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Will the Cuomo magic rub off?


AMHERST -- He's not on the ballot Tuesday, but can Gov. Andrew Cuomo's sky-high popularity still have an impact in this year's elections?

The governor has sprinkled his political blessings around the state, allowing candidates to use his likeness in political mailings and offering praising quotes. He has endorsed Democrats in the Capital Region, including Dan McCoy for Albany County executive, Gary McCarthy for Schenectady mayor and Gary Gordon for Rensselaer County sheriff.

In 2010, Cuomo carefully parsed his political mojo. But this year he has dived into two county executive races, at opposite ends of the state, holding rallies with Steve Bellone in Long Island's Suffolk County and, on Friday, with Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz.

"With the little endorsements, the governor is trying to build up Democratic support in areas around the state that Democrats don't traditionally do very well in," said Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena Research Institute. "It's a good strategy to do it now three years before his re-election, and if he keeps doing it between now and then, it will help him."

There is perhaps no better litmus test of the Cuomo's political strength than Erie County. The governor traveled here for an afternoon event with Poloncarz, appearing onstage with Sen. Chuck Schumer and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

Polls indicate Poloncarz's effort to unseat incumbent Republican Chris Collins is tight -- a Siena survey released Sunday found the candidates tied 48-48, with 5 percent of voters undecided and a 2.7 percent margin of error -- and that Cuomo has a 68 percent approval rating in the county. Collins flirted with running for governor in 2009, but eventually demurred amid several controversial remarks he made.

If he were bounced now, he would be neutralized in 2014.

So state-level Democrats have invested a lot here. Staffers from the Democratic State Committee have been involved in the Poloncarz effort for its final month. The comptroller has retained Sherman Jewett and Jennifer Cunningham as consultants handling his mail and broadcast advertising. While Cuomo has not directly contributed to Poloncarz's campaign, several labor groups based downstate -- presumably at the behest of the governor or his political aides at the DSC -- last week funneled nearly $70,000 into the candidate's war chest. The DSC has contributed $14,600.

Cuomo's interest also has helped cool persistent tensions among Erie County Democrats. Poloncarz's unofficial political godfather is Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan, who has feuded with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. According to Steve Pigeon, a former county chairman and omnipresent operative, this was an important, if unstated, reason for Cuomo's visit: "He attracts top-tier people, so everybody wants to be with him ... if the governor wants people to work together, they will."

Sure enough, Brown endorsed Poloncarz from the stage.

Greenberg said that while Cuomo's endorsement probably won't move many voters, his appearance might energize the Democratic base -- particularly within Buffalo. There are almost twice as many enrolled Democrats as Republicans in the county, and perhaps cognizant of that fact, the GOP hasn't fielded candidates for city council or county legislative races in the city limits to not drum up turnout.

Schumer compared the standing-room-only crowd in the union hall to one he saw in Erie County on the eve of his 1998 election to the Senate. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, told the audience they were "boots on the ground," and Brown can help with this, too.

Cuomo was far from coy instructing the crowd in strategy.

"How do we win? First, we unite," Cuomo said in his speech. "And then, my friends, we work ... we have the people and we have the shoe leather, and we're right, and we have passion."

Collins spent Friday morning touring two businesses, drawing attention to new jobs created through the Workforce Investment Board, a county enterprise he has utilized "aggressively." He said his final push doesn't include any big names, though his campaign is airing an ad with a former Erie County comptroller, and this focus is "on the issues."

In this race, they have been varied and muddy: park and library closures, the economic climate in the county, accusations of absentee ballot tampering by Democrats -- several people held a banner proclaiming "Ballot Fraud Training Here" -- and voter harassment by Republicans.

Collins dismissed the governor's rally and investment.

"What you're seeing is career politicians out of Washington and Albany endorsing career politicians here in Erie County. It's what career politicians do," he said after touring an electronics company in an industrial park in Blasdell.

"What I'm most proud of is being endorsed by small business owners who create the jobs that really matter and get results in Erie County."

Reach Vielkind at 454-5081 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Last Updated ( Monday, 07 November 2011 13:35 )  

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