Barrett: Andrew Cuomo Gets a Present From Steve Levy

Andrew Cuomo got some great news yesterday with the announcement that Suffolk County executive Steve Levy may run for governor.

Cuomo's onetime sidekick and running-mate Charlie King rushed to the op-ed pages of the New York Post to declare how great it was that Levy was, supposedly, starting the debate the state needs. King brandished his black credentials to insist that it's "wrong" for anyone "to criticize Levy for running against (David) Paterson," and to suggest that anyone, like Papa Basil Paterson and the Gang of Four, who injects race into the campaign "trivializes the crisis we live in" and "demeans us."

Levy's entry into the campaign -- he actually formed an exploratory committee in mid-December -- is a door-opener for Cuomo...

The attorney general cannot be accused of taking down an incumbent black governor if another prominent Democrat has already indicated his willingness to do so. How likely is it that a savvy pol like Levy put himself out there without a wink from front runner Cuomo? Does he stay in the race when the state Democratic committee designates Cuomo as the party's official candidate at its convention this spring? Does Paterson?

Of course, Charlie King isn't an important enough voice in state politics to command instant op-ed space in the Post. He was the head of Al Sharpton's National Action Network until recently, and then became a Sharpton consultant. That's why insiders are interpreting his comments as a signal from the Grand Master of Racebaiting that Cuomo will not be branded a "white interloper," to use the Rev's once-favorite phrase.

King is now a political consultant and his prime client is none other than Kirsten Gillibrand, who Sharpton was in such a rush to endorse that he did it in mid-2009, even before he endorsed Bill Thompson, who was actually running in 2009. King knows better than anyone that what the governor giveth, he can also taketh away. Perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat on the presumed statewide ticket, Gillibrand can't possibly want Paterson's name above hers' on the ballot.

Who was Gillibrand praising at the same moment that King's op-ed appeared in the Post? She issued a press release lauding Cuomo for filing a brief in the legal effort to block the spread of an invasive species of fish, Asian carp, into New York waterways. Gillibrand has made this a major upstate issue and Cuomo, not the governor who appointed her, has just become her prime New York ally. She, Cuomo and Congressman Mike McMahon even did a fraud workshop together in Staten Island recently.

Paterson is trying to make this a messy primary for Cuomo, hoping he can discourage him from making the run by suggesting that he will pay a black price for doing so. But the fact is that there is a silver lining for Cuomo in Paterson's apparent determination to stay in the race. With all the anti-incumbent feeling that rose to the surface in the November election, from Westchester to Nassau, Cuomo can ride that fervor only if Paterson stays in long enough for Andrew to take him out. Otherwise, if Andrew starts the year off as the Democratic nominee in such a Democratic state, he may feel like an incumbent to voters by November. Paterson's doggedness is, in some respects, a political asset to Cuomo.

Research assistance from Scott Greenberg, Alana Horwitz, Aaron Howell & T.J. Raphael.

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