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

-- Undergirding all of this is Cuomo's stern warning that he won't endorse any candidates who don't pledge publicly to back his reform plan. "I don't sign anybody's pledges," Silver told the Daily News. His excuse was that pledges "are fixed in time," and, of course, Silver prefers to float in time, only making decisions when the clock is about to stop ticking, just as he recently did on the final business day before a new charter law had to pass. Voice calls to DiNapoli, all five candidates for attorney general, and the two U.S. senators on the November ballot, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, turned up only a single potential Cuomo running mate ready to sign his pledge, Kathleen Rice, the AG candidate he quietly favors. Cuomo even deleted some of his key reforms, like the elimination of the sole trustee for the pension plan, from the list of pledges, but DiNapoli declined to say he'd sign it anyway, suggesting that he's more bound by another pledge, the one he made to Silver in some secret assembly fraternal ritual. After we sent the one-page pledge to Westchester assemblyman Richard Brodsky, the AG candidate Silver backs, he barked: "When Andrew wants my thing on it, I'm sure he'll send it to me and I'll read it then." The pledge promises to become the dividing line between Cuomo's party and Silver's.

-- Cuomo is even keeping the Working Families Party at a distance, despite its intricate ties to Silver. If he doesn't agree to run on its ballot line, the party may lose the line, since its gubernatorial candidate must get 50,000 votes every four years to retain its ballot position. Silver associates are already playing the race card on Cuomo, who picked Rochester's mayor, Bob Duffy, as his candidate for lieutenant governor, completing what is the first all-white state Democratic ticket since 1990. The WFP may run a minority candidate against Cuomo, and its legislative allies may pass a bill giving the party a permanent line, blurring the 50,000-vote requirement. No one seems to notice that Silver picked one of the white candidates on the statewide ticket, DiNapoli, and that he persuaded Paterson to install his lifelong friend, Jonathan Lippman, as the state's chief judge, despite the fact that a sitting Latina judge had superior qualifications. Nor is Paterson blamed for the white candidate that he contributed to the statewide ticket, Senator Gillibrand.

As sensible as much of Cuomo's plan appears to be, especially at a time when more New Yorkers than ever consistently blast Albany in the polls, his approach to taxes would expose him to the same withering attack on Reagan Republicans his father made. "God helps those whom God has helped" was Mario Cuomo's refrain about tax cuts for the rich. Now his son, the man who exposed the gargantuan bonuses Wall Street continues to pay, is against taxing them.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think-tank partially funded by unions, issued a telling report a couple of months ago that pointed to two giant pots of income worth taxing, at least as long as the downturn cripples state revenues—namely, Wall Street's record $61 billion profit in 2009, and the top 25 hedge fund managers who earned more than a billion apiece last year. Neither Cuomo nor Silver, who usually channels the FPI on tax policy but includes Wall Street in his downtown assembly district, has taken up any of the institute's suggested revenue sources. Cuomo's book footnotes another FPI study, which proves that the state and local tax burden falls heaviest on the middle class and is kindest to the rich (those earning between $33,000 and $56,000 pay 12 percent of their income in New York taxes, while those earning more than $3 million pay 9.4 percent). Yet he does not cite this study for that purpose and never discusses how he will attack economic inequality in his program.

Indeed, Andrew Cuomo's book and 21-minute video contain a crisp statement of his core beliefs, and they are resoundingly liberal, from same-sex marriage to preserving the safety net, but the list does not include any commitment to progressive tax policies or even to maintaining the temporary restructuring of the state's income tax that Silver and the WFP spearheaded last year. Their three-year surcharge raised state taxes on the wealthiest and created two new brackets, suspending a regressive system that had every New Yorker who earns more than $40,000 a year in the same, expansive bracket.

Cuomo, who appears to borrow his tax policies from the pages of the New York Post, gave the paper critical quotes after the tax increase passed, calling a hike when the economy was down "a frightening combination." The current $9 billion budget gap would be $14 billion if that tax hike hadn't become law. Not only is Cuomo silent about that hike now, but Silver omitted it from his list of legislative achievements in his convention speech. Lazio has already used the expiring surcharge as one of his prime critiques of the Cuomo program, putting pressure on Cuomo to abandon it regardless of the fiscal and fairness impact on state government. If Cuomo continues to mimic Clintonian triangulation, he may wind up letting the surcharge and the reformed brackets die.

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