Did Cuomo Tip His Hand?

As Alan noted earlier, the coup in the New York Senate appears to be over a month and day after it began. Sen. Pedro Espada ...
by | July 9, 2009

As Alan noted earlier, the coup in the New York Senate appears to be over a month and day after it began. Sen. Pedro Espada is rejoining the Democratic caucus in exchange for a powerful new role, giving the Democrats a majority once again.

What's left are lots of obvious unanswered questions: Will the Democrats be able to govern effectively? Will Gov. David Paterson get any credit for his handling of the situation? Will the reform agenda that was the stated motivation for the coup gain any traction? Will new Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch actually keep his job? Will Espada and his fellow renegade, Sen. Hiram Monserrate, face strong primary challenges in 2010? Will some other senator decide to switch parties tomorrow, throwing Albany back into chaos?

But, for now, I want to focus on a less obvious unanswered question: Did Attorney General Andrew Cuomo signal that he will become a more vocal critic of Paterson -- and perhaps challenge him in a Democratic primary?

As Paterson contemplated appointing a new lieutenant governor earlier this week, Cuomo issued a statement not only calling the move unconstitutional, but also a "political ploy." Here's part of it:

In sum, we understand the apparent political convenience of the proponents' theory due to the current Senate circumstances. In our view, however, it is not constitutional. In addition, contrary to the proponents' goal, we believe it would not provide long term political stability but rather the opposite, by involving the Governor in a political ploy that would wind through the courts for many months.

Perhaps folks simply are blunter in New York, but typically when attorneys general offer legal advice, they don't use terms like "political ploy." And, while many (perhaps most), legal experts in New York agree with Cuomo that the appointment is unconstitutional, the move wasn't without respectable supporters. Good government groups were the ones pushing Paterson to appoint a lieutenant governor.

My point is merely that this was a fairly aggressive move by Cuomo -- a sign, perhaps, that he's taking a tougher stance against Paterson, his fellow Democrat.

Everyone assumes that Cuomo wants to be governor. The unpopular Paterson, though, hasn't shown any willingness to step aside. Cuomo may be realizing that if he wants the Democratic nomination for governor, he's going to have to fight for it.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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