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Paterson leaves race, clears way for Cuomo

ALBANY — With Gov. David A. Paterson out of the way, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s path to the governor’s mansion once occupied by his father has become much clearer, eliminating a sticky racial question from a past campaign and making him the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Now he just has to publicly say he wants the job.

For months, speculation swirled around Cuomo’s intentions to run for the office his father once held, but he has repeatedly refused to answer the question. As his campaign contributions crossed the $16 million threshold, he still wouldn’t say whether he was interested in Paterson’s job.

After Paterson formally dropped out of the race Friday amid a domestic violence scandal involving a top aide, the question becomes more pressing.

His office did not respond to calls seeking comment Friday prior to The Daily Record’s press deadline.

“It’s clear that he’s going to run and there’s no other major person in the [Democratic] field,” said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and former dean at SUNY New Paltz. “I think Andrew will have a clear path.”

Part of the reason for Cuomo’s initial reluctance likely stems from his failed 2002 run for governor against then-Comptroller H. Carl McCall. He faced McCall in the Democratic primary but stumbled trying to draw enough money and support. Some observers then said Cuomo was a spoiler for the man who could have been New York’s first black governor. There was a perceived backlash by black Democrats at the time, one that took Cuomo years to overcome, at least according to the polls.

“He spent a lot of time trying to repair those relationships, and he’s had a lot of African-American endorsements already,” Benjamin said.

“Without David Paterson in the race, I think that should not be the problem,” McCall told The Associated Press on Friday. “I have said all along that people misread the situation. When he ran against me, it was not about race.”

Cuomo has remained silent, avoiding another public fight with a black politician by letting his fundraising and Paterson’s low approval rating sink the governor.

One consequence of Cuomo’s refusal to state his intended run for office is that the popular and well-financed attorney general hasn’t given any indication of how he would reverse the state’s fiscal crisis or confront special interests.

Now, pressure to provide answers on executive-level questions will ramp up for Cuomo. He’ll also likely face more digs from the only Republican opponent to surface so far, Rick Lazio.

Paterson and Lazio had criticized Cuomo in recent weeks for refusing to announce his candidacy and to take positions on tough issues. Paterson even joked that Cuomo was in hiding in the “candidate protection program.”

“The governor was trying to define the terms of the discourse and Cuomo was saying ‘No,’” Benjamin said.

Lazio called on Cuomo on Thursday to reveal whether the attorney general or any of his “agents” provided information to the press about the scandal the finally ended Paterson’s campaign.

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