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Cuomo Unveils Ambitious Agenda

Andrew Cuomo
Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo delivers his first State of the State speech.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of the State address resembling the CEO of a floundering company as much as a proud new governor. Using three screens to deliver a PowerPoint presentation, Cuomo outlined his plan to help bring businesses back to the state, reduce taxes on individuals, revamp the juvenile justice system, reform campaign finance, fight political corruption and restore New Yorkers' trust in their government. The screens often displayed newspaper headlines announcing scandal and corruption in the legislature.

"What is the state of the state?" he asked the 200 politicians and 1,800 New Yorkers gathered at a convention center near the capitol building. "This is a time of crisis for our state, a time when we must transform our government to once again become the progressive capital of the nation and the seize the moment of opportunity," he said.

Just about anyone in the room would admit that Cuomo has a tough job ahead of him. Ask anyone off the record and they will tell you accomplishing his goals may very well be impossible, but daunting as the task may be, they want him to succeed.

Getting it Done

Like a company chairman at a board meeting, before he delivered his speech Cuomo allowed the leaders of the State Senate and State Assembly majorities to address the crowd. They shared similar themes -- increasing jobs, reducing spending. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is expected to be Cuomo's main opponent on trimming services and cutting spending, made it a point to say that some important programs -- notably rent stabilization, which expires this year -- must be saved.

Every year legislative leaders express support for governors and their declarations of the need for financial sacrifice and unpopular decisions -- only to stymie the governor at each turn. And the chaos that defined the senate last year has not exactly gone away; it's mostly just confined to the minority party.

Shortly before the speech, sour Democratic senators announced that they would not conference with the rest of the Democrats because they are disgusted with the way the party carried itself during its two years in the majority. The four are Jeffrey Klein, Diane Savino, David Valesky and David Carlucci. Their departure will likely further weaken the Senate Democrats, who mostly represent New York City, and yet may strengthen Cuomo's hand, because it is expected that those senators may lean more toward Cuomo's fiscally conservative policies than the Senate Democratic leadership.

While he still must fill in many details, Cuomo made it clear -- as he did in his inauguration speech Saturday -- that he would not be content with half measures. This was evident in his proposal for ethics reform.

Cuomo told the legislators in no uncertain terms that massive ethics reform will pass this year. "It is time to pass ethics reform. And it is time to pass ethics reform now!" he said, adding that this announcement wasn't meant as, "I'm proposing," or "I want us to."

Cuomo’s ethics reform plan went beyond anything proposed by his predecessors and even by some good government groups. Ethics reform, he said, would include ending pay to play, independent monitoring, full disclosure -- which Silver, for one, has resisted in the past -- and some public financing of campaigns.

"Maybe, just maybe, the stars have aligned,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "This could be the year that reform finally comes to Albany. The governor's State of the State address not only offered a road map for the comprehensive overhaul of the structure of state government, but also added a sweeping prescription to cure the ethical ills plaguing Albany."

Cuomo took a similar broad view of spending.

This year's budget process, he said, will not simply be an exercise in trimming. "This is a fundamental realignment for the state. You can't make up these kinds of savings over this long a period of time through a budget cutting or trimming exercise. We are going to have to reinvent government. We are going to have to reorganize the agencies. We are going to redesign our approach because the old way wasn't working anyway," he said.

Cuomo also said that taxes are simply too high for all New Yorkers.

The Mayor on the Governor

A good portion of Cuomo's speech did not directly deal with the city. Consolidating local government, a property-tax cap and plans to stimulate financial growth upstate were main themes, but not relevant to the city. But at a press conference following the speech Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in a chipper mood. He said he felt very positive about Cuomo's speech. He saw a lot of himself in Cuomo, in that Cuomo is operating as a "CEO" and willing to put his reputation at stake to make changes the state needs.

"It's time to roll up our sleeves and help the governor as he makes the tough and necessary choices," said Bloomberg. Bloomberg liked Cuomo's centrist message, which downplayed partisanship and focused on fiscal responsibility.

Noting that other governors have laid out ambitious programs and failed, one reporter asked what Bloomberg saw that gave him hope that Cuomo will succeed. "The people are at his back," the mayor answered. "The time is right."

Bloomberg said, "Cuomo didn't come up and say we are going to kick the can down the road. He said this is the time, and he put his reputation on the line and said 'I'm going to do it,' and that's the kind of accountability you need. Everything the governor does won't work, everything he wants to do won't get done, but I would rather have someone do 12 of the next 10 things we need, rather than the next eight."

Others were far less enthusiastic. A number of anti-poverty groups responded after the speech, focusing on taxes for the rich. They want Cuomo to extend a millionaires tax to help close the state's $9 billion dollar budget gap and to insure that the poor continue to receive services in the depressed economy. Mark Dunlea of Hunger Action Network said, "The poor were missing from Cuomo's vision."

City Specifics

The aspects of the speech that will affect the city -- a team that will "redesign" how Medicaid is distributed, performance based financial rewards for schools, reforming the juvenile justice system and possibly closing some upstate prisons where many city residents are incarcerated -- were all very relevant and fresh on Bloomberg's mind.

Bloomberg, who was accompanied by new schools chancellor Cathleen Black, was exuberant about Cuomo's plan to set aside a portion of the state's education aid funds to award to schools that increase their performance. "I was just thrilled the governor said he thought aid should be given out by performance, and if the state did that, New York City would get a great percentage of state educational support," Bloomberg said. He said most schools in the city are improving on some level regardless of how they currently perform.

The question, Bloomberg said, is, “Where are they gonna get the amount of money we depend on to carry us forward?”

Cuomo was blunt in his assessment of programs for young people under the supervision of institutions other than the school system. He proposed a consolidation of the state's juvenile justice system, saying: "You have juvenile justice facilities today where we have young people who are incarcerated in these state programs who are receiving help, assistance, program treatment that has already been proven to be ineffective. Recidivism rate in the 90th percentile. The cost to the taxpayer is exorbitant. For one child over $200,000 per year. The reason we continue to keep these children in these programs that aren't serving them but are bilking the taxpayers is that we don't want to lose the state jobs that we would lose if we closed the facilities."

While Bloomberg supports closing underutilized facilities and prisons, he wants the state to give localities control of where they send youthful offenders so that New York City youth won't be shipped upstate.

"I have always thought it is better to incarcerate people near their families,” said Bloomberg. 'The separate issue is that the state has too many facilities to incarcerate people. The number of people we are sending to jail is going down, but our costs have not been going down."

Cuomo also proposed consolidating upstate prisons, which are increasingly underpopulated. To upstate legislators who steadfastly oppose closing prisons in their rural districts Cuomo said, "An incarceration program is not an employment program. ... You don’t put people in prison just to give people jobs."

On Medicaid, Cuomo said he learned during his time as attorney general how wasteful the health program for low-income people can be. In his speech, he announced the creation of a team to look at revamping the reimbursement process. "The Medicaid program needs a desperate overhaul," Cuomo said. "It is dysfunctional on many levels, so this process has to be done anyway."

The Medicaid Redesign Team will begin work on Jan. 7 and report to Cuomo on April 1.

Bloomberg said the city can't bear large cuts in Medicaid reimbursement. "We have to, by charter, treat anyone who shows up at our front door," said Bloomberg of the city's public hospitals. "If Medicaid would stop paying, that would be a burden we plain and simply can't afford."

But Bloomberg said he did support overhauling the Medicaid system. “We cannot afford to put all this money into Medicaid. It will bankrupt the state. It will bankrupt the country."

The Task Ahead

Cuomo, with the use of his PowerPoint presentation, did inject moments of levity into the speech. He described the budget process as "ships passing at midnight." The image of three military ships floated by each other on the screen. "Wait," he said, and in a mock-startled tone informed the audience that he thought he saw someone he recognized. On one ship was Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, on the other Silver. And on the large destroyer was Cuomo. Suddenly out of the sky swooped "special interests: in a jet that dropped bombs on S.S. Cuomo. Cuomo pointed out that he was the only one targeted by the special interest bombs.

Cuomo has said he will wage a year-round campaign against labor unions and special interests to fight back against whatever negative press he receives for his proposed cuts. He did not drop some of the bigger bombs on the unions--like changes to the pension system during his speech.

In other words, the tough work still lies ahead.

Outside the convention center a large group of union members shouted and chanted. "How’s the new suit?" one state trooper patrolling the area asked another. "He's a pretty loose, nice guy the other answered, "But he's got a big job in front of him."

Cuomo Takes Charge

Andrew Cuomo
Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo taking the oath of office to become New York's governor.

Eliot Spitzer's inauguration four years ago was an event driven by hope. Crowds of onlookers stood on the capitol lawn to watch the Sheriff of Wall Street take his oath and then deliver the reform he promised: "Day One Everything Changes." James Taylor performed; there was a sense of jubilation, and for many voters it felt like Albany's time had come.

Four years ago Albany was regarded as a cesspool of ineptitude, corruption and privilege. Four years later, after Spitzer's resignation, the improprieties and missteps surrounding his successor, Gov. David Paterson, turmoil in the State Senate, and a slew of lawmakers caught up in investigations and scandal, voters hold Albany in even lower esteem. The state faces a $9 billion dollar deficit and escalating financial woes, and its government seems unable to even begin to cope with it.

In this climate, Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated in a small gathering of about 170 people in the “War Room” of the capitol, away from throngs of people, away from union members holding signs protesting proposed cuts, and without much of the reviled legislature in attendance. The magic of the Spitzer inauguration wasn't there; certainly that was in part because Cuomo did not want it. But if he did, he probably would not have gotten it. Albany, as Cuomo acknowledged in his inaugural address, is now both the punch line and the joke, and many New Yorkers, even those who voted for Cuomo, doubt how much one man can change that.

Opening the Door

As he did during his four years as attorney general and his campaign for governor, Cuomo kept the environment at the inauguration well controlled and sent messages as much through what he didn't say as through what he did. He did, however, deliver a speech that was impassioned and emotional.

"It is a time for deeds, not words, and results, not rhetoric. It is time for a bold agenda and immediate action. There is no more waiting for tomorrow, and there are no more baby steps, my friends," he said, seemingly warning the legislature that he would not stand for more half measures on fixing the state budget or on ethics reform.

And Cuomo did take action: His first cut as governor was not to the budget but to a red ribbon signaling that the second floor, which houses the governor's offices (once known as "Fort Pataki”), would now be open to the public. And he ordered the concrete barricades -- the ones erected in the wake of 9/11 -- removed from the front of the capitol.

Cuomo told a story about walking in the capitol behind a mother and her young daughter. The daughter remarked how beautiful the capitol is and wondered why there weren't more people walking in the hallways. Cuomo seized on the girl's musings.

"To get into this capitol is like running an obstacle course, and it shouldn’t be," Cuomo said. “People refer to the capitol as a fort or as a bunker, and it is anything but. This is a beautiful monument to democracy, this building. This is the people’s meeting place, and they should be invited in. And today, my friends, we will reopen the capitol, literally and figuratively.”

Details To Come

Cuomo also made promises during his inaugural address and in conversations with reporters afterward. He vowed there will be no new taxes and said that he will unveil an “emergency financial reinvention plan” during his state of the state address on Wednesday. During the campaign Cuomo did not divulge how he would address the state's looming deficit, other than to say he would not raise taxes. He has provided few, if any, details about what he would cut and did not offer any more specifics on Saturday. But that seems likely to change Wednesday.

In his speech Saturday, Cuomo said that he wants to pass a property tax cap during this legislative session. He also spoke of consolidating both state and local governments to reduce waste. Previously, he has talked a lot about cutting the state's Medicaid system, so that may be in play in his fiscal plan as well He could outline specific service and programs reductions -- something almost certain to attract howls of protest.

Cuomo has also taken the state of the state address out of the the Assembly chamber. It became tradition to deliver the speech there in 1923 when Gov. Alfred E. Smith decided he would give his speech rather than just write a letter to legislators. Smith spent years in the Assembly and wanted to keep the legislature on his side. Cuomo decided to hold his state of the state in a convention center to make it more accessible to the public. The administration is holding a lottery for members of public to win the chance to see Cuomo the deliver the speech in person. Some see it as a blatant slap at the legislature -- an attempt to distance himself from them and send a message. But publicly most legislators back the idea.

In his inauguration speech. Cuomo outlined some of his priorities.
“We have a very specific mandate for change that the people want. And our expectation is that the politicians and the elected officials of people are now going to do what the people voted for and what the people need. It starts with jobs, jobs, jobs, getting the economy running once again, getting the economy running all across this great state," said Cuomo.

"Number two is going to be cleaning up Albany and restoring trust. ... Any relationship is only as good as the level of trust, and we have lost the trust. And we are not going to get it back until we clean up Albany and there's real transparency and real disclosure and real accountability and real ethics enforcement. That's what the people have voted for and that's what the people deserve."

Cuomo issued an executive order mandating his staffers undergo ethics training.

Cuomo said the issues have been clear for years its just been the will and discipline that has been missing.

"We know what needs to be done. We have known, in truth, what needs to be done for many, many years. What we have to do this time is we actually have to do it, we actually have to deliver for the people of the State of New York."

Can He Deliver?

A number of legislators and advocates are very optimistic about Cuomo's chances for accomplishing the goals he has laid out. They say Cuomo has matured from the brash, self-obsessed, back-room dealer he was when he worked for his father and even during his first run for governor in 2002. They say he is goal oriented and has gained discipline from his time as attorney general. Further, they note, he has been around Albany a long time and has learned from watching the successes and failures of his predecessors: his father Mario, George Pataki, Spitzer and Paterson. Being governor , they say, is what he has been waiting and planning for for years.

Other legislators, however, are not convinced. Quietly and privately, they say that Cuomo has himself more in mind than his party. That his entreaties across the aisles to the Republican majority in the may improve relations in the senate where Republicans recently retook the majority but may further complicate relationships with the Democratic controlled Assembly. Tensions between Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have been speculated about for months as it is expected that Silver will stand against a lot of Cuomo's budget cuts.

Further, skeptics say, say Cuomo's demand that the courts settle legal disputes over contested senate races before he took office and his conservative leanings have hurt Democrats and were only done to further his political aspirations. They worry that Cuomo has his sights set on national politics.

And then there are the state workers in Albany who fear that their unions have been snowed by Cuomo; they expect there will be many more cuts to state and education jobs under the new governor. Some unions refrained from endorsing Cuomo because he has made it clear that he wants concessions; others endorsed him and hope a good relationship with the governor will keep them from getting the worst of it.

Spitzer famously vowed to go it alone, to be a steamroller while Cuomo acknowledged in his inaugural address that he needs the legislature as a partner and that he may even be asking them to give up some of their power.

"To the state legislators I say, I reach out to you to form a new partnership, because in truth the partnership between the executive and the legislature has not been working well for years, and that must change.

I respect the electoral responsibility of the legislature, I respect the constitutional independence of the legislature, but I also know that success will require a different approach. We must accomplish more, faster, smarter, and better, than we have in decades. We have no more time to dally.

"To my Republican colleagues I say, I will not govern in a partisan way and my administration will not be a partisan administration. I was not a partisan attorney general, I did not run a partisan campaign. I don't believe the Democrats or the Republicans alone created the problems we face today and I don't believe the Democrats or Republicans alone will be able solve the problems we face today. I believe we are going to have to do it and do it together."

Once Again, a New Governor Vows to Clean Up Albany

Photo by New York State Senate
Former State Sen. Vincent Leibell Monday became the latest member of the state legislature to be guilty of corruption charges.

On Dec. 6, former Republican Sen. Vincent Leibell pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing justice and one count of failing to report taxable income on his federal tax returns from 2003 to 2006. Last week, Leibell suddenly announced he was retiring from the senate earlier than expected and told colleagues that he would not take office as Putnam County executive, a post he won in November.

Investigators say that, in 2000, Leibell started receiving kickbacks from an attorney who represented a non-profit that Leibell himself had started. After finding out that he was under investigation this April, Leibell was caught on a wire telling the attorney to lie to the investigators about their arrangement.

Leibell is the latest in a line of Albany politicians who federal investigators have caught illegally taking advantage of their position. His plea comes less than a month after state elections in which almost every candidate ran as a reformer, Now, with the election over, everyone is waiting with baited breath for Andrew Cuomo to be sworn in as governor and unveil his agenda for curtailing the corruption.

His Ethics Agenda

The first chapter of Cuomo’s policy book is "Clean Up Albany: Restoring Trust and Accountability," and it speaks of sweeping ethics reform. Cuomo supports setting low limits on campaign contributions from public contractors and lobbyists in an effort to limit pay to play. He wants to greatly lower legal campaign contribution limits as a whole and institute a voluntary public campaign finance system. He also supports a new independent oversight board for the legislature.

andrew cuomo

It is unclear, though, how Cuomo plans to implement the package. Cuomo has not indicated whether he has a litmus test for an ethics reform bill or whether he thinks he can get it all done in one bill.

"I think Cuomo will want to negotiate a tougher bill than the one the legislature had last year but I’m not sure where he is going to draw the line," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Former Mayor Ed Koch said Cuomo's first year in office is a do or die year for the ethics and redistricting reforms. "It has to get done this (coming) year or it won’t get done," Koch insisted.

If Cuomo plans to get his reforms through in one major ethics bill, even legislators acknowledge it will take time and a lot of negotiating to arrive at legislation that could pass both houses.

"The question is will he be willing to spend the political capital to get the ethics bill done?" said Horner. "He is going to need a lot of capital to get that bill done but he will need enormous capital to finish the budget."

Lost in the Legislature?

The latest scandal has good government groups tearing out their hair in frustration and demanding the legislature do something.

"Someone make it stop!" wrote Horner. "Once again, a state elected official has pled guilty to charges of corruption. The guilty plea by state Sen. Vincent Leibell should reignite voter outrage about Albany. Gov. Paterson -- who made ethics reform central in his State of the State address and then dropped the issue like a bad habit -– should convene a special session to act on comprehensive ethics legislation."

In addition, Horner said the attorney general’s office, which Cuomo still occupies, needs to immediately conduct a review of non-profits that get state funding to make sure no other legislators are benefiting from funneling state money to organizations they control.

Despite such outrage, it remains extremely unlikely that the lame-duck legislature will move on ethics reform this year. What it could do after that could be open to question too.

The legislature passed a package last year that would have required lawmakers to reveal more of their outside income and established a new oversight board to review charges of corruption and conflicts of interest. It would not though have forced lawyer lawmakers like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and then Senate Majority leader John Sampson to reveal their clients, and the members of the oversight board would not have been independently appointed.

Gov. David Paterson said the bill did not go far enough andvetoed it. Good government groups NYPIRG and Citizens Union (whose sister organization publishes Gotham Gazette) supported the legislation, saying that any improvement to the existing ethics laws would be a good step. Common Cause backed Paterson’s veto, saying the bill needed to do more.

Going It Alone

Cuomo could choose options that do not require the legislature to act. During the Democratic primary for attorney general, several candidates spoke of having the governor sign an executive order to give the attorney general's office wider power to investigate and prosecute corruption in Albany.

The majority of state legislators caught abusing their office were investigated and prosecuted by federal authorities. An executive order could change that and mean that the federal government would no longer be the only ones holding Albany politicians accountable.

One contender, Eric Dinallo, called on Paterson to immediately sign an executive order. "Call me crazy," he told City Hall, “but I think it’s unlikely that the Albany legislature is going to pass laws for their own investigation and prosecution.”

Paterson did not follow Dinallo's advise, and Cuomo does not seem in any hurry to do so either. He seems determined to give the legislature a shot at cleaning up their mess.

Shortly after the election, Cuomo was asked if he would consider signing an executive order to give Attorney General-elect Eric Schneiderman wide power to investigate corruption in Albany.

"I want to see what happens with the ethics reform with the legislature, but there are a number of options that can be pursued," Cuomo said. "The optimum is that we have an overall reform bill done, signed by the legislature, for comprehensive ethics reform."

"Attorney General-elect Schneiderman ran on a platform of rooting out public corruption, and looks forward to working with Gov-elect Cuomo on a comprehensive approach to this pressing problem," said Schneiderman’s spokesman.

Koch said he doesn’t question Cuomo’s strategy. "I won’t second guess him," said Koch. "He has said he will try to work with the legislature but that isn’t the only option."

But Koch certainly sees Silver as an impediment to Cuomo’s reform plans, whatever they are, in the form of Silver. "At least one of the current Democratic leaders makes $1 million a year from his firm. So what is it for? I know malpractice reform and anything the trial lawyers don’t want never makes it through the assembly," the former mayor said.

At the same time Koch said that he thinks Silver is coming around on the reforms he and Cuomo have proposed.

Cuomo has acknowledged there are things he can do on ethics without the legislature, He cited the Moreland Act, which the legislature created in 1907, and which allows the governor to create a commission with subpoena powers to investigate any part of state government. Past governors have used the act to launch investigations on issues ranging from nursing homes to corruption in local government. Silver called on former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to use the act to investigate Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno in 2007.

But creating such a commission could ruffle feathers and antagonize the legislature. "He has lots of promises in his books that he needs to fulfill and it all depends on where he decides to spend his capital," Horner said.

The good government group Reinvent Albany issued a report in last month entitled Executive Orders that offered examples of executive orders Cuomo could issue to begin reforming the state. On ethics, they encourage Cuomo to start in his own office -- the executive branch. The group called on Cuomo to issue an order that would require his top staffers to put their ethics disclosure forms online, allowing voters access to information about their investments and other connections. Other measures would require ethics training and limit executive staffers political contributions.

Preparing for a Fight?

Cuomo told the New York Times in a pre-election interview that he does not plan to have a contentious relationship with the legislature, but if history is any indication, major ethics reform won’t pass without a major struggle.

Meanwhile, things may have gotten a bit easier for Cuomo in the Senate, where it seems almost certain that Republicans will be in the majority. The senate Democrats spent their two years in the majority wracked by dysfunction and scandal. The Senate Republican conference is seen as a well-oiled machine and soon-to-be Majority Leader Dean Skelos has said that he is on the same page with Cuomo. "Cuomo and I are in synch," Skelos told The Post. "His issue is going to be getting Speaker Silver on board. What he’s indicated since the election is very much in line with the Republican Senate majority. He wants no taxes and to cut spending, and that’s our theme. We're supportive of his property-tax cap. We should work very well together."

Whether Skelos' support of Cuomo extends to sweeping ethics reform is yet to be seen. Calls to Cuomo’s and Skelos’ offices were not returned.

Albany Watches, Waits and Worries

Photo by B. Campbell

It was quiet at the Citizen Action headquarters on Central Avenue in Albany Tuesday night. "We just have a few people out there closing up some polling places," a young woman said as she stacked campaign fliers. Staffers and volunteers had just finished phone-banking Arbor Hill and West Hill, the heavily minority section of Albany. Citizen Action wanted to make especially sure that voters who came out to support Obama in 2008 would make the trip to the polls again this time. The group's activists said they were pleasantly surprised that everyone they reached out to from their lists had already voted.

Perhaps though, they should not have been surprised. Probably no place in the state would be affected as much by yesterday's state elections than Albany. It is, of course, is a town that survives almost exclusively because of state jobs and is considered a bastion for unions. And it also is a place whose name has become almost synonymous with dysfunction and the seamy side of government.

Pre-Election Jitters

Citizen Action staffers were pushing especially hard to get support for State Sen. Eric Schneiderman, running for attorney general. Polls showed him in a dead heat with Republican Dan Donovan, and upstate supporters in Citizen Action worried that Schneiderman hadn’t reached enough people. The group is part of a large network of unions and activist groups that support Schneiderman and worked with him closely in the past.

On Monday, Andrew Cuomo made a last-minute stop in Albany with Schneiderman in a bid for votes. With polls looking close, Schneiderman was thought to need more of a Cuomo boost. Cuomo took the opportunity to defend the city of Albany, saying that Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings was tired of hearing "Albany" used as a derogatory term. Ironically, most of the crowd was made up of union members; both Cuomo and Paladino have used "union" as a dirty word during their campaigns, promising to cut labor contracts and fire state workers.

At Democratic headquarters Jennings, a confidant and die-hard supporter of Andrew Cuomo, strutted about waiting for the returns to come in. Through most of the election season, the slate of candidates in Albany, which is known for its Democratic machine politics, were thought to be safe. Then came a surge of Republican support and a misstep by Sen. Neil Breslin. Breslin had been pulled over and was administered a sobriety test which he passed. No breathalyzer was given. A Breslin spokesman denied Breslin had been drinking but later, in an interview with a Times Union reporter, Breslin said he had had "a couple" glasses of wine before driving home.

Some Democrats worried that they could now lose his seat as well as one or two Assembly seats. As election night began, Democrats seemed nervous.

The news came quickly that Cuomo and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer were likely victorious. And soon after came word that all the Albany-based incumbents in the legislature also were winning. All remembered to thank the labor groups that were in charge of getting out the vote. "It is no mistake that all of the candidates thanked labor tonight," said Albany County Democratic Chair Dan McCoy.

The union members know all too well that Cuomo as well as Paladino are have been pledging to do battle with labor. Off the record, a number of legislators worried that David Paterson has been doing Cuomo’s "dirty work" by starting to lay off state workers this year. They fretted over Cuomo's stance that labor must make concessions and openly wondered whether Cuomo would run into a brick wall in trying to battle unions.

A few staffers and politicians considered whether Cuomo might like to see a Republican Senate, which could prove more amenable to his budget cuts. It is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his loyal Democratic majority that is expected to battle Cuomo over reductions in services. Some Assembly members were already sniping at Cuomo -- albeit off the record.

The Senate in the Balance

Meanwhile, in surrounding counties, Democratic challengers to long-term Republican Senate incumbents waited to see if they could pull off major upsets. Earlier in the year it seemed that Sen. Roy McDonald, who replaced former Sate Majority leader Joe Bruno, and multiple-decade incumbent Hugh Farley in Schenectady County were vulnerable. Democrats led by Sen. Liz Krueger touted the two female candidates challenging the Republican incumbents as part of the 16 Percent and Rising initiative. But neither woman was successful.

The Democrats grew more disappointed as the night wore on and the numbers crawled in. They fretted over the attorney general’s race and wondered whether Cuomo had done enough for Schneiderman; most of them griped that he he had abandoned DiNapoli, who he did not endorse.

The numbers kept creeping up for both Democrats. Schneiderman won. DiNapoli declared victory in the wee hours of the morning, but his opponent, Harry Wilson, issued a statement saying he planned to wait for absentee ballots and a possible re-canvassing.

As the night went on, the fate of the State Senate became less and less clear. As of this writing, the Senate was in a dead heat, 29-29, with four districts still being contested. The 7th, 37th, 40th and 60th districts were too close to call.

In the city, in a bit of an upset, Tony Avella defeated Republican Sen. Frank Padavan, and Democrat Joseph Addabo won a hotly contested race against Republican Anthony Como. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the race between Democratic Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer and Republican Bob Cohen in Westchester is too close to call. The Senate could go to either party at this point -- or end up split 31-31. Republicans have declared that they are in charge of the Senate, while Democrats counter that they are. Whatever happens, it is likely that there will be recounts and legal challenges that could leave the fate of the Senate in the air for months.

Regardless of who controls the Senate, very little will have changed in New York. In the end, the "throw the bums out" rhetoric did not make much difference. Democrats who were in charge retain control of all the major state-wide offices, and they still enjoy a large majority in the Assembly. The question now is whether the Democrats will act any differently now, with a new governor, than they have in the past.

"Were you at all worried?" a constituent asked a Democratic legislator as they discussed the Tea Party movement as the victory party at the Polish American Citizens Club wound down. "This is Albany. I wasn’t worried for a second," the politician said, and chuckled.

Cuomo Puts Labor in a Headlock

New York unions
Workers rallied again proposed state budget cuts in Albany in 2009. Public employee unions have resisted many efforts to reduce spending, but Andrew Cuomo vows he will push back.


Andrew Cuomo has declared war on unions -- and union leaders are simply grinning and bearing it. With the state facing a cratering budget deficit, both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have made it clear that they expect major concessions from labor unions, and a property tax cap and will not raise taxes.

Cuomo’s intentions were clear earlier in the year, but the attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate had not made his intentions so public and plain as he did in an interview with the New York Times that ran on Monday.

In that interview, Cuomo said he intends to run a permanent presidential-style campaign against labor unions, so that he will have the leverage to initiate spending cuts and negotiate contracts that they will almost certainly resist. Cuomo detailed how other New York governors have been brought to their knees in budget negotiations by public campaigns launched by unions. Cuomo will now try to use that strategy against them.

Despite Cuomo’s general anti-labor stance some unions have endorsed Cuomo and raised money for him -- others have declined to endorse in the race. Supporter or not, labor hopes that, despite Cuomo's plan to campaign against unions, he will treat them as partners rather than enemies.

Trying to Get Along

Unions have varied in their approach to dealing with Cuomo, who is perceived as the inevitable next governor. "There are two different approaches," said Dick Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers. "Either you endorse a candidate because you think they will better serve your interests, or you endorse them because you think they will be the better leader. In this case it is fairly easy, because Mr. Paladino is the other choice. And that is what some unions did -- they endorsed based on Mr. Cuomo's history as a leader."

Concerned with Cuomo's plans to initiate a property tax cap and cut spending and frightened by Paladino, United Teachers decided not to endorse. A property tax cap would likely limit a key source of funding for school districts outside New York City, something the state teachers union will not sign off on.

"Our positions are not aligned with his," said Iannuzzi of Cuomo, "It’s not just about the person but the policy."

Iannuzzi noted he is willing to work with Cuomo -- but wants to be treated as a partner.

"We hope to have an open, honest relationship with the governor," said Iannuzzi, "He is a man of his word, and I believe he thinks that I am."

Steve Madarasz, spokesman for Civil Service Employees Union, agrees about the need for cooperation. Cuomo sent labor leaders copies of The Man Who Saved New York, a biography of former Gov. Hugh Carey, but Madarsz said, "The Cuomo camp is involved in some revisionist history. Hugh Carey came in bullish and tried to dictate terms to labor, but he learned quickly that it was more effective to bring people to the table and treat them with respect."

"If people come in looking to work together to find solutions for the state we want to do that -- that is what we do," said Madarasz, "but if they come in and try to dictate terms, we are going to be prickly. We have had success in local government where we are approached about negotiating new terms to help everyone. Nothing is easy, but it works a lot better to treat everyone as partners than if someone comes in calling names and trying to bully us around."

Madarasz said that neither Cuomo nor Paladino "has said or done anything to earn our endorsement."

Another Tact

Other major unions including the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations and the Public Employees Federation have endorsed Cuomo. Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents health care workers, is seen as having a strong relationship with Cuomo. Lobbyist Jennifer Cunningham, a former service employees vice president, is one of Cuomo's top advisers. The union has donated over $50,000 to Cuomo-Duffy 2010 over the last two years.

1199 also is perceived to be more aggressive and effective when it comes to battling cuts than the teachers or civil service employees. It launched devastating ad blitzes to fight health care cuts proposed by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Gov. David Paterson. The barrages of commercials didn’t always stop the cuts, but they severely damaged the reputations of the governor’s who felt their wrath.

Whether it spurred their support -- or is the effect of it -- 1199 workers also do not seem likely to be hit as hard by Cuomo's cuts as members of the other unions. Many of the service employees do not work directly for the state government but rather for private and public hospitals and health care agencies that receive money from Medicaid. While Cuomo supported Paterson’s recent order to lay off 2,000 more state workers, an action that directly targets civil service employee members, and plans a property tax cap that would likely hurt teachers, his promises to reform Medicaid are not perceived to be as sharp or particularly harmful to SEIU1199.

Anti-Union Campaign

How is it that both mainstream gubernatorial candidates are running against organized labor? After all more than 2 million New Yorkers -- or about a quarter of the state's workers -- belong to a union, the highest rate in the country, according to the AFL-CIO.

For one thing, Cuomo has been moving to the right since his run for attorney general in 2006. Secondly, Paladino is seen as such a long shot, one who has alienated many members of his own party as well as Democrats, that Cuomo has not needed to organize the traditional Democratic base. Business groups and their supporters have convinced many New Yorkers -- rightly or wrongly -- that raising taxes will drive more businesses and families out of New York. Without more revenue the state must lay off workers -- union members -- to balance its budget. Many critics charge that, rather than looking for solutions to the state's fiscal woes, labor leaders pressure legislators into increasing taxes and packing the state budget with perks for them.

The Working Families Party -- backed by labor unions -- felt it had to sign off on Cuomo’s policy plans, including a proposed austerity budget, because without Cuomo they could have lost their ballot line. Therefore, they did not raise any sort of fuss about his direction.

"People say, 'Vote for Cuomo on the Working Families Party Line,'" said Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor. "Well, they collapsed; they accepted his austerity plan. If anyone wants to send Cuomo a message they better vote Green."

In the eyes of most unions, Paladino, who has called for a 20 percent spending cut, is even less palatable than Cuomo. Plus few take him seriously. That has left many feeling they have little choice but to work with Cuomo rather than battle against his election.

Assemblymember John McEneny, who represents Albany County with its many state workers, said he was disappointed that Cuomo backed Paterson's order to layoff 2,000 more workers. In his mind, the state could do more to offer early retirement packages to reduce its workforce.

He also expresses some skepticism about the idea that high taxes are driving the state into the ground. He points to states like Nevada that are suffering far worse economic downturns then New York. "Other states with low tax rates and that provide a low amount of services to their citizens are doing worse than we are," he said.

Hawkins says he has been invited to more union meetings and to speak to more crowds than ever before, because people want to know if there are alternatives to Cuomo's austerity budget. New York City Councilmember and Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron also touts his plan to avoid major job cuts and to increase taxes on the rich; it is said that he wants to draw the city’s minority vote away from Cuomo.

Hawkins has proposed reinstating the stock transfer tax -- a move he says would generate a $7 billion dollar surplus. Opponents of the measure say the action would instead drive investors and companies out of New York. Further, Hawkins supports returning to the kind of progressive income tax structure that New York had in the 1970s so that the rich would pay "more of their share."

These tax changes would save New York from the austerity budget proposed by Cuomo and Paladino and allow the establishment of a Works Progress Administration style authority that would put any New Yorker who needed a job to work. Even politicians opposed to major cuts, generally dismiss Hawkins’ ideas as pie in the sky. But Hawkins says his proposals are very much based in reality. "People know we have provided jobs to people before. The emergency jobs program created by Roosevelt worked," he said.

Hawkins said the major party candidates have not even discussed these proposals.

"The lack of discourse between the two major candidates has opened doors for me," said Hawkins. He does not expect to get elected, but the behavior of the major candidates is helping better establish the Green Party. "I understand some people wouldn't want to endorse the little Green Party, but I think we are increasing our foundation, and people will want to in the future. There is a real opportunity for us this year."

Next Year

Cuomo’s success against labor is far from assured. Cutting jobs to save money will have effects on people beyond the laid off workers and their families. With jobs go services, and labor unions will be quick to rally the public to their defense. They will also likely have Assembly Democrats and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver there to back them in budget negotiations, and they will be able to fall back on legal action and arbitration should things not go their way.

Major contracts with the state will be up in the spring, negotiations will start, and that will be the real test of whether Cuomo plans on pushing unions into a corner or working with them as partners.

Small Staff, Lack of Funds Hamper Donovan Campaign

Dan Donovan
Photo courtesy Daniel Donovan
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared at Dan Donovan's side when he announced his candidacy for attorney general but that has not assured Donovan's success.

When the general election campaign for state attorney general began, Republican candidate Dan Donovan seemed in a strong position. He had a record as a prosecutor, a moderate image and the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and people in the financial industry with lots of money to give. His opponent, State Sen. Eric Schneiderman entered the race as a career politician with an ultra liberal record and rhetoric to match.

Now, though, Donovan's campaign seems to be foundering. The Staten Island district attorney trails in the polls and lags far behind Schneiderman in fundraising. He has little staff and a campaign operation that appears disorganized. Donovan pulled all his television ads for this week and still has not aired an ad in Manhattan.

The Donovan campaign and state Republican officials still say Donovan will prevail on Election Day and point out that any Republican running in heavily Democratic New York will encounter obstacles. Polls have shown Schneiderman's lead shrinking and that a substantial number of voters remain undecided in the race.


Contrasting Campaigns

"I would say it's a real David vs. Goliath story," said a source close to Donovan's campaign. "They have all the unions and special interests," said the source, referring to Schneiderman. "We have a lot of grit and heart (and coffee); in reality, it's probably the best reflection of the candidates themselves."

Schneiderman’s campaign has around 12 full-time staffers not counting consultants. That is twice as many as Donovan’s. Donovan's press person, Virginia Lam, openly admits that Schneiderman's camp has more "trackers than we do staffers." (Trackers keep tabs on the public appearances of the opposing candidate and look to capture gaffes on camera.) Donovan has only six full-time staffers, aided by consultants and volunteers. Schneiderman has four press staffers -- with upstate and downstate spokespeople. Donovan only has one spokesperson.

Schneiderman's staff isn't the only thing that is larger-- so is his personality. He is known as a hyperactive overachiever and thought of as an outspoken, master debater.

Donovan is soft spoken and direct. Some say shy. Donovan staffers describe their boss as a "salt of the earth" kind of guy.

Sources close to Donovan’s campaign say that his work style is very much reflected in his staff. "They are of the 'work hard, keep your head down' mentality," said one source. "No glory, just get the job done right. It very much mirrors Dan's own approach to the job."

As the race for what some consider the most powerful elected position in New York State hits the back stretch, some wonder if what was once thought to be a very winnable race for Republicans is getting further out of reach. It may be a "David vs. Goliath" story, but in politics admitting you're outnumbered and outgunned usually spells doom, not triumph.

Republican Chairman Ed Cox puts the David vs. Goliath theme in a different perspective. "It is David vs. Goliath because this is New York; the state is hugely Democratic. Dan is running against the odds, as are most Republican candidates, so Schneiderman is going to be Goliath and Donovan is going to be David. He will be the one holding a slingshot."

Donovan may be having trouble drawing enthusiasm because the man at the top of the ticket -- Carl Paladino -- is neither moderate nor doing very well in the polls. Donovan has tried to avoid speaking about Paladino.

The Money Race

Donovan was supposed to be well funded; he has the backing of Bloomberg, who is known for supporting Republican candidates with his financial power. Bloomberg has given Donovan's campaign over $30,000, and Donovan has hired Bradley Tusk, who worked on Bloomberg's 2009 re-election campaign.

But as the Observer reported Bloomberg's support has not sparked a bonanza of other donations for Donovan. The campaign reported having only $400,000 on hand at the end of September -- half of what Schneiderman had -- and after Schneiderman finished the grueling and costly Democratic Primary. Bloomberg will host another fundraiser for Donovan next week.

With just under two weeks left until Election Day Donovan’s, campaign decided to go without any television spots this week. At the same time, a Siena Pollof "likely voters" found Schneiderman leading Donovan 44-37.

Schneiderman's campaign pounced on the news. "On the same day it was revealed Dan Donovan was forced to pull his ads from TV for the entire week, the first Siena poll of likely voters in the race for attorney general shows Donovan needs to make up 7 points, with just 13 days to go," read the release issued by Schneiderman’s campaign.

A source close to the Donovan campaign countered that taking the ads off the air for the week was part of their strategy.

The campaign bought ads everywhere but Manhattan after the Sept. 15 primary, then planned to stay off television before returning to televison across the state, including Manhattan for the last 10 days, according to the source, who added that Schneiderman also had a reduced television buy the previous week.

"They have their strategy, we have ours. We need the push at the end, because turnout is what will determine this race," the aide explained.

Democrats say Donovan has been spending his campaign money on fund raising consultants that have not done him much good.

The Donovan campaign, though, portrays Schneiderman’s operation as the one in trouble because, according to a recent release, "independent and undecided voters are trending overwhelmingly for Dan Donovan."

"Team Schneiderman is clearly in chaos and disarray with the knowledge that even with a 5-1 voter registration advantage, a financial advantage ... and their disgusting attempts to scare women and minority communities with weak and baseless attacks -- they still can’t stop the tidal wave of momentum for District Attorney Donovan," the release continued.

eric schneiderman
Photo by David King
Eric Schneiderman

Running from the Middle

Schneiderman was supposed to be too liberal to beat the middle-of the-road Donovan -- even his opponents in the Democratic primary said that.

"Anyone would look moderate standing next to Eric," said Sen. Steve Saland of Poughkeepsie as he waited for Donovan to show up at the Pougkeepsie Republican Victory Headquarters on Tuesday. "The view from Manhattan is different from just about anywhere else in the world, except maybe San Francisco," he continued, noting that he thinks Schneiderman appeals to minorities in the city and extreme Manhattan liberals.

Donovan paints Schneiderman as a part of Albany’s corruption problem. His campaign attacks Schneiderman for being elevated in life by his rich father and for being beholden to the unions that have backed him and donated to him.

"Certainly the public service unions haven't endorsed me. They don't want to see me as the next attorney general. They’ve had a good grip on Albany for the last decade -- and my opponent has been part of it-- they want to have a good grip on the next AG," Donovan said.

Last week, Schneiderman appeared in Albany to receive the endorsements from union officials. Dennis Hughes, president of the AFl-CIO; Tom Comanzo vice president of PEF and Larry Bulman of the Pipe Trades Association all personally endorsed Schneiderman. Schneiderman was asked about his close ties to unions and how that might affect his relationship with Andrew Cuomo, who has said that, if he become governor he intends to make the kinds of cuts that unions will not like.

"This is a tough time for everybody," Schneiderman told reporters, adding that union members don't want "pie in the sky. They’re just looking for practical solutions."

Cox characterizes Schneiderman as a career politician whose political future figures into all of his calculations. "Dan would never do something like Eric did with Al Sharpton and say that he will have an annex for Sharpton’s idea of justice. He would not make that kind of political move," Cox said, referring to Schneiderman's comments when Sharpton endorsed him.

While Donovan paints Schneiderman as too close to some special interests, Schneiderman has focused on Donovan's connections to another group: Wall Street. During a debate, Schneiderman seized on Donovan’s assertion that he does not plan to be the "sheriff of Wall Street." Donovan said he didn’t want to be the "sheriff of anything."

The New York Times recently reportedthat one in four dollars of the money Donovan has raised can be traced back to $17 billion hedge fund Elliot Management that is overseen by Paul Singer a staunch defender of Wall Street.

Schneiderman has also taken Wall Street money, but it does not dominate his contributions.

Both men say they will make fighting corruption in Albany a priority. Schneiderman touts the fact that he led a committee that recommended the ouster of disgraced Sen. Hiram Monserrate. The Donovan campaign says Schneiderman only did it after Monserrate had been convicted on a misdemeanor charge. They say Schneiderman worked hand in hand with Sen. Pedro Espada as well as Monserrate until it was politically expedient not to.

To fight corruption, Donovan said, "We need someone who has worked 15 years as a prosecutor, who has no ties to Albany, hasn't served their last 12 years there like my opponent and may have to investigate the people he has served with and has relationships with."

Donovan said he wants the attorney general's office to oversee all corruption cases in Albany, and would increase transparency and monitoring of member items.

"Partisanship has no place in the office of the chief warrior for the people of the State of New York," said Donovan.

Schneiderman has said he will make fighting corruption a top priority for his office and backs the creation of a public financing system for state races.

The Final Days

The candidates have confirmed one remaining debate to take place in Albany on Monday. Donovan’s campaign has complained that Schneiderman has backed out of or refused to take part in other forums and debates. They wonder why Schneiderman, who is known for his skills as a debater, would not want to debate. Pundits note that avoiding debates is the behavior of a candidate who assumes he is the frontrunner. Schneiderman's camp says Donovan has dodged proposed debates on Wall Street

"Mr. Donovan has rejected multiple debates on Wall Street issues," said Schneiderman spokesman James Freedland, "including one scheduled earlier this month in Syracuse, because he knows it must be hard to defend his hands-off approach to policing corporate corruption when New Yorkers are losing their homes and life savings due to white collar crimes."

Cox said that he thinks Schneiderman probably has a lead among voters right now: "They are both in the 40 percent range, but undecided’s are going to go with Dan."

If that does not happen, Donovan may not be all that disappointed. Some Republicans indicate that Donovan already has the job he wants. One Republican in the know said that Donovan needed convincing to run and would take a $40,000 pay cut if he were to become attorney general.

"He already has his ideal prosecutorial job, but going after corruption in Albany means so much to him that he is doing this," the source said.

Republicans See Opportunity to Retake the State Senate

Photo New York State Senate
Dean Skelos hopes to regain his post as majority leader if Republicans take back the State Senate in November.

After a rough two years of scandals, coups, Espadas and Monserrates, the New York Senate Democrats still had smiles on their faces. There were seats to be won, hotshot new candidates to challenge entrenched Republicans, and a sense that Andrew Cuomo at the top of their ticket would bolster their turnout while Republicans would have little reason to go to the polls.

Now, though, those smiles have faded a bit.


As has been the Democrats' curse for the last few years, triumph and gloating are quickly followed by scandal, failure and embarrassment. The trouble that has befallen the Democrats' chances to maintain and grow their Senate majority from 32 seats is not on the level of Eliot Spitzer’s call girl habit, David Paterson’s many scandals, the Senate coup, or Monserrate and Espada's legal trouble, but it is embarrassing and may be more damaging in the long run.

The problems now threaten to return the Senate to Republican hands after only two years of Democratic control. That, in turn, would bolster rural and suburban legislators, weakening the city's power in the Senate and in state government.

Two of the Democrats' sure-shot candidates in Long Island, David Mejias and Regina Calcaterra -- candidates Democrats thought would help them expand their thin majority -- had to drop out. Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has been surging; a recent Quinipiac Poll put him within 6 points of Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

For their part, Democrats say that, despite their problems on Long Island, they are gaining momentum elsewhere. Sen. Liz Krueger, who has served on the Democratic Campaign Committee for years, said she thinks Republicans are in for a surprise. "Carl Paladino is our secret weapon," she said. "In times of financial crisis like these, are people going to turn to Paladino -- misogynist, sexist, porno-loving and violent, at least in his rhetoric? I don’t think so."

Lost on Long Island?

Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the Democrats have fallen victim to their own huge oversights.

"The Democrats repeatedly pointed to two candidates on Long Island where they thought they would pick up seats, but they didn’t do their homework," said Reif. "Regina Calcaterra had a residency issue and then with Mejias dropping out … again, they didn't do their homework."

Calcaterra was challenging Sen. Kenneth Lavalle, who has served in the Senate since 1976. And then, on Aug. 18, Calcaterra was tossed off the ballot for not meeting residency requirements. Calcaterra had surrendered her New York driver’s license, obtained a divorce, filed her taxes, voted and kept a home in Pennsylvania. Jennifer Maertz is now running on the Democratic ticket with Calcaterra's blessing.

Then on Sept. 2, things got got even worse for Democrats. Mejias, who was thought to be giving Sen. Kemp Hannon, the run of his life, was arrested on Sept. 2 for menacing, reckless endangerment and stalking after he allegedly followed his former girlfriend in a vehicle and forced her off the road. Suddenly the Monserrate scandal seemed less far away. Mejias bowed out of the race and handed the reins to Democrat Francesca Carlow. However, Mejias’ name remains on the ballot.

The circumstances of Calcaterra's and Mejias' departures, along with the timing, will make it almost impossible for the replacement candidates to win and so probably destroyed any chance Democrats had of picking up the two Senate seats.

Meanwhile, Republicans say they could capture the seat in the third senate district, also on Long Island, where freshman Democratic Sen. Brian Foley faces Republican challenger Lee Zeldin.

The Upstate Contests

In western New York, Republicans are licking their chops at the chance to face Timothy Kennedy, a county legislator from Buffalo who handily defeated long-term Democratic incumbent .

Stachowski had a bruising reelection battle in 2008. Following that, he hoped to bolster his position by becoming head of the Finance Committee, on which he had been the ranking Democrat. Democrats instead gave the chairmanship to Sen. Carl Kruger. While that move may have appeased Kruger and the three other renegade Senate Democrats from the city, many in Buffalo saw it as another instance of downstate legislators' disrespect for western New York.

Having ousted Stachowski, Kennedy faces Republican Assemblymember Jack Quinn, and Republicans like his chances a lot. "Jack Quinn is doing very well in Western New York," said Reif."

Republicans also think they have an excellent chance of unseating Democratic senators David Valesky and freshman Darrell Aubertine.

Krueger, though, sees upstate as a land of opportunity for Democrats. "The farther you go upstate, polls show, the more unhappy people are with their incumbent. And the more north you go upstate the more the incumbents are Republicans," she said.

Further, Krueger said that recent studies show that, in times of financial crisis, voters prefer female candidates.

In the media market surrounding Albany three female candidates are seeking to unseat Republican incumbents. Krueger sees a grand opportunity there for Democrats to pick up seats and increase the number of women in the state Senate.

In the 43rd district, Saratoga County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen is challenging freshman Republican Sen. Roy McDonald, the man who replaced former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. In the 44th senate district Susan Savage, chair of the Schenectady County Legislature, is running against 34-year incumbent Sen. Hugh Farley. In the 41st senate district Didi Barrett hopes to unseat 20-year Republican incumbent Sen.Stephen Saland.

All three, Krueger thinks, can capitalize on the message coming out of the area's media, which urges voters to "Throw the bums out." In these races, she said, the incumbents (read bums) are Republicans. "There is an excitement around these women's campaigns and, no disrespect, but you don’t have that excitement around Hugh Farley and Saland and Roy MacDonald," Krueger said.

Then too, she thinks that Paladino’s campaign -- with its angry tone, to say nothing of his racist and pornographic e-mails -- will send voters running to a women candidates

In Westchester, Krueger has her eye on the 40th senate district race between Republican Assemblymember Gregg Ball and Democrat Mike Kaplowitz, who are vying to replace retiring Republican Sen. Vincent Leibell. Republicans dumped around $150,000 into the campaign of Ball's primary opponent, Beth Murphy. But Ball, who ran as an anti-establishment, Tea Party candidate, won, and now Republicans have pledged their support. Krueger thinks Republicans damaged Ball in the primary, and it will be difficult to combine the traditional Republican base and Ball’s Tea Party supporters.

The Crystal Ball

Senate Republican Minority Leader Dean Skelos has predicted that his conference could pick up four or five more seats.

While Krueger thinks Paladino will bost Democratic chances, Reif said that Paladino’s surge will help draw Republican voters in Western and upstate New York, making it more difficult for Democrats there. Mostly, he said, Paladino has been effective in "channeling anger and frustration over the taxes and fees Democrats have enacted over the last three years."

Krueger maintained that Paladino will help drive moderate voters to Democratic candidates. If Democrats see the gubernatorial race as a real contest, more Democrats of them actually will come to the polls -- or so the theory goes.

"I was joking with [Republican Sen. Tom] Libous the other day," Krueger said. "Every year when I worked on the Senate campaign committee and we were in the minority Tom would say, ‘We are going to further strengthen our majority and win big.’ I would very quietly say, ‘We are going to pick up a couple of seats. And each year I was right. And now we are in the majority. So again this time I am going to say quietly, ‘I think we are going to pick up a couple of seats.’"

The Man Who Beat Espada

p.s. 59
Gustavo Rivera addresses his supporters following his primary victory

It's quiet at the Riverdale diner. Gustavo Rivera and three of his staffers sit at the back of the dining room against padded seats.

"I used to be in this position," Rivera says. "I used to tell candidates, 'There is nothing left to do. Go home."

Now at 8:30 on primary night, Rivera's campaign against Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada is over. Rivera has shaken all the hands he can shake, kissed all the babies, spit his rapid fire spiel about how he will be responsible to the people who he hopes will put him in office. And now he waits.

Campaign staff say they think it will either be a landslide for them or a blowout the other way. Either way it will be over soon.

Rivera picks at his stuffed chicken breast, digs into a baked potato -- he hasn't eaten since earlier this morning. He has been bouncing back and forth between polling places covering any bases possible.

The Final Hours

"I already got your fliers," women say walking toward the polling place. "I already voted for you," is another common refrain.

Reports pour in of the Espada campaign using dirty tricks to confuse voters or direct people to vote for Espada. Outside the Church of the Mediator polling site on 260 W. 231 St., Espada volunteers stand around some of their pamphlets on the ground. One especially motivated volunteer chants Espada's name; there is no return chorus.

Daniel Padernacht, who abandoned his bid for the seat but whose name still appears on the ballot, and City Councilmember Oliver Koppell urge people to vote for Rivera. Rivera takes the time to talk to the Espada volunteers. "Make sure he pays you," he tells them.

Espada was here earlier. He appeared and talked to some volunteers but didn't shake hands, didn't greet voters.

I ask Rivera if he thinks Espada has a grasp on the realities of being a public servant, the responsibility to voters of his district whether they like him or don’t. "No!" Rivera says. He is fired up. The tape recorder is turned off. He gets angry. Words like disgust, dishonor -- he expresses rage at what he says "Espada has done to the Bronx."

The word is that Rivera didn't exactly want this, didn't want to be the one to challenge Espada. He was used to being the behind the scenes guy. But after reviewing the possible challengers he came to the conclusion that he had to make the run because he had the means, the connections and the will to challenge Espada.

Leaving the polling place, Koppell puts his hand on Rivera's shoulder. "I just want you to know you did a heck of a job. Win or lose you did a heck of a job. You stepped up to plate," he said.

Even if it was all for naught, Koppell seems to imply, there will be other races to win. Rivera nods in appreciation.


At the diner, Rivera talks about the first steps he will take if he wins. In his mind, victory is not certain, but "It feels like we did it." He says his first priority will be to get bills together to help his district, tenants issues, jobs. But at the same time he says the district needs access to him. He wants his constituents to seek him out. "When I am elected people are going to know there is a mandate for reform. They won’t be able to stop it," he says.

I leave Rivera at the diner, he heads home to shower, change his suit, go over the three speeches the campaign has written: "We did it!" "We blew it!" and "Everything is a mess!" "See you at the party," he says smiling.


Less than an hour later Espada has conceded. The crowd at the Monte Carlo on Jerome Avenue explodes. Rivera takes the stage thanking unions left and right. "Union power," men on stage shout.

Rivera gives his victory speech. The campaign confirms that Espada did not place a congratulatory call to Rivera -- they roll their eyes. Sen. Liz Krueger dances to Jay-z's "New York." She says she expects Rivera’s victory will give Democrats a boost. "Did you expect this to be over so quickly?" I ask her. She looks at her watch, "Yes!" she exclaims.

Earlier in front of the church, a voter looked at Rivera's literature and realized that the actual candidate had handed it to her. "It’s so rare to actually speak to you people," she said. "You know what they all ask me?" Rivera says a moment later. "How am I any different? What makes me different than Espada. I’m not in office yet but I can tell them the first thing is that I want them to be able to talk to me. I will be accountable to them. They will know where to find me."

Controversy Over Islam and Mosques Spreads Beyond Park 51

The area near ground zero has been the scene of several protests for and against an Islamic center proosed for lower Manhattan.

Nine years after the Sept, 11, 2001 attacks, a heated debate over a proposed Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero has helped spark a wave of distrust and anger toward Muslim Americans and Islam in New York City and beyond.

Polls show opposition to the construction of the center, known as Park51. People have rallied against it, and while Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama have supported the developers' right to build the center, many other politicians have stridently opposed the project. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, for one, has referred to the project's leader, Imam Faisal Rauf, as a "terrorist-sympathizing imam," even though the State Department sponsored Rauf's recent trip to the Middle East to discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance.

"Opponents to Park51 continue to smear all things Muslim and justify their calls to move the project away from the 9/11 site by erroneously linking the criminals responsible for the attacks to the organizers and its supporters," said Faiza Ali, community affairs director for the Council on American Islamic Relations NY chapter.

While Muslims were victims of bias attacks in the days and weeks immediately after 9/11, then President George W. Bush made efforts to defuse the rage against Muslims and Islam. He visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. six days after the attacks, condemned any type of biased attacks against Muslims, and said that Muslims needed to be treated "with respect."

Now, though, following a period of calm, some Muslims in New York and beyond feel a return of the fears some experienced after 9/11. The apparent change in the country's attitude toward Muslims, Islam and their houses of worship has alarmed American Muslims and others in the country and left experts and common citizens struggling to shed light on why the apparent shift has occurred.

Two Blocks from Ground Zero

Two thirds of New York City residents want the lower Manhattan Islamic center to be moved to a location farther from the World Trade Center site, according to a recent New York Times poll. One fifth of those surveyed admitted to harboring animosity toward Muslims, and 33 percent said that they believed that Muslims were more sympathetic to terrorists than other American citizens. Another poll -- this one by the Daily News - found that half of those opposed to the center near ground zero do not want it to be built anywhere in Lower Manhattan.

This year marked the first time since 9/11 that the anniversary of the attacks featured protests near the trade center site, clearly a result of the mosque furor. Supporters held a demonstration at City Hall, while one anti-community center rally featured Geert Wilders, the controversial anti-Islamic Dutch parliament member who has called for taxing Muslim women for wearing headscarves and opposed the building of new mosques in the Netherlands. Police estimate that thousands attended the rally.

Politicians have weighed in. Gov. David Paterson suggested that the developers find another place to build "that would not be so close to Ground Zero." Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has said that the project would "horribly offend" the families of those killed on Sept. 11.

To the concern of many, such rhetoric seeks to make all Muslims responsible for the attacks on the trade center and Pentagon. "This insinuation of collective guilt, the notion that American Muslims should be treated as second class citizens in our home is false, un-American, and should be rejected," Ali said.

As the debate has raged, some have tried to find a way out.

Yesterday, Rauf himself pledged to find a way out of the dispute. "Everything is on the table," he said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. "We really are focused on solving it." One idea reportedly under consideration would involve expanding the interfaith programs at the center and allowing worship space for people of other religions.

Previously, Donald Trump offered to buy the site now slated for the proposed Islamic center -- if the mosque were to be built at least five blocks from ground zero. He maintains the proposal arose from his desire to "end a very serious, inflammatory and highly divisive situation that is destined, in my opinion, to only get worse."

Beyond Park51

However the issue is ultimately settled, the anger toward Muslims and mosques has spread to many parts of the city. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said that bias attacks against Muslims have increased in New York. Since 2001, the city has dealt with about 10 crimes or allegations of hate crimes against Muslims every year. This year, there already have been 10 cases, and Ali thinks some bias attacks may go unreported.

Last month, a Muslim cab driver in New York City was slashed in the mouth, throat and arm by a passenger this summer who asked him if he was Muslim prior to attacking him. In Astoria, Queens, an inebriated man walked into the Al-Iman mosque and then urinated on the rugs used by congregants for prayer and hurled anti-Muslim comments at the mosque-goers.

A 37-year-old Queens resident, who does not want his name used, thinks that he may have been the victim of a hate crime. On a warm August evening, he was taking the routine four-block walk home from the Jamaica Muslim Center after completing his prayers. He was wearing a traditional outfit from his native Bangladesh, which consists of a long overflowing shirt that reaches the knees and baggy pants. Two blocks shy of his home, five men surrounded him began punching him.

"I kept saying, 'Don't hit me. Take what you want, but don't hit me,'" he said. The men did not ask for money or for his watch. In fact, they did not say a word to him throughout the entire ordeal. The victim, an information technology professional, had to take two days off from work to recover from his injuries.

Officials from the Jamaica Muslim Center believe that this was a hate crime. "He was wearing Muslim garb, he was not robbed and he was only two blocks away from the mosque," said Junnun Choudhury, general secretary of the center.

In Westbury, young people recently threw stones, shattering the windows of cars parked in front of the Islamic Center of Long Island. "I don’t know what their (the youths') true intentions were," said Habeeb Ahmed, the chairman of the board of trustees for the center. "But one could classify this as a hate crime."

Ahmed said that incidents such as these last occurred shortly after Sep. 11, 2001, when the mosque's sign was egged numerous times. He says that he and the congregants are not fearful these days, but that they are being extra careful. "I am concerned," he said. "Things can get out of control and somebody may get hurt one day. We are thankful for the presence of the police officers."

And in upstate Carlton, NY, police arrested five teens for disrupting religious services at a mosque. One teen fired a shotgun into the ground outside the mosque's building.

Construction Conflicts

Meanwhile, it has become increasingly difficult to build a mosque in New York City. The city already has about 140 mosques in all shapes and sizes. They range from simple basement apartments to large, multipurpose community centers that can include Islamic schools and auditoriums. One , the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, also known as the 96th Street Mosque, fills an entire block on the Upper East Side.

Louis Abdellatif Cristillo, the project director for Columbia University's Muslims in New York City project, said that historically opposition to mosque-building was motivated in part by fear of the Muslim "other," but that it was dressed up under other pretexts, such as concern about zoning or complaints about noise and traffic. Most of those conflicts, he said in an email, were resolved without much difficulty -- "nothing like we are seeing with the Park51 community center."

Opponents of mosques throughout the New York City area have become much bolder in expressing why they do not want a mosque near them. In Staten Island, the board of trustees of a Roman Catholic Church recently rejected a proposal to sell a vacant convent to the Muslim American Society, which in turn, planned to convert it into a mosque. Neighbors who were opposed to the mosque labeled the Muslim American Society terrorist sympathizers and rallies against the mosque featured protesters carrying hateful signs against Muslims.

In Bethpage, Long Island, the town shut down the area’s only mosque, Masjid Al-Baqi, on the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, citing electrical and plumbing issues. The town supervisor acknowledged that the inspector who found the problems was sent after over 100 community residents called to complain about a proposal for a second mosque in the area.

Mosque officials claim they corrected all the maintenance problems but that the mosque was ordered to close anyway. According to the suit filed by mosque leaders with the State Supreme Court, an anonymous email chain letter had circulated among residents reading in part, "This is not a Muslim neighborhood; we have no Muslim congregation in Bethpage. … Many of these organizations are on the FBI's watch lists. I do not want this in my neighborhood. They need to go elsewhere."

In Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, some residents have formed a group called Bay People to block the construction of a mosque in a residential area. According to its website, the group cites the typical complaints: noise, traffic and parking problems. Additionally, they openly allege that the builder of the mosque, the Muslim American Society, has a history of associations with radical organizations that promote terrorism. Leaders of the Muslim American Society reject such allegations. The group claims that it has raised $30,000 to fund a legal battle to block the mosque by arguing that it violates zoning laws.

Earlier this month, opponents of the mosque protested when member of the society handed out free backpacks and other school supplies at the site of the proposed mosque.

Politics and Religion

Many of those watching the increase in opposition to the construction of mosques blame politics and politicians. A New York Times front page story on the lower Manhattan Islamic center last December did not mention any opposition. In fact, it said, the project "has drawn early encouragement from city officials and the surrounding neighborhood."

"This controversy only began in May," Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf said in a recent interview on Larry King Live. "And it began as a result of some politicians, who decided to use this for certain political purposes. And this is when it began to snowball."

Bloomberg sees political motives as well. "This whole issue, I think, will go away right after the next election," he said during an appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “This is plain and simple people trying to stir up things to get publicity and trying to polarize people so that they can get some votes."

While some Republicans support the center and some Democrats do not, many Republicans see opposition to the project as a good issue for them this fall. Republicans who oppose the mosque sometimes have challenged their Democratic opponents to take a stand on the issue, the Times reported last month.

Cristillo agrees that politics is a factor but sees social and economic factors at work as well.

"I think the far right is conflating anti-immigrant legislation with Islamophobia in a climate of anger over the inability of government to resolve the economic crisis to rally its base for the upcoming November elections and the presidential election in 2012. We see this in the ludicrous rhetoric coming out of talk radio, cable news and the blogosphere casting doubt on Obama's birthplace and religion," he wrote. In addition, he said, social conservatives view mosques as examples of spaces that reject assimilation to American values and culture.

All of this has no doubt helped push Park51, which is, in essence, a local issue, into the national arena. Politicians, largely Republicans but Democrats such as Sen. Harry Reid and the former head of the Democratic National Committee and onetime Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, have chimed in too. They have both said that the center should be built elsewhere.

Other politicians have expressed their support for the center. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Republican, has defended the rights of the organizers to build the community center. "There's a huge, I think, lack of support throughout the country for Islam to build that mosque there, but that should not make a difference if they decide to do it. I’d be the first to stand up for their rights," he has said.

Park51's most vocal supporter has been Bloomberg. In an emotional speech, the mayor reminded everyone of New York City's dark history of religious intolerance. Indeed, Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor of what was then called New Amsterdam, wanted to bar Jews from arriving in the city and effectively prohibited them from practicing their faith in public. At one time, Catholics were prohibited from practicing their religion and priests could even be arrested. Today though, most Catholics and Jewish New Yorkers oppose the center, according to the Times poll.

"Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens of the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?" he asked. "That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. ... Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith."

After appearing to vacillate on the issue, Obama, whose own religion has been called into question lately, reiterated his support on the eve of 9/11. "This country stands on the proposition that all men and women are created equal; that they have certain inalienable rights. One of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely," he said, adding "if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site."

Ali thinks such statements can play an important role "Americans have the right to freely practice their faith without intimidation and discrimination including the constitutional right to build houses of worship anywhere in the country," she said. Noting "the hate rhetoric against Muslims," she said, "Without strong repudiation from our elected officials, our fear is that this unsettling trend will only continue to grow."

Republicans Battle to Take on Heavily Favored Cuomo

Thomas Nast drew this cartoon to portray Republican woes in 1877, but it could apply to the New York GOP in 2010.

In 2006, Democratic Attorney General Eliot Spitzer rode his popularity as a crusading attorney general straight into the governor's mansion, with nearly 70 percent of the vote. It was more an anointment than an election On Nov. 2, most analysts think current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo could enjoy the same sort of ascent to the governorship.

Cuomo appears to have a commanding lead even though the Democrats have had a rocky four years in Albany. Democratic Gov David Paterson declined to run for election in a fugue of scandal. Dem Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed to her seat by Paterson, was supposed to be weak, an easy target for both better known Democrats and Republicans. State Comptroller Alan Hevesi had to resign after being reelected. And fighting among State Senate Democrats shut down the body for several weeks in 2009.

Add to all that that this is supposed to be the year of the Republican comeback. It still is nationally, but in New York the Republican Party has faltered in its effort to find high-profile candidates.

Unlike Spitzer in 2006, Cuomo has no primary challenger. The biggest barrier between Cuomo and victory will likely come from the winner of the Republican primary between former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio and wealthy Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino

The two big-name Republicans many in the party hoped would challenge Gillibrand -- former Gov. George Pataki and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- never got into the race. Instead, there are three obscure Republican candidates: former Westchester Congressman Joe DioGuardi, onetime Treasury Department official David Malpass and Long Island attorney Bruce Blakeman. None of them are thought to have a great chance against the extremely well funded Gillibrand.

Two equally obscure Republicans are competing for the daunting challenge of taking on New York’s senior – and very well funded and powerful – Sen. Charles Schumer. The party does seem to face better odds in the two other statewide races where neither of its candidates -- Harry Wilson for comptroller and Daniel Donovan for attorney general -- faces a primary.

Gubernatorial Mess

Figuring out who would run on the Republican gubernatorial ticket has been a messy process. Republican Party chair Ed Cox, unimpressed with Lazio’s early campaigning, urged Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to enter the race even though Levy was a Democrat at the time. After bitter internal fighting and a disjointed convention, Lazio won the Republican nod. Levy bowed out. Paladino, however, was just gaining steam.

Why are the state Republicans flapping their arms in the wind in what is expected to be a benchmark year for Republicans nationally?

"It’s because Pataki didn't build infrastructure. He didn’t build up the party itself. And the leadership is self centered," said Baruch College Professor Doug Muzzio. "{Former party chair Joseph] Mondello was a disaster and {the current one, Edward] Cox isn't much different. But it has to do with who is in the team and on the bench. The stars Pataki and Giuliani wisely bowed out."

Carl Paladino has taken on the role of the Tea Party candidate, the outsider who is "mad as hell" at Albany dysfunction. But Paladino is not exactly an outsider; he has used his wealth to fund a wide array of Albany politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike. His business relies on contracts from the state. And he has come under attack for a number of extreme positions.

rick lazio
Rick Lazio

Lazio, a former congressman from Long Island, served as an executive vice president at JP Morgan Chase after his 2000 failed Senate bid against Hillary Clinton. He has come under attack for his ties to Wall Street; his finance chair during his bid for the Senate was Lewis Ranieri, who was on Time magazine’s list of the top 25 people responsible for the financial crisis.

The two Republican candidates are low on cash and poll badly in theoretical match-ups against Cuomo. An August Siena Poll put Lazio and Paladino at about 27 percent to Cuomo’s 65. Lazio maintains a small lead in polls for the Republican primary but has seen his edge steadily shrink. The latest Quinnipiac Poll puts Lazio 12 points over Paladino.

Both candidates have about $500,000 on hand as of September although Paladino recently gave around $500,000 to his own campaign. Cuomo, on the other hand, had $23.6 million in July.

It is expected that Paladino will unleash a massive television campaign in the final days before the primary.

But Muzzio doesn’t think any of it will truly make a difference.

"Forget it! Cuomo doesn't lose unless there is a disaster. This isn't an election -- this should be the lowest turnout ever. It is a snoozefest," he said.

Where's the Beef?

Democrats have been eating up the Republican primary as the two contestants take shots at each other and compete to have the most hard-line policy on the Park 51 Islamic center.

Cuomo has almost become an afterthought in their campaigns.

While Paladino began escalating the mosque debate, even saying he would use eminent domain to seize the property, a look at both candidates' websites make it clear that Lazio has signed on to the cause. Paladino's site features a video titled "Carl Paladino Will Put New Yorkers Back to Work" and a five-point plan to reduce the size of state government. Lazio’s site features a petition demanding Cuomo investigate the mosque, along with the letter Lazio wrote to Cuomo demanding Cuomo debate him about the mosque. It also features an attack on Cuomo’s link to "special interests."

A recent e-mail from the Lazio campaign viciously attacked Cuomo for not "investigating” the mosque." "Cuomo's refusal to do his job is as offensive as imam's suggestion of terrorist activity," read the headline in a quote attributed to Lazio.

"Lazio's campaign is so intellectually bankrupt that he jumps on the mosque issue," said Muzzio. "Excuse me, can you tell me what this has to do with governing?"

carl paladino
Photo by Azi Paybarah
Carl Paladino

Paladino has, both intentionally and unintentionally, cultivated an image as a rural outsider. His first big public splash this year surrounded racist e-mails he had forwarded to colleagues. Since then, he has come under fire for comparing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Hitler and the Anti-Christ and proposing unemployed black youth undergo training programs in closed prisons.

Recently, Paladino said that “there aren’t many Republicans” in New York City outside of Staten Island and Queens. He said both boroughs could relate to his stances.

Lazio's approach has been far less abrasive, but a number of Republicans say it has been underwhelming and has failed to spark interest. His slogan, "The Status Cuomo," has focused on attaching Cuomo to "special interests" he says have leached money from the state while the current AG has been raising taxes and driving businesses out of state.

While Paladino has appealed to the Tea Party movement.pushing hard right, Lazio has tried to find a place in the middle. He has taken a hard stance against the mosque to appeal to Tea Party voters but he has challenged Paladino on his remarks about putting inner city youth in reeducation camps.

The Economy

In addition to pledging to stop the Islamic center, both candidates plan to chop Medicaid benefits for the needy, drastically trim state agencies and cut property taxes.

Lazio says he would do away with the pork barrel spending by legislators. He supports a constitutional convention to change the way Albany functions and has promised to veto district lines drawn by legislators, saying he supports an independent redistricting commission. He also advocates a property tax cap of 2.5 percent of the value of every home. And he has committed to giving the city the education funds it won in the the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Paladino's plan includes cutting property taxes 10 percent by June,2011. He has attacked Lazio's cap as "weak." He pledges to cut the size of state government as a whole -- agencies, departments and staff -- by 20 percent by December 2011.

Paladino has further promised to cut $20 billion from Medicaid in his first budget. "New York offers more gold-plated Medicaid optional benefits than any other state and this is killing our taxpayers," says Paladino’s website. "Carl will cut these optional benefits back to California levels -- still the second most expensive Medicaid state in America -- saving New Yorkers $10 billion in taxes." He also wants to cut business taxes and pass an ethics law with "real teeth."

Lazio has won endorsements from newspapers like the New York Times, the Times Union, the New York Observer and others. But the endorsements were more anti-Paladino than pro-Lazio. The Daily News declined to endorse in the Republican primary -– instead backing Cuomo.

Paladino has tried to turn those endorsements against Lazio, claiming Lazio is the favorite of the liberal media, which have an "agenda."

Whichever one of them loses on Tuesday could still fight on into the general election, thanks to third parties; Lazio has the Conservative line and Paladino has his Tax Payers line

Lazio, though, recently said he thinks there will party unity. Speaking to a rally, in Erie County, he said, "I have no doubt in my mind that once the primary is over, that people who support both candidacies will come together, because I think there is common opposition here."

Muzzio laughs at the idea that the loser in the primary might continue on. "Lazio on the Conservative line? Cuomo is further to the right of him. And what line would Paladino run on? The Tax Payer's? Its a joke. This isn't even an election."

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