Andrew Cuomo (left) with Rep. Charles Rangel in 2006. Cuomo might run
against Gov. Paterson.
"People have almost forgotten he ran against Carl McCall," said Rangel.Running against Paterson would undo the years of hard work Cuomo put in to improve his standing with black voters, Rangel said. Cuomo was in the Democratic doghouse after his failed long-shot 2002 primary challenge to then-state Controller Carl McCall - at the time New York's highest-ranking black elected official and first black major party gubernatorial candidate.
"[Cuomo's] done a great job as the attorney general, and he's mended fences. ... I just don't see how he could possibly run against Paterson."
Asked if he believes the poll-challenged Paterson will run, Rangel replied, "I cannot get caught in a position to say David Paterson doesn't mean what he's saying."
Rangel's decision to play the moral race card is the latest salvo by old-guard Harlem Democrats to try to prevent Cuomo from running against Paterson.
Last summer, Rangel - the subject of a longstanding House ethics committee investigation - warned of "racial polarization" if Cuomo runs. The congressman also insisted the attorney general had personally assured Rangel he would "not be a candidate against the governor."
Late last month, Basil Paterson, the governor's father and a longtime Rangel ally, said on New York 1 that Cuomo's 2002 run against McCall had left a "sour taste" among black voters and suggested a repeat performance by the attorney general could cost him the black vote.
The Cuomo camp declined to comment on Rangel's latest slam.
In September, Cuomo's stealth campaign for governor got a boost when President Obama's political director, Patrick Gaspard, expressed concern to Paterson about his low poll numbers and said the White House would prefer he not run.
Paterson's poll numbers have improved, but he continues to trail Cuomo by double digits in polls. The governor is also likely to lag Cuomo in the Jan. 15 campaign finance filings. Cuomo is expected to have more than $16 million on hand, while Paterson, who has been running TV ads since November, could have as little as $5 million.
The field of possible contenders broadened yesterday when Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced he'd created an exploratory committee for a potential gubernatorial run.
Levy is the highest-ranking elected official of New York's largest suburban county, but he is not well-known outside Long Island. His conservative stance on illegal immigration has made him the object of criticism, but he is a prodigious fund-raiser and had $4 million in his campaign committee in November.
A consultant to Levy, who ran for reelection in 2007 on the Democratic, Republican, Independence and Conservative lines, said the county executive would "seriously consider" cross-endorsements if he runs.
Levy refused to criticize either Cuomo or Paterson yesterday, but said he believes he has the "best skill set" to lead the state. "If there was ever a time that the state needs executive and management skills, it's now," he said.
"Voters are four years older, four years wiser and four years down the road to maybe not picking somebody who's a second-generation, blue-blood politician," Dawidziak said. "That was the mistake in picking [Eliot] Spitzer."