Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic attorney general, won the race for governor yesterday, defeating Republican Carl Paladino, a Tea Party-backed political neophyte whose campaign faltered after his well-publicized gaffes.
Cuomo, 52, a former U.S. housing secretary under President Bill Clinton and the son of former three-term Governor Mario Cuomo, led Paladino by 62 percent to 34 percent with 97 percent of the precincts counted, the Associated Press said.
When he assumes office Jan. 1, Cuomo will confront a $9 billion deficit in the state’s projected $144 billion budget next year and will need to propose a spending plan within weeks to meet the April 1 start of the fiscal year for the nation’s third most-populous state.
New Yorkers “are frustrated with the dysfunction of Albany,” Cuomo told supporters in a midtown Manhattan hotel last night. “They are disgusted, and they are right.”
He vowed to create “a government of competence and performance and integrity, a government that can manage its finances and balance its budget just like they have to balance a budget at home.”
In Cuomo, voters selected a candidate who made headlines as attorney general by targeting Wall Street bonuses, abuses among student-loan companies and collusion among health insurers. They rejected Paladino, 64, a Buffalo developer who ran with a “mad as hell” campaign slogan that allowed Cuomo to retort that anger isn’t a governing strategy.
“Cuomo’s good fortune has been that Paladino’s ineptness as a candidate monopolized media attention of the gubernatorial campaign and enabled Cuomo to follow a ‘Rose Garden strategy’ of carefully managed appearances and press releases,” said Ken Sherrill, a political-science professor at Hunter College in Manhattan, before the results were known.
The Republican’s problems included a videotaped shouting match in which he threatened a New York Post reporter, accusing his newspaper of assigning a photographer to stalk his 10-year-old daughter, who was born to a companion in an extra-marital affair.
Paladino, who opposes same-sex marriage, also apologized for saying children shouldn’t be “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option.” He fueled more outrage when he expressed disgust at gay pride parades, where men “wear these little Speedos and they grind against each other, and it’s just a terrible thing.”
In his concession speech last night, Paladino said his candidacy had “galvanized New York state voters with a policy message that reflects the desires of all New Yorkers: lower taxes, less government spending, more accountability and transparency of state government, and the end to insider political dealings in Albany.”
He blamed his poor showing at the polls on the media coverage of the campaign, telling supporters at a Buffalo hotel, “You don’t want the media noticing you. It ain’t pretty. And it sure ain’t fair.”
Some voters formed their first impression of Paladino in April, when a western New York political blog, www.WNYMedia.net, published e-mails he had forwarded to friends and associates. They depicted an African tribal dance subtitled, “Obama inauguration rehearsal,” a picture of the president and first lady Michelle Obama as a pimp and prostitute and a video showing sex between a woman and a horse.
‘Human and Imperfect’
“I confess to being human and imperfect, as are all of God’s children,” he said in April during a Buffalo campaign appearance. “I say this to the men out there who have never opened a graphic image on the Internet: Don’t vote for me. For those who have, I welcome your vote.”
As early as July, Cuomo had collected more than $16 million in campaign contributions.
“He established a juggernaut that cleared the field of any Republican heavyweights, such as former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of urban politics at Baruch College in Manhattan, in an interview before the election. “Paladino had some juice with his ‘throw-the-bums-out’ anger, but everything he said seemed to bypass his brain and go directly from his spine to his mouth.”
Paladino’s gaffes allowed Cuomo to “sit back and let Paladino punch himself out,” Muzzio said.
As governor-elect Cuomo confronts a deficit only three months after legislators closed a $9.2 billion gap in the current fiscal year.
“New York government is in free fall, and people feel the effects of it on the economy,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, a non-partisan government watchdog group. “Although Cuomo should be able to take advantage of the public dismay over the state’s inability to manage its finances, it’s still going to be a very tough challenge because you can’t balance a budget without severe spending cuts and increases in revenue.”
Cuomo and Paladino each opposed increased taxes and spending, and vowed to take on a Legislature they described as corrupt and dysfunctional. Each depicted himself as an outsider best able to force change upon Albany while describing the other as an insider beholden to the system.
Paladino threatened to shut down state government in the event the Legislature failed to meet its March 31 deadline to approve a budget, and Cuomo vowed to lead a citizens’ coalition to force lawmakers to enact spending and property-tax caps.
It will take deep cuts in education and Medicaid spending to deliver on those promises, said E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, and a senior fellow for tax and budgetary studies at the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based research center that opposes taxes and promotes outsourcing to private companies and reduced spending.
“It won’t be easy, but it is doable,” McMahon said. “The more difficult task will come after the first year, when it becomes clear the state needs structural change that will carry through for his entire term as governor, not just holding the line for a year.”
Cuomo replaces Democrat David Paterson, who assumed the post in March 2008, when Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal. Paterson chose not to run for a full term.
Father and Son
The Cuomos will be the first father and son to have served as New York’s governor, according to Stephanie Barrett, a researcher at the New York State Library in Albany. DeWitt Clinton, governor from 1817 to 1823 and from 1825 to 1828, was the nephew of George Clinton, the state’s first governor, who served from 1777 to 1795. Mario Cuomo was governor from 1983 to 1994.
Andrew Cuomo ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in New York in 2002. He abandoned that candidacy under pressure from black Democrats who supported former state Comptroller Carl McCall and threatened to withhold their support from Cuomo in the event he won. McCall lost to former Governor George Pataki, who served three terms.
Cuomo who in 2003 divorced Kerry Kennedy, the seventh child of former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, shares a home in Mount Kisco, New York, with Food Network television personality Sandra Lee.