- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

NEW YORK The governor's race has taken on the quirky melodrama of a Greek myth, and it goes something like this: Determined knight, champion of the underdog, rides out to avenge his father, once a king, by overthrowing the dark villain who stole the throne, thus reclaiming the Empire State.
At least that's how the pundits and political writers are playing it.
The determined son is, of course, Andrew M. Cuomo, on a quest to become governor of New York, a job his father, Mario M. Cuomo, held for three terms before he was defeated by the Republican usurper, George E. Pataki, in 1994.
Mr. Cuomo, 44, referred to as the "Dark Prince" during his father's reign, first must win the nomination in a Sept. 10 Democratic primary election against H. Carl McCall, 66, the experienced, low-key state comptroller who wants to become New York's first black candidate for governor.
Of the 36 states with gubernatorial races this year, the Republicans hold 23, or almost two-thirds, of the statehouses. Mr. Pataki, a two-term Republican, generally has been regarded as a shoo-in, aided in no small part by his high profile since the World Trade Center disaster and his gradual move to left of center.
A steep rise in Democratic registration in recent years has given Democrats a 1 million-vote advantage over Republicans.
Mr. Pataki, formerly mayor of Peekskill, has attracted support from environmental activists, labor unions and minorities, all traditionally in the Democratic column. A survey by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion two weeks ago showed his job-performance rating at a heady 64 percent.
Mr. Cuomo, who served as housing secretary under President Clinton, announced his candidacy months ago. He adopted the successful campaign strategies of Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer of New York, concentrating his campaign in depressed Republican upstate areas and hammering away at economic issues.
An energetic campaigner who positioned himself as an outsider, Mr. Cuomo triggered a furor on April 17 by criticizing the governor's handling of the September 11 disaster. He suggested Mr. Pataki was not a leader, but rather "held the leader's coat" a reference to former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Mr. Giuliani rushed to the governor's defense, and a storm of criticism arose from editorial writers, both Republican and Democrat, throughout the state.
A Quinnipiac University poll released May 1 indicated the Democrat's attack had backfired. Mr. Pataki led Mr. Cuomo 59 percent to 26 percent, up from 54 percent to 30 percent in a poll released April 18. The governor has no primary opponent.
Mr. Cuomo drew fire again when he defended remarks by his environmentalist brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who in early April blasted corporate hog farms as large-scale polluters and a more dire threat to America than terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Nevertheless, Mr. Cuomo accepted a $5,000 campaign contribution from ContiGroup, a large pork processor.
The eldest son of Mario Cuomo is banking on the celebrity and connections of two political dynasties. His wife, Kerry, is the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy. He can tap into the liberal Martha's Vineyard-Hollywood axis for generous contributions. Kennedy family members especially Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat have joined the effort to elect Mr. Cuomo.
Democratic primaries usually are dominated by die-hard liberal voters. Two of the latest polls show Mr. Cuomo, who has never held elective office, in double-digit leads over Mr. McCall, his more experienced opponent. In the Marist Institute for Public Opinion survey, Mr. Cuomo drew support from 51 percent of the state's Democrats, while Mr. McCall trailed with 34 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll has Mr. Cuomo leading the state comptroller 44 percent to 30 percent.
Marist poll director Lee Miringoff sees the Cuomo attack on Mr. Pataki as an example of what Mr. Cuomo must do to make voters focus on the governor.
"My sense is that down the road, if he's lucky, people may start asking questions about Pataki's leadership. And if you're going to do it, better now rather than in October." However, he added, "Clearly, Cuomo needs to go a long way before he starts bringing Pataki's numbers down to earth."
This year's race also will see the return of Tom Golisano, a wealthy Rochester businessman who for the third time has announced his candidacy for the Independence Party's nomination.


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