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Cuomo pledges openness During a small, closed inaugural ceremony, New York's 56th governor vows to rebuild the state's government and repair its battered political image

In a scaled-down and closed ceremony at the Capitol, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was inaugurated Saturday as New York's 56th governor, pledging a more open and lean state government with a chief goal of restoring its battered ethical image.

"I want to rebuild this government," Cuomo told a small gathering of family members and personal and political friends in the Capitol's War Room.

At times offering praise and olive branches to invited legislative leaders sitting in the front row of the room for his 27-minute speech, Cuomo also sprayed a healthy dose of criticism at those he blamed for the decline of Albany's reputation and its sense of responsibility to New Yorkers.

The state government, he said, has become a "part of the problem rather than being part of the solution," adding that New Yorkers shake their heads at the mention of Albany and a state government that has become a "national punch line."

"Worse than no confidence, what they're saying is no trust," Cuomo, 53, said in remarks delivered 12 hours after he had taken office.

"Our people feel abandoned by government, betrayed and isolated, and they are right," said Cuomo, with leaders of the Assembly and Senate and outgoing Gov. David A. Paterson seated a few feet away.

In his first executive act, Cuomo ordered the reopening of the second-floor Capitol suite, dubbed "Fort Pataki," following its closing in the 1990s by former Gov. George E. Pataki. Outside, a state transportation crew -- some paid overtime by Cuomo's political campaign -- removed concrete security barricades erected following 9/1 1.

The governor said the security umbrella in and around the Capitol over the years became "a physical metaphor for the isolation and alienation of our people."

Aides to Cuomo said the executive order means the public will now have full access to the Hall of Governors -- the hallway filled with portraits of governors on the Capitol's second floor, which also houses the offices of Cuomo and his top advisers.

Not gone, though, are the security barriers, with metal detectors, that guard the entrances to the state government complex and act as choke points for school tour groups and citizen lobbyists who descend on the Capitol during its busiest periods.

The improved access comes as the cuts are being considered to a number of popular programs and loud protests are expected during upcoming budget talks.

Cuomo's executive order appears to take the anticipated protests into account. It says public access to the second floor can occur during business hours "except when restricted access is determined to be necessary to ensure the safety and security of those working in the Capitol."

The governor has signaled he plans to push for an agreement to cap the annual growth of property taxes. He also said he would not undo Paterson's decision, which took final effect on Dec. 31, to reduce the state work force by 900 positions.

Cuomo also repeated his vow not to raise taxes to resolve a looming $10 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year, and said he still supports the coming expiration of an income tax hike enacted several years ago on people making more than $200,000 a year.

Legislative leaders who attended the inaugural -- which aides said was paid for out of Cuomo's campaign account -- said they heard no political slights from the new governor.

"I didn't take it as any criticism whatsoever," Sen. John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic minority leader, said of the Cuomo speech. "What I took it as is this governor is looking forward to working as a partnership with the Legislature to make sure we restore faith and trust and confidence back to the people."

Sen. Dean G. Skelos, leader of the new Republican majority in the Senate, called Cuomo's address "a positive first step."

Skelos, of Nassau County, said the GOP conference is "in sync" with Cuomo's call to control state spending and impose a local property tax cap, at 2 percent a year or 120 percent of the inflation rate, whichever is lower.

But the Republican leader also dashed any taxpayer hopes that a deal has already been brokered and only needs to be announced. He noted that Senate Republicans and Cuomo agree on the cap, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, is not on board yet. Silver, an Orthodox Jew, did not attend the Saturday inaugural out of religious considerations.

Skelos said the sides have had "preliminary" talks on the tax cap, and said it should be a quick priority in the coming legislative session, which gets under way Wednesday, in order "to show the government is functioning and can get things done."

Cuomo started his day at 8 a.m. at the Capitol, meeting with several dozen of his top advisers.

"This is so exciting for me. I hope it is for you, too," Cuomo told his staffers during the public portion of the meetings.

Cuomo held a hand out to lawmakers, calling on a "new partnership" with the 212 state legislators.

"I respect the electoral responsibilities of the Legislature," he said. "I will not govern in a partisan way."

Reminiscent of Eliot L. Spitzer's inaugural speech four years ago, Cuomo bashed Albany as a town dominated by state government ruled by special interests.

"We will be taking on powerful interests and long-entrenched patterns of behavior," Cuomo said.

"What I thought he said about the government is accurate," Paterson said after Cuomo's address.

Though the event was scaled down from recent gubernatorial inaugurals, the day included plenty of the symbols of change that new governors employ.

An hour after his speech, Cuomo ventured outdoors to State Street and, in view of the army of cameras, shook the hands of DOT workers who had been on the job since early Saturday morning, removing the concrete barricades surrounding the Capitol.

The ceremony was attended by a couple hundred people -- a stark contrast to Spitzer's inaugural four years ago, which filled a Capitol park, or Pataki's in 1995, which drew 14,000 people to a nearby arena.

"I don't think a grand ceremony or a lavish ceremony would be appropriate," Cuomo said in front of the small crowd that included his father, Mario Cuomo, the former governor. "When we actually do something and perform and help the people of the state of New York, and when we make government function, then we're going to have a big party and celebrate. And not before."

The state's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, also swore in Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli at the event.

The new governor was joined during the swearing-in by his girlfriend, Food Network host Sandra Lee, who held the Bible, and his three daughters.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com