Andrew Cuomo and Black Voters -- The Key to his Father's Victory, Will They Help the Son?

Having set the national stage for the Carl Paladino roll-out yesterday, with CNN citing the Times as their reason for interviewing him, the paper did a nosedive today on the Siena and Marist polls that rebut the Quinnipiac numbers that were featured in a front page story the day before.

The Times barely mentions Siena and ignores Marist, though Marist's 19-point lead for Cuomo is based on likelies, just like Quinnipiac. Polls are snapshots, but how does the Times explain featuring the out-of-focus one on A-1, and then refusing to balance it out with a full slideshow today?

One photo the Times did get right was the one on its inside page yesterday, an artful portrait of Cuomo addressing fenced-in reporters near City Hall. All we see are the outstretched hands of reporters bearing mikes, separated by iron links from the gesturing candidate. It captures the essence of the Cuomo error so far -- too much staging and manipulation, too much calculation and distance.

Elinor Tatum captured a bit of the gap in an eloquent open letter in the Amsterdam News today. The editor of the state's leading black paper, she's received less attention from Cuomo in a year than the Post's Freddie Dicker gets every day. The candidate whose boycott of NY1 is chronicled on its daily ticker does Dicker's upstate radio show as ritual. This is not merely a matter of press priorities. He makes policy with the media he talks to, and he makes policy with the media he doesn't talk to, and that may be why some of his Democratic base is actually tickled that Paladino is suddenly seen, thanks to the Times and Quinnipiac, as gnawing at his heel.

Tatum was smart enough not to do the Charles Barron race-circus routine. She didn't mention the all-white Democratic ticket once in her letter. She's no doubt noticed that her dear friend David Paterson contributed as many white candidates to this ticket as Cuomo -- Paterson named Kirsten Gillibrand to the senate while Cuomo picked Rochester mayor Bob Duffy as his lieutenant governor, the least important slot on the ticket. Tatum must recall as well that it was Shelly Silver who put white man Tom DiNapoli on the ticket as comptroller and that Cuomo isn't responsible for the fact that no lawyer of color chose to run against five white candidates in the AG race.

These are facts we have yet to hear Barron mention, who told City Hall magazine today: "It's bad enough he wanted an all-white slate, now he wants an all-white debate?" Barron is understandably pushing now to be included in any of the action, a candidate of the Freedom Party, which he hopes will earn a long term ballot spot by getting 50,000 votes in November. But if you want a chuckle, replay his recent appearance on NY1, when he railed on about Cuomo racism while running on a slate that has no white person on it. He's running with another black candidate and activist Ramon Jiminez for AG, but preferred to leave blanks on his ticket than recruit a white candidate for any of the other slots. He blabbed on about how his coalition is multi-racial because white people collected his petitions.

It's all a grandstanding joke to Charles, who is much smarter than he talks.

Tatum is much closer to hitting a nerve here.

If Andrew is the historian of New York politics he sounds like sometimes, he should know that Papa Cuomo became governor because of the black vote in 1982. That's how he beat Ed Koch. And Papa Cuomo became a beaten governor in 1994 because of blacks. They knew he was in bed with Rudy Giuliani before and after Giuliani beat the first black mayor and that he'd spent 12 years creating rest homes for young black males in every upstate prison district. Blacks beat him by sitting it out in numbers that should be looming larger in the Cuomo camp today than Quinnipiac's.

Gerson Borrero, the El Diario columnist, was on WWRL the day the Q poll broke and he called them to try to get some hard numbers on the preferences of blacks and Latinos. They told him that the cohorts of these voters identified as likely to vote was so small in their sample that the preferences weren't calculable outside the margin of error. Maybe it's time for Andrew Cuomo, who was roasted by the Post the minute they thought he faltered, to recognize who is his real base is. It's not Rupert and Freddie.

This isn't the first time a black leader has tried to use a Freedom Party to create a power base for himself and damn the consequences. Al Sharpton, who helped create Barron by backing his initial council run in 2001, tried to put together a party of the same name in 1994, when Sharpton helped beat Mario Cuomo, at least by his own account. Sharpton rebuffed efforts by Jesse Jackson to get him to back the elder Cuomo, refused to call Cuomo and sat it out, strategically appearing with Republican George Pataki at Abyssinian Church in Harlem on the eve of the election and condemning Democrats without endorsing Pataki.

His Freedom Party failed to qualify for the ballot, but a year later, the Republicans changed the name of a third party they'd invented in 1994, the Tax Cut Now Party, to Freedom Party. Sharpton sued for copyright infringement, but eventually withdrew the suit, and negotiated unsuccessfully to take over the line. The wife of the general counsel to the GOP was the last queen of the party, which lost its ballot status in 1998.

Protégé Barron is continuing the dream.

But Sharpton has moved on to larger dreams. Charlie King, who is still a consultant to Sharpton's National Action Network, went from being NAN's executive director to becoming Cuomo's state party executive director. Roger Stone, who surreptiously managed Sharpton's presidential campaign in 2004, is doing the same for Paladino now, having installed one of his retinue, just like he did with Sharpton, at the visible helm. Sharpton has a foot or an open palm in every camp, and Stone is reportedly doing all he can to reach out to Barron.

While these shadowy maneuvers cloud Tatum's clear call for a Cuomo agenda for blacks and Latinos, the black voices out of Buffalo this week were resounding. Betty Jean Grant, an Eric County legislator, said that when she served on the Buffalo Common Council, Paladino said she and other blacks weren't "fit" for office. "Instead of serving in the Common Council," she said Paladino once said, "they should be cleaning up the Council Chambers." As consistent as that is with Paladino's forwarded emails and his plan as governor to use unused prisons to train welfare recipients in hygiene, he called Grant's charge "BS." Owner of a family deli who's served as an officer of the Black Chamber of Commerce, Grant, after 11 years in three public offices, was derided by Paladino in his CNN appearance as just a Cuomo surrogate.

As much as Barron is distressed about the all-white Democratic ticket -- the first time in 20 years -- even he must have noticed that the Republicans are all white, all male, all gentile, and virtually all from outside the city. The only city candidate, Dan Donovan, is from Staten Island. Though he bears no resemblance to the snarl at the top of his ticket, Donovan's website reveals a campaign schedule that consists entirely of upstate campaign swings, and a slideshow from those appearances that doesn't contain a single person of color.

Paladino is heading a ticket afire with geographic hatred, waging a war against the city, which he says contains too many people who aren't like us. Sharpton never cared if these types benefited from his escapades demonizing Dems, and we will soon find out if that's the only card in Barron's deck as well.

It is time for Cuomo to address Democrats -- black, brown, and progressive whites. He's tested the limits of triangulation, vetting his economic plan with donors and class struggle winners. He drove an RV through upstate, when does Brownsville get its tour, off the Livonia stop on the L line? We know Cuomo wants a property tax cap and opposes an extension of the 2009 income tax surcharge on the wealthy, but we don't know if he's committed to long term restoration of what New York used to be well known for, a progressive tax structure with brackets for those at the high end that forces them to carry a fair share of the burden. We don't know if he's serious about an equitable state education formula or a government that reflects the people of the state at every level, including those in the offices next to his.

He has teased us for almost a year now, a candidate in hiding, talking through campaign briefing books and off-the-record whispers. All we get from Paladino is passion, precisely what we're missing in Andrew. Even when he says he's angry, he has a half smile on his lips, uncomfortable with the viral demands of this campaign cycle. Paladino is better at faking authenticity than Cuomo is at actually expressing it.

Never quite sure what put him in the drivers' seat for so many months, he was so shaken when the poll hit, he said he voted for Mike Bloomberg when he endorsed the Democrats who ran against him. Stone and Paladino have him rattled. But those are the wrong voices, clanging around in his head, to listen to, just as Sharpton and Barron are. He's a phone call away from Frank Mauro, a progressive think tank master he has yet to talk to in his campaign, praised in his father's farewell book to New York. Margarita Rosa, the executive director of Grand Street Settlement House and human rights commissioner under Mario Cuomo, is just a few blocks away from Cuomo's office. And Ellie Tatum has already sent him an invitation to Sylvia's.


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