- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

NEW YORK Democrats hoping to capture the statehouse know they have little chance of toppling Gov. George E. Pataki, or so it seems in midsummer. Nevertheless, they have lost little time in seizing on the souring economic climate as their ticket to victory in midautumn.
"George Pataki has done nothing on corporate responsibility," said Josh Isay, who manages the campaign of former federal Housing Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo. "And where voters feel insecure about job security and economic stability, the Democrats have an advantage."
Mr. Isay went a step further. "Look at Mario Cuomo in '82," he added, referring to the candidate's father, a former three-term governor of New York. "How about Charles Schumer [New York Democrat] and Bloomberg [mayor of New York]? They were people who started far behind and ended up winning."
Even as Mr. Isay invoked Mr. Schumer's name, that energetic first-term Democratic senator was endorsing Mr. Cuomo's primary opponent, H. Carl McCall, the state comptroller who seeks to become New York's first black governor.
He and Mr. Cuomo, whose wife, Kerry, is the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, face each other in a Sept. 10 primary.
New York's junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a delicate position because of her affinity for the Kennedys and the traditional support of the black community, has said she will endorse no one.
To some, Mr. Cuomo may be an heir apparent to his father's reign, but after he bolted the Democratic nominating convention in May, it was clear he would run his campaign as an outsider. Even traditional Democratic insiders have made no bones about their preference for the incumbent.
"I'm for Pataki," said former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who supported Mr. Cuomo's father when he was defeated by Mr. Pataki in 1994. Mr. Koch seemed certain that Mr. McCall would defeat Mr. Cuomo handily because of the large numbers of black, Hispanic and liberal voters in the city. "Cuomo is depending on his star status as a Cuomo and his wife's name," he said.
At this point Mr. Pataki looks like an unassailable foe, what with a surge in his popularity after September 11, his inroads in traditionally Democratic minority communities, his wooing of labor unions and a royal war chest of $12.7 million.
What's more, Mr. Cuomo's critics argue that his reputation for arrogance has been reinforced by a damaging series of attacks on the governor for how he handled the World Trade Center crisis.
Mr. Cuomo has also complained loudly about the role of money in politics, attacking Mr. McCall for receiving about 12 percent of his $6.8 million campaign contribution from companies that do business with the state pension fund he oversees.
Mr. McCall, to the consternation of supporters, has kept a relatively low profile as his campaign struggles to find a theme.
Political veterans agree it has been difficult for Democrats to find a magnetic issue, something that has "stick value," in these lazy days of summer campaigning. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said volatility in the economy may put voters in "a grumpy mood," but that hasn't happened yet.
"When the primary votes are counted, the one who wins will have spent most of his money, some goodwill and then be faced with a 2-to-1 favorite in Pataki," he added.
Mr. Cuomo scores high on name and face recognition, much of it due to his association with the Kennedy family, many of whom join him on the campaign trail, and his father's celebrity.
However, some political observers believe this high profile could hurt him. A recent New York Times Magazine article by Adam Nagourney said Mr. Cuomo was "described by many who have tangled with him as a schemer and a bully, with a single-minded devotion to shaping his public image through his exhaustive attention to his press coverage."
A Quinnipiac University Polling Institute canvass released early this month had Mr. Cuomo defeating Mr. McCall by 15 points. The poll was conducted just days after Mr. Cuomo completed a $1 million statewide TV advertising blitz.
However, there are recurring reports that private polling among Democrats has convinced them that neither the state comptroller nor the former governor's son stand a chance against Mr. Pataki, particularly in suburban counties, where he is reported to be ahead more than 30 percent.
The six minor parties in the state also are exerting influence on the race. The Liberal Party of New York State endorsed Mr. Cuomo, and the Working Families Party is supporting Mr. McCall. After B. Thomas Golisano, an upstate billionaire, failed to get the Conservative Party nomination, he said he would try to get on the ballot as a write-in candidate.
This is Mr. Golisano's third run for governor. He said he would donate $70 million of his fortune to his campaign. The Rochester hopeful is blanketing the airwaves with TV commercials in which he scolds the governor for being "too liberal."


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