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Politics and Government

Cuomo denies he's tacking left

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State message, was widely perceived to have taken a leftward turn, with a priority list that includes gun control, abortion rights, and raising the minimum wage. The governor, though, says he hasn’t changed his ideology a bit.

The governor's State of the State message included dozens of proposals, but he was the most impassioned about tightening the ban on assault weapons, shouting  “end the madness now.” He also asserted a woman’s right to choose abortion as part of a Women’s Equality Act, saying three times, “because it’s her body, it’s her choice.” And Cuomo focused on raising the state’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour, saying the current rate of $7.25 “does not add up.”

The governor also wants public financing of election campaigns, and decriminalization of public possession of small amounts of marijuana, as a reform to New York City’s Stop and Frisk policy. He says he believes that “climate change is real,” and he left out of his speech a topic loathed by environmentalists -- hydrofracking.

Cuomo won praise from Mike Kink, with the progressive group Strong Economy for All, who has more often been a critic of the governor during the his first two years in office.

“It’s real leadership,” Kink said. “It would put New York near the top of the nation in terms of minimum wage.”

State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, who attended the speech, disagrees with many of the governor’s proposals. Long says he thinks the speech was a set up for a presidential run in 2016, something Cuomo in the past has consistently denied.

“He’s gone home to his liberal roots, his philosophical roots,” said Long. “I think he kicked off his campaign to energize his liberal base across the country.” He says Cuomo is “aiming way past New York.”

“He’s aiming right at Washington,” Long said.

Cuomo’s 2013 priorities are a contrast to his first two years in office, where he pushed for slashing $10 billion from the state budget, and a cap on the growth in property taxes. Cuomo also feuded bitterly with state worker unions, threatening over 3,000 lay offs during a contract dispute, and railed against the teachers’ union.

News articles and editorials Thursday proclaimed that Cuomo has made a left turn. But the governor, when asked about that characterization, says he hasn’t changed. .

“Last year they wrote I’d made a right turn, this year they wrote I’d made a left turn,” Cuomo said. “I think I’ve been going straight all along.”

Cuomo says during his first year in office, 2011, while he advocated for budget cuts and tax caps, he also successfully championed gay marriage.

“I am socially progressive and fiscally responsible,” said Cuomo. “I believe that’s where most people in this state are.”

Opinion polls on New York voter attitudes seem to back up the governor’s claims.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat and the first to advocate for the minimum wage increase at last year’s State of the State gathering, agrees. Silver points out that the address also included a pledge not to hike taxes, and reduced costs for businesses for workers comp and unemployment insurance.

“He’s not looking for labels, I think he’s calling things as he sees them,” said Silver.

The governor has yet to release his new budget proposal. With the state facing at least a $1 billion deficit, and unknown costs from Superstorm Sandy, the governor may then be perceived as tacking back to the right.