WALL STREET JOURNAL
Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010
CUOMO FOLLOWS CAREY PLAYBOOK
By JACOB GERSHMAN
As Andrew Cuomo pitches himself as the man who can rescue the state from fiscal danger, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate is looking to a recent New York governor as his model for success — Hugh Carey.
It’s not unusual for political candidates to cite as inspiration the achievements of past leaders. And Mr. Cuomo is not alone in his admiration for Mr. Carey, who is credited with guiding New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s and is the hero of a new book, “The Man Who Saved New York.”
But Mr. Cuomo’s embrace of the legacy of one forbear, measured in his policy agenda and words, is being interpreted among some political observers as a strategic break from another, his father, Mario Cuomo, who succeeded Mr. Carey and rose to national prominence as the most articulate champion of traditional Democratic liberalism. The attorney general’s praise of Mr. Carey is even more striking given the strained history between the former governors, whose rivalry and accumulated grudges spread over years and campaigns.
“Andrew has reinvented himself as a centrist,” said Alan Chartock, a political commentator and public-radio executive in Albany. “He’s perceived as a guy who, unlike his father, is willing to understand the fiscal exigencies of the moment. And that means taking on sacred cows, including the unions.”
A Cuomo campaign official said the attorney general has long had a good relationship with Mr. Carey and noted that two of Mr. Carey’s children were early contributors to Mr. Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign.
In the first op-ed column written by the attorney general since he announced his candidacy in May — an essay published by the Daily News on Monday — it was the record of Mr. Carey upon which Mr. Cuomo drew. Citing a new biography of Mr. Carey written by Seymour P. Lachman, a former state senator, and Robert Polner, Mr. Cuomo concurred with the authors’ view that Mr. Carey’s “determined and creative leadership brought New York back from the brink of civic and financial catastrophe.”
Mr. Carey did not act alone, argued Mr. Cuomo, who wrote that, if not for the painful concessions accepted by teachers union leader Albert Shanker and others, the city would have defaulted on its debts.
“I look forward to working with public unions in the same spirit Gov. Carey did — for the welfare of all the people of this great state,” Mr. Cuomo wrote.
Mario Cuomo praised his son’s op-ed article and said, “I regarded Carey as the best governor in modern history because he did save the city.”
On the campaign trail, the attorney general, who began his career in government as a top political lieutenant to the elder Cuomo, speaks proudly of his father’s tenure from 1983 to 1995. His stump speeches allude to the Cuomo years, often in passing reference, as a standard of integrity of which Albany has since fallen short.
But his father’s record seldom figures into Mr. Cuomo’s discussions of his fiscal platform, whose theme of smaller government and spending restraint is a departure from Gov. Cuomo’s brand of “progressive pragmatism” — defined in his first inaugural address as an insistence on “all the government we need.”
“Andrew is more conformable than his father would ever be in adopting some of these fiscally conservative positions,” said a longtime Cuomo observer who asked not to be identified.
Part of the difference, according to veterans of the statehouse, is the change in the political backdrop and a return to the financial anxiety that overshadowed the governorship of Mr. Carey, who chastised Albany for its “lavish” ways and famously declared to state lawmakers that “the times of plenty, the days of wine and roses, are over.”
While the state weathered a recession during Mr. Cuomo’s third term, it never experienced a crisis as severe as the one that exploded in 1975, Mr. Carey’s first year in office.
“Carey was confronted with a huge problem from the moment he stepped into the governor’s office, and he had to put together not just a government but a team,” said Bill Cunningham, a former aide to Messrs. Carey and Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Said Mr. Cunningham: “The incoming governor needs a model for dealing with a huge fiscal problem like this, and the Carey model exists. It worked.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL