As the head of the anti-tax think tank Change-NY, Tom Carroll did as much as anyone else to put an end to the career of Mario Cuomo in 1994, helping to propel a little-known, one-term State Senator named George Pataki to a stunning victory over one of the nation’s leading symbols of big government and high taxation.
Eight years later, with Mr. Pataki facing a difficult fight for re-election, Mr. Carroll is expressing his enthusiasm about a promising new candidate-Andrew Cuomo.
The intriguing relationship between Mr. Carroll, who denounced the elder Cuomo as a tax-and-spend lefty who was destroying New York, and Cuomo fils , erstwhile champion of his father’s liberalism, is symptomatic of the strange predicament now facing Andrew Cuomo as he attempts his own run for Governor.
Mr. Cuomo is finding himself squeezed between Mr. Pataki, who is about to air a series of television ads to shore up his support among traditionally Democratic constituencies, and Comptroller Carl McCall, his primary foe, who has pre-emptively locked up much of the party’s hard-core rank and file. So he’s looking for new friends-the very voters who tossed his father out of office. He is trying to make a bid for many of the disaffected Democratic and independent voters who voted for Mr. Pataki in the past by running, improbably, as a fiscally hawkish anti-tax candidate.
“He’s obviously trying to inoculate himself from what people believe him to be-a clone of his father,” said Suffolk County Democratic chairman Richard Schafer. “He also wants to be perceived as an outsider taking on the system. It remains to be seen whether he can do that and still retain the traditional Democratic base.”
There are a number of factors that have allowed Mr. Cuomo to find common cause with people like Mr. Carroll. Besides the fact that Mr. Cuomo wants to dispel notions that he is an Old Democrat like his father, he is looking to distinguish himself from his opponents.
The courting of Mr. Carroll, for instance, began when Mr. Cuomo asked him to make a joint appearance to denounce the terms of a generous deal between Mr. Pataki and New York’s health-care workers. More recently, Mr. Cuomo drew praise from Mr. Carroll after calling for a cut in state taxes.
“I think George Pataki assumed that he had the tax issue in hand, that he was Mr. Tax Cut,” said Mr. Carroll. “But Pataki is closer to Mario on taxes at the moment, and Andrew is running to the right of both of them on economic issues. Suddenly it’s Andrew Cuomo who’s offering the most daring proposals on fiscal policy.”
At a recent press conference billed as a “major policy speech,” Mr. Cuomo delivered an address on, among other things, fiscal discipline. Without a hint of irony-he wore a mask of such serious intensity that it looked like a smile would have caused his face to shatter like glass-he demanded that the debt-ridden state government cut taxes. “We cannot be the economic engine of the nation if we are the tax capital of the nation,” he said. “We must [bring] taxes down.” There were no specifics-it was mostly a gesture.
But while Mr. Cuomo was drawing applause from the right, he was setting the stage for a corresponding backlash from the left. The following weekend, on May 19, Mr. Cuomo suffered a thumping defeat at the state convention of the influential Working Families Party, which attracted more than 100,000 votes for Senate candidate Hillary Clinton in 2000 with a liberal, labor-friendly economic platform. In winning only 19 percent of the votes cast by the party’s committee members, Mr. Cuomo was blocked from mounting a primary challenge to Mr. McCall without a burdensome petitioning process. In part, it was a result of pure politics-Mr. McCall had painstakingly courted the party membership, while Mr. Cuomo was lining up an endorsement from the rival Liberal Party. But party leaders suggest that the lopsided result was also a result of Mr. Cuomo’s ideological wanderings.
“Andrew didn’t help himself with our delegates, particularly on the tax issue,” said Working Families Party executive director Dan Cantor. “Being so far out there may have hurt him.”
The rebuke from the Working Families Party is likely to foreshadow Mr. Cuomo’s reception from certain quarters at the Democratic convention beginning on May 22, where his stated goal will be to attain the minimum 25 percent of delegates’ votes needed to get onto the primary ballot without petitioning. And of course, anything significantly in excess of 25 percent will be deemed a victory by Cuomo supporters, who claim to be the party’s anti-establishment outsiders.
It is, under normal circumstances, difficult for the son of a political icon to make the case that he is any sort of outsider-particularly one who bears such a carefully cultivated stylistic resemblance to his father. But it is worth noting that many people who worked for Mario Cuomo have not transferred their loyalty to his son.
One of them is Allen Cappelli, a bearded veteran of New York politics who is now Mr. McCall’s campaign manager, and whose Cuomo credentials are as impressive as anyone’s. He was a young reformer for the elder Mr. Cuomo on Staten Island in 1977 during that year’s memorable Mayoral campaign against eventual victor Ed Koch. He worked alongside Andrew for Mario in the 1982 gubernatorial campaign, and worked for the Cuomo administration until 1994, when Mr. Pataki won the election. Mr. Cappelli continued to serve in state government as a referee judge in the Labor Department, thanks to a last-minute appointment by Mr. Cuomo on his way out of office, until 1998. Mr. Pataki tried unsuccessfully to remove him.
Now the McCall campaign’s rhetorical attack dog, Mr. Cappelli does not have kind things to say about the younger Mr. Cuomo. “I don’t think Andrew’s ready,” he said. “I’ve had lots of interactions with him, I know him fairly well, and I’m in a position to make that kind of a judgment. I have tremendous respect for Governor Cuomo, but Andrew Cuomo is not Mario Cuomo.”
Mr. Cappelli characterized Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to establish himself as a fiscal conservative as disingenuous and born of desperation. “He’s spinning around right now,” he said. “He’s got a lot of drive and pure ambition, and he needs a rationale to keep him going. But to talk with Tom Carroll one day and then run back to try to justify that to the Working Families Party is just bizarre.”
The Cuomo campaign says that it’s all perfectly logical. “Tom Carroll and Andrew Cuomo agree that George Pataki has led New York to have the highest state and local taxes in the country, and that’s bad,” said Cuomo spokesman Josh Isay. “George Pataki has failed to make New York business-friendly, and he hasn’t taken advantage of the greatest economic boom in American history.”
For now, Mr. Pataki’s supporters are far more likely to worry about leaching conservative voters to billionaire independent candidate Tom Golisano than to Mr. Cuomo. It seems that the thought of a Cuomo campaigning on an anti-tax platform is simply too unlikely to take seriously. “This is a joke,” said Pataki campaign spokeswoman Mollie Fullington. “Andy won’t be able to fool New Yorkers, because they know that Governor Pataki has cut taxes more than any other Governor. If Andy wants to compare our records on tax cuts, and on the failures of the Cuomo days that left New York in fiscal crisis, we’ll do that all day long.”