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Cuomo stumps for consolidation

Andrew Cuomo's name has appeared on the pages of this newspaper for more than 25 years now, ever since he served as a young aide to his father -- former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Get used to his name showing up even more. Suddenly, he's everywhere.

The attorney general dropped by the University at Buffalo on Thursday, traveled to Long Island on Wednesday and made a high-profile appearance at Rochester Institute of Technology a few days ago with billionaire Tom Golisano, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres.

Attorneys general are like that. Bob Abrams never met a microphone he didn't like. And Dennis Vacco and Eliot Spitzer each carved out their reputations with the help of top-notch press aides.

Now Cuomo is touring the state, latching on to the regionalism and consolidation themes that Western New Yorkers like Kevin Gaughan and Joel Giambra rode for years. Gaughan was never able to piggyback that theme into winning public office. But before he got mired in the muck of red budgets and green budgets, Republican Giambra won two terms as county executive in solid Democratic turf and inspired serious study of merging Erie County with the City of Buffalo.

In Rochester a few days ago, Cuomo noted that Gov. David Paterson liked the idea of doing something to eliminate the 10,521 governmental entities clogging the state bureaucracy. Ditto for several top Rochester legislators from both parties who joined them.

So along with all the high-profile crusading of the office, Cuomo has a message that arrives at a most opportune time.

The latest poll from Quinnipiac College shows a sudden and dramatic surge of Cuomo approval. A healthy 63 percent of New Yorkers view him favorably. Even 46 percent of Republicans like what they see.

And in a Paterson-Cuomo matchup in a potential Democratic primary for governor in 2010, Cuomo clobbers the incumbent 55 percent to 23 percent. Paterson's numbers, meanwhile, continue to decline. The poll showed 41 percent view him favorably; 35 percent unfavorably. Less than one month ago those numbers were 48 percent to 25 percent.

Cuomo's consolidation plan calls for letting 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municipalities or even citizens dissolve or consolidate entities governing sewer and lighting districts and other outdated governmental bodies.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 in Rochester. "The people could do it. If they voted for it, it would happen."

In the meantime, the Cuomo camp downplays all of the governor talk generated by pollsters, political columnists and other disreputable characters. They point out that Cuomo is barely halfway through his first term as attorney general, and that even high-profile appearances with political bankrollers like Golisano don't necessarily mean a thing.

Real impediments to a Cuomo candidacy still lie in his path. Black New Yorkers would prove none too thrilled if he challenged the state's first African-American governor after launching a similar scenario in 2002 against gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall.

But there's no light at the end of Paterson's tunnel at a time of $13 billion deficits and daily ads attacking him on TV.

In the meantime, Cuomo's supporters say he will continue to use his bully pulpit. If anything else is to be, they say, it will result from being the best attorney general he can.

The bet here is if Cuomo works at exactly that, his name will continue to be no stranger to the headlines.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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