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Cuomo using a different approach in reelection bid


In the final weeks before elections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been promoting his memoir and announced travel plans to Puerto Rico. One thing he hasn’t been doing is running a typical campaign, and he’s said little about what he’ll do in the next four years.

Cuomo, who holds a double-digit lead over Republican candidate Rob Astorino, has more than $30 million in the bank. He has employed a rose garden strategy for much of the political season, and seldom holds campaign events.

He says he's simply letting his job speak for itself.

"I've been working as hard as I can, seven days a week, as governor of this state," Cuomo said. "And my campaign is basically my performance in office."

Cuomo has said little about what he'll do in the next four years if he's reelected. Instead, he talks about what he's already done. He says he's routinely approved the state budget on time, enacted limits on taxes and spending, and passed same-sex marriage and gun control laws. He says expect more of the same in the future.

The approach is in sharp contrast to four years ago, when Cuomo printed several book-length briefings outlining all of the policies he intended to change. Cuomo did not end up fulfilling all of the goals he listed in the booklets, including a promise to end partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.

The governor was asked by reporters why he has not so far offered a detailed plan for the future. He says no one paid attention to his proposals back in 2010.

"Did you read all ten books?" Cuomo joked with reporters. "That's the problem with ten books. We'll make a deal this campaign. I'm going to put out fewer, but you have to promise to read them this time."

Bruce Gyory, a professor at SUNY Albany and political consultant who is not working on the governor's race, says it's sometimes politically smart to be vague about your plans. Especially when you're an incumbent with the resources of Andrew Cuomo running for reelection.

"It worked for Richard Nixon in 1972," Gyory said. "It worked at the gubernatorial level for his father, Mario Cuomo, in 1986, which was a campaign that Andrew Cuomo functionally managed, although I don't remember if he had the title. It works if you're seen as having high favorables, big accomplishments, your TV and radio projects those accomplishments and by going in the rose garden and staying out of the political morass."

The lack of detail about the future has allowed Cuomo to keep mum on some key controversial issues. He's avoided saying how much a multi-billion dollar projected gap looming in the MTA budget will be filled, and whether a major new bridge construction project over the Hudson River on the New York Thruway will result in higher bridge and Thruway tolls.

He also hasn't said how the state might use a $4.5 billion windfall from settlements with several banks, and whether the state should go ahead with the controversial gas drilling process known as hydrofracking. He says his health department officials are still conducting a review of sometimes conflicting studies, and wants to decide based on scientific evidence.

"You have, literally, on a weekly basis, you can get academics and reports saying it's totally safe, and then the next week you get a report that says it's the most dangerous thing since a nuclear explosion," Cuomo explained. "That's one of the challenges. It's become a highly politicized, highly emotional, highly opinionated topic."

Gyory says the governor does not want to take a risk on making a decision now on the controversial subject, especially when polls show New Yorkers are split.

"I know a lot of people think he's just fudging the issue, but he said let's let the science determine it," Gyory explained. "So if he comes in at the last minute, then it looks like he was dodging it from the beginning. I think he's on safe grounds if he says let the science determine it."

Gyory says Cuomo has been lucky so far, because the message of his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, has not yet moved the public.

"I don't think this rose garden has hurt Cuomo because I don't see Astorino's message having really resonated," Gyory said.

Gyory says whether or not Cuomo spells out what he'll do in the next four years, politicians in their second terms in office already face a challenge -- it's tough to live up to the achievements made in their first term.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.