It may well have been opening night of the hottest new act in New York politics.
Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and billionaire B. Thomas Golisano appeared together at Rochester Institute of Technology on Thursday to sing each other's praises and tout Cuomo's new plan to reduce and consolidate local governments.
Just months after Golisano spent $4 million on state legislative candidates favoring his reform agenda, the Buffalo Sabres owner and head of the Responsible New York political committee said he is ready to spend again in support of Cuomo's ideas -- and maybe on Cuomo himself.
Would he back the attorney general should he run for governor in 2010?
"Andrew is a dedicated person and one of the more creative and energetic people in state government," Golisano said. "I would like to see anyone with his energy and skill set run."
Aides to Cuomo were quick to de-emphasize any politics connected to the Cuomo trip to Rochester. But Golisano's new partnership with Cuomo develops as he ramps up his political and governmental pace and as Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson encounters an avalanche of problems in Albany.
While Cuomo insists he has no plans except serving as attorney general, the idea of Golisano's millions backing his consolidation plan -- or maybe even a gubernatorial candidacy -- carries powerful political potential.
"It's not a coincidence he appeared with Cuomo," said one source close to the situation.
Indeed, a recent Siena College poll showed Paterson's lead over Cuomo in a potential Democratic primary matchup falling from 23 points in December to just 2 points in January. And in recent days, Cuomo has unveiled an ambitious plan to consolidate or eliminate much of the state's 10,521 government entities with high-profile appearances in New York, Buffalo and Rochester.
In addition, he shocked much of the state's political establishment when he addressed a Conservative Party meeting in Albany on Monday. Though he has long been viewed on the liberal end of the political spectrum, Cuomo and his consolidation plan were well-received.
Thursday, in the RIT auditorium named for Golisano, the billionaire noted that Cuomo has taken on issues "to make New York better, and certainly not in a self-serving way."
In his remarks, Cuomo praised Golisano for "entering the public arena because he had ideals and principles he wanted to share with the people of the state. The State of New York is a better place because of Tom Golisano."
Golisano, founder of Paychex, ran three times for governor on the Independence Party line, including a 1994 challenge to the attorney general's father -- then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.
In an interview with The Buffalo News, Andrew Cuomo later added that his new plan needs the support of a broad coalition that he can then bring to the Legislature.
"Tom Golisano, . . . when he created the Independence Party, this was a big issue that he talked about for a long time," Cuomo said, "so I'm pleased to have his support."
Golisano said that while he does not plan to spend the $4 million he dropped in last year's legislative races, he noted he has "unlimited" resources to devote to the new Cuomo plan. He has already sponsored full-page newspaper ads in support and said he is prepared to spend more.
At RIT, Cuomo found bipartisan support for a plan to let counties, municipalities or even citizens dissolve or consolidate entities governing sewer and lighting districts and other outdated governmental bodies. It would involve collecting 5,000 signatures to put such a measure on the ballot.
"In one simple law, we want the ability for citizens across this state, as well as local politicians, to reorganize their governments," Cuomo said. "The people could do it. If they voted for it, it would happen."