying to shape the race to succeed him.

"In the weeks leading to the state Democratic convention next week, aides and allies of Mr. Cuomo have moved quietly and methodically to bolster Kathleen M. Rice, Nassau County district attorney and the candidate widely believed to be Mr. Cuomo's preferred successor.

"They have sought to delay or foil endorsements of one of her Democratic rivals, State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, by two powerful labor unions, and to persuade another, Sean Coffey, to run instead for State Comptroller. When rural Democratic leaders assembled in Niagara Falls this month for a straw poll, Mr. Cuomo's allies also sought to blunt the momentum of Eric R. Dinallo, the former state insurance superintendent, by asking party officials to consider switching their votes to other candidates."

While the candidate for governor traditionally chooses his lieutenant governor (even though the lieutenant governor is chosen separately in the party primary) the Cuomo forces' attempt to select the rest of the ticket raises other issues.

The first is the attempt to secure a balanced ticket, geographically and ethnically. Mr. Cuomo is of Italian ancestry, as are Mr. Dinallo and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Mr. Dinallo and Mr. DiNapoli add nothing in the way of diversity, although Mr. Dinallo's wife is of Puerto Rican descent.

The lesson of diversity was learned in the 1970 state election, when the Democratic ticket consisted of former Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg for governor, Basil A. Paterson (David's father) for lieutenant governor, Comptroller Arthur Levitt for re-election and Adam Walinsky, a former aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, for attorney general. The Democratic candidate for the United States Senate that year was Congressman Richard Ottinger, who had defeated Ted Sorensen in the Democratic primary. The Democratic ticket that year was derided as "four Jews and" a derogatory term for Mr. Paterson. They all lost, except for Mr. Levitt.

A more threatening possibility is that by dictating the choice of his party for Comptroller and Attorney General, Mr. Cuomo is assuring himself that these officials, once elected, will be indebted to him and act favorably in matters in which he has an interest. The Comptroller, for example, is the state's chief fiscal officer. He certifies the budget and performs many other duties under the State Constitution. He is also the sole trustee of the state employees' pension funds, which now exceed $129 billion. The position provides many opportunities for personal enrichment, which some comptrollers have used for their own advantage.

The current Comptroller, Mr. Napoli, was chosen by the legislature to replace the fallen Alan Hevesi, who had just been re-elected. His principal sponsor was Assembly
Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was determined to choose the new comptroller from among the Democratic legislators, just as Assemblyman Oliver Koppell had been chosen to succeed Attorney General Robert Abrams and Senator Carl McCall had succeeded Comptroller Ned Regan after their resignations.

The Attorney General, who has the ability to prosecute public as well as private corruption, is a powerful public figure. The last two AGs, Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo, both found the office a path to the governorship. Each gained a solid public reputation, in part because of cases they brought against Wall Street. It is obviously helpful to the governor to have a friendly attorney general, preferably one who he has helped install into office.

Not all attorneys general are elected officials. Although 43 are elected, five (WY, NJ, NH, HI and AK Alaska, not Arkansas, which is AS) are appointed by the governor.
In Maine, the legislature elects the AG by a secret ballot at a joint session of both houses. In Tennessee, the State Supreme Court appoints the AG for an eight-year term. The issue frequently arises as to whether the state attorney general is the governors lawyer, the people's lawyer, or as in some cases, an ambitious advocate out for himself. In the Federal system, as we know, the President appoints the Attorney General, who serves at his pleasure.

The last AG to be summarily dismissed was Elliot Lee Richardson, who was removed at the order of President Nixon in the Saturday Night Massacre of October 20, 1973 for refusing to fire Archibald Cox as the Watergate Special Prosecutor. He was succeeded by his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, who also refused to fire Cox and was promptly dismissed by Nixon. Next in line was the Solicitor General, Robert Bork, who obliged the President by dismissing Cox. I have long believed that Borks action in following Nixon's order to fire Cox was one reason he was not confirmed by the Senate when he was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Reagan.

Andrew Cuomo's actions to direct the choice of other elected officials indicates a predilection for a strong governorship. That would be a direct contrast with the situation under Governor Paterson. The current governor, however, did not have the sanction of election by the public, which his successor will presumably enjoy.

The real issue next year will be whether Governor Cuomo or Speaker Silver (if they are both elected) will be the alpha male of New York State government. We read in Wednesday's Times on pA21 in a story by Danny Hakim that five lawyers from Weitz and Luxenberg, the Speaker's law firm, had contributed $236,698 to Kathleen Rice, who is assumed to be Cuomo's choice for attorney general - Irish, a woman, suburban, tough on crime, elected DA.

That works to the detriment of Senator Eric Schneiderman, the candidate of the left wing of the Democratic Party. From a purely practical point of view, however, and without making a judgment on the merits, Cuomo needs Schneiderman like a lochenkopf. Four oth er candidates have attracted little support despite their vigorous efforts.

It is, of course, possible that Cuomo and Silver will co-exist in peace, at least for two years. We will see how the Speaker's home district is redrawn after the decennial census results are published in 2011.. That will depend in part on who draws the lines, and whether personal considerations are involved in the process.


The Cuomo initiative is reported at the bottom of p4 of the Daily News in a story by Kenneth Lovett, their Albany bureau chief. The headline: CUOMO'S TELLING HOPEFULS; GET WITH MY PROGRAM & ILL HELP YOU. The lede:

"If you want Andrew Cuomo's backing, you gotta have his back.

"The state attorney general, who plans to announce his run for governor soon, will ask candidates who want his support to sign a pledge to stick to his agenda, the Daily News has learned.

"Cuomo is developing a 'citizens pledge' that will detail reform ideas he wants enacted if he is elected, a source close to him said.

"The Democrat will travel to all 62 counties during the campaign asking for citizens and candidates from all parties to sign the pledge."

To us, this is a good idea. New York Uprising, a group founded in March by former Mayor Ed Koch, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, and this blogger for New York Civic, is circulating pledges to candidates for state office, asking for their commitment to a reform agenda on redistricting, conflicts of interests, financial statements and transparency. Mr. Cuomo responded to us specifically promising his support for those goals.

It makes enormous sense for a candidate to seek commitments on these important issues before endorsing anyone. The proof will come in what specifically the candidates are asked to do, and how and by whom they will be held to the pledges they make.

There is one other problem. The News story is attributed to an anonymous source. This means that there is still plausible deniability if the candidate changes his mind. We rely on the integrity of the source and the candidate.

Andrew Cuomo has an opportunity to turn the shambles that is Albany in a new direction. Eliot Spitzer had that opportunity, and completely blew it, even before the scandal..

We wish for the best for New York State, but experience limits our optimism. Perhaps the strong leadership which has been missing for many years will make a difference. But strength has its own weakness, which we hope the new governor will avoid.


Senator Byron Dorgan comes from North Dakota, not Indiana. We knew that.

Queens Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza had a residence in Glen Head in Nassau County, not Great Neck. We did not know that. After 14 years in the Assembly, Ms. Carrozza is not a candidate for re-election..


"Former Mayor Ed Koch read the speculation in the Insider that if his nonpartisan-redistricting effort falls short, it will at least dissuade the Legislature from a scandalous redrawing of districts. So Koch enlisted his former parks commissioner, Henry Stern, to assert that anything less than independent redistricting is unacceptable. 'It was necessary to march around Jericho seven times before its walls tumbled,' Stern writes. 'Someday the Legislature's wall of self-perpetuation will collapse into rubble.' Says Koch, the leader of New York Uprising, 'We're so far ahead of where we thought we would be.'"

P.S.:You can find blogger Gary Tilzer's interesting True News by linking here.

StarQuest #671 05.21.2010 1654wds

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