Andrew Cuomo's shadow campaign for governor moved decisively into the open today when the New York Post's Fred Dicker ran on-the-record quotes from the attorney general's spokesman, Richard Bamberger, criticizing the "state" as inefficient, fiscally undisciplined and procedurally opaque.
In the article, headlined "Budget Bashing," Bamberger said, "The attorney general believes the state must do a better job of reducing government spending and increasing efficiencies in order to avoid tax hikes" and "The AG also believes our government needs to be more transparent in its budget processes."
Among Albany-watchers, there was little doubt about where the criticism was aimed.
"It is critical of the governor," said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
The most remarkable thing about the criticism, however, wasn't so much that it will be interpreted as a shot at the struggling governor, but that the attorney general had chosen to articulate such a broad indictment—well outside the traditional purview of the office—of the way the government is conducting itself.
"It's not a matter that officially engages him," said Benjamin, referring to the comments of Cuomo's office about the budget and tax policy. "He is defining his role broadly so as to comment across a range of issues, not all of which are the direct responsibility of the attorney general."
Benjamin said that Cuomo could (and almost certainly will) defend himself against accusations that he was criticizing the governor by arguing that he instead was focusing on the entire legislative system and the need for reform in Albany. Cuomo could protest that he is not responsible for any interpretation of that focus as a shot against the sitting governor.
But, Benjamin said, "The counterpoint to that is that he didn't have to say anything. He's the attorney general. He's not the comptroller, he's not directly involved in finance. So the fact that he is saying something is consequential and new."
Benjamin noted that Cuomo's dissent against a governor from his own party was not exactly unprecedented. Former attorney general Bob Abrams, who served in the office between 1978 and 1993, refused to defend the state, then run by Mario Cuomo, over the Westway development plan for the West Side.
But then, Abrams was never considered a primary threat to the sitting governor of his own party.