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As Paterson's time ends, Cuomo's begins <br> New governor inherits state's shaky finances

After a tumultuous nearly 34 months in office, Gov. David A. Paterson turned over the keys to the governor's office to Andrew M. Cuomo, who officially took over the state's chief executive job just after the stroke of midnight this morning.

Cuomo becomes New York's 56th governor, and does so at a time when the state's finances are shaky and forces are already lining up to do major battle in 2011 over everything from property taxes and school funding to gay marriage rights.

The new governor was sworn into office by the state's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, in a private event at the governor's mansion in Albany Friday night before friends, staff and members of his family, including his father, the former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Mario Cuomo lived in the sprawling Eagle Street house for 12 years before losing the job in 1994.

The day's schedule included a gathering of about 40 people for dinner at the mansion -- a chicken and pasta buffet with New York wines -- followed by a larger reception before the swearing-in about 10 p.m. Legally, it took the filing of papers with the state secretary of state's office -- not the swearing-in -- for Cuomo to officially become governor.

Cuomo's inaugural speech will be relatively brief -- about 15 minutes. By design, it is supposed to be a less-extravagant affair than the one four years ago in a packed Capitol park held for Eliot L. Spitzer or the 1995 inaugural by George E. Pataki, which took place in a nearby sports and concert arena with a guest list that included a 19-gun salute, a laser light show and a guest list that included shock jock Howard Stern.

A formal inauguration will be held this afternoon at the Capitol in the ornate War Room -- an appropriately named setting for a kickoff event in what is expected to be another bruising year over state finances and policy matters.

Cuomo promises a mix of work and symbolism for his first day in office, including a morning session with his cabinet and a meet-and-greet during an open house at the governor's mansion.

Paterson on his final day in office traveled to New Jersey for an interview on CNBC.

Paterson spent much of the interview warning of a looming fiscal crisis in the public pension systems, which were hit by Wall Street declines in recent years and what critics say are overly generous retiree benefits.

One of the hosts offered up an observation that Democrat Paterson has become more of a Republican as governor.

"I don't think I've changed as much as circumstances changed," Paterson noted.

While his administration dealt with a hodgepodge of scandals, Paterson's chief obstacle was an economy and spending promises that helped blow huge holes in the state budget throughout his time as governor.

Cuomo takes office as Albany faces yet another round of red ink, this time with projections of $10 billion or more in the fiscal year beginning April 1.

The November victory by Cuomo over Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino keeps the governor's office in the hands of Democrats, though Cuomo comes into office on the same day the Republicans regain control of the State Senate after two years out of power.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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