Primary Matters

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sounds more like a gubernatorial candidate these days, which means he apparently has decided to take on his fellow Democrat, Governor David Paterson. Some Democrats may rue the prospect of a potentially bruising and divisive intraparty squabble, but their concerns are misplaced. New York is in deep financial trouble, and voters need to hear a vibrant, candid debate about how we got into this mess, and how we’ll get out of it. If Mr. Cuomo thinks his ideas are better than Mr. Paterson’s, well, we should hear them.

There is an argument to be made that Mr. Cuomo would be a stronger candidate than Mr. Paterson—an accidental governor—in November. But that is for Democrats to decide.

Voters want answers, not strategies. A Democratic primary—and, for that matter, a Republican primary as well—would encourage a long, vigorous discussion about the Empire State’s dysfunctional system of governance.

If Mr. Cuomo decides to proceed, he’ll have to put aside his record as attorney general (which has been very good) and tell us how he’ll manage the fiscal disaster that is Albany. If he tries to position himself as a populist outsider who understands the public’s frustration, he runs the risk of prompting a collective rolling of the eyes. Mr. Cuomo, after all, has been a presence in state politics since his father, Mario Cuomo, became governor in 1983.

Vague populism may be in vogue at the moment, but windy outrage won’t suit Mr. Cuomo. He has to remind us that he can do more than echo the public’s frustration—he can actually fix what’s broken because he knows how it works.