Andrew Cuomo's Biggest Rival Won't Be the G.O.P.

It's Shelly Silver and the old-school Dems in his race to Governor

Cuomo has hereditary charisma and a Wall Street and Albany record as attorney general that has sent his poll positives higher than any other statewide official. Just as, nearly three decades ago, Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo undercut a sitting Democratic governor, Hugh Carey, to clear the path for his own candidacy, Andrew Cuomo, abetted like his father by probing reporters, has forced incumbent David Paterson from the race. The Paterson demise has freed Cuomo to skip a primary message aimed at liberal Democrats and go straight to November, buttressed by a fiscal plan so appealing to Republicans and independents that he is winning surprising endorsements and may even be backed by some members of the Senate Republican minority. Steeped in the ways of the capitol as his father's closest adviser from a very early age, Cuomo could arrive in Albany in January with a historic electoral mandate.

But Silver never leaves his trench, and he knows that every member of his Democratic assembly conference has his own trench, a district whose lines he crafted for their protection, making them impervious to the grand sweep of charisma and history. This collegial cocoon feeds off contempt for editorial pages and every other contrary voice, all of whom, including governors, are seen as transient irritants, while the assembly sits behind Albany stone, locked in lifetime sinecures, meting out "good" on their own terms and in their own time.

While the dailies have noted the underlying tensions between these two, no one has tallied the casualties if the Cuomo platform prevails. Reporters have observed that Cuomo's demand for full financial disclosure of every legislator's outside earnings and clients is an attack on Silver, who engineered the passage of an ethics bill a few months ago that explicitly exempted lawyers from the client disclosure Cuomo demands (Paterson vetoed it anyway). Almost every section of Cuomo's detailed platform is a challenge to Silver's:

Andrew Cuomo
Newscom
Andrew Cuomo
Shelly Silver
Matt Ryan
Shelly Silver

-- Silver's assembly has appointed two of the last three state comptrollers, including the current one, Tom DiNapoli, who was selected by majority vote of the legislature when the only other comptroller since 1993, Alan Hevesi, a former assemblyman close to Silver who actually won two statewide elections, had to step down after pleading guilty to a felony. Cuomo wants to require succession elections rather than continuing to allow Silver's minions to fill vacancies. Having exposed massive fraud in the management of the state's $130 billion pension fund, Cuomo also wants to end the sole trusteeship, joining the other 47 states that have boards or multiple levels of control over pension investment decisions rather than a single trustee, the comptroller. This Cuomo reform and others will hem in the comptroller, which Silver has come to view as an outpost of the assembly majority. DiNapoli's spokesman told the Voice that he could support a board if the new law protected the fund from "raids" to plug holes in the state budget.

-- Cuomo wants an independent commission to draw new legislative lines by 2012 and vows to veto any plan "that reflects partisan gerrymandering," precisely what his father refused to do when his Senate Republican allies drew self-serving lines in 1992.

-- The Cuomo platform includes an ethics commission that ends self-policing by the legislature, dramatic reform of campaign finance laws that have filled Silver's trough, a threat to veto legislative, member-item pork, and a constitutional convention and commission that can end-run the legislature and fundamentally alter power relationships in the state.

-- Focusing laser-like on the state's $52 billion Medicaid budget, Cuomo vowed to stop "the current politicized system" for setting reimbursement rates for any particular form of medical care, charging that "the legislature micromanages rate changes." He also wants to aggregate pharmaceutical purchases by creating a "pharmacy benefit management agency" that would take control of these plans away from duplicative and costly union administration, shutting down a powerful source of labor patronage.

-- Cuomo has effectively nixed the Ravitch plan, which Silver encouraged and supported and would have allowed the state to borrow billions over the next three years to help close the budget gap.

-- The probable new governor plans to strip the legislature of its authority to reorganize the more than 1,000 state agencies, employing nearly 200,000 workers, and set up a commission "directed by business leaders" that will "right-size it." He says that "decades of evidence proves that the Legislature is incapable of exercising such authority in other than a piecemeal fashion," and that governors in 31 states have the powers he will seek. "If governors are to have the responsibility of running the State's agencies," the Cuomo book declares, "they should have the power and authority to do so."

-- Deriding the legislature's onetime favorite economic development program, Empire Zones, Cuomo will replace it with one that rewards new hiring automatically rather than dispensing tax credit benefits to businesses politically. He also announced his opposition to $3 billion in "directed capital funding" for projects covertly selected by legislative leaders.

-- Cuomo's support of lifting the cap on charter schools, fiercely opposed by the teachers' union, has already helped push Silver to back a bill that could lead to 260 new schools across the state, positioning New York to possibly qualify for hundreds of millions in Obama's Race to the Top education reform funding. Silver had already blown one deadline for this funding in January and appeared willing to miss a second June 1 deadline, but, pushed by Cuomo (the only real recruit for charters since January), the speaker consented to a new cap. He put so many conditions in the bill, however, that the state may still not compete effectively for the Obama bonanza.

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