By Michael Gormley
NEW YORK —
Democrat Andrew Cuomo coasted past tea party Republican Carl Paladino after an exceedingly nasty race to win election Tuesday as governor of New York — the job his father, Mario, held in the 1980s and ’90s.
With nearly all the precincts reporting, Cuomo had 62 percent of the vote while Paladino had 34 percent. Third-party candidates split the balance.
In Niagara County, the percentages were reversed, with Paladino winning nearly 65 percent of the local vote, to Cuomo's 32 percent.
Cuomo, New York’s attorney general, led in the polls from the start of his well-funded campaign and helped the combative and conservative Paladino sink himself by shifting the focus from economic issues to Paladino’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
“The people have spoken tonight and they have been loud and clear,” the 52-year-old Cuomo said, his father and mother, Matilda Cuomo, at his side. “They are angry. They are paying for an economic recession they didn’t cause, they are frustrated when they look at the dysfunction and degradation in Albany. They want that government in Albany to change, and that’s what they are going to get.”
The Cuomos now join the exclusive club of father-and-son governors, whose members include the Browns, Edmund and Jerry, of California; the Romneys, George of Michigan and Mitt of Massachusetts; and the Folsoms, John Sr. and John Jr., of Alabama.
Paladino, a 64-year-old millionaire developer and political novice, made some major missteps during the campaign. He got into a shouting match with a newspaper reporter, and hinted at one point that the divorced Cuomo had had affairs while married — accusations that Paladino later backed away from.
He also caused a furor when he said children shouldn’t be “brainwashed” into thinking homosexuality is acceptable. He said being gay is “not the way God created us.”
In admitting defeat, Paladino told supporters in Buffalo: “In the tea party, we saw the passion of regular people spill into the streets. I joined the tea party movement for the same reason I joined the United States Army — because I love my country. I’m passionate about New York state and saving it. ... Together, we opened many eyes.”
Cuomo, who was also housing secretary in the Clinton administration, promised to clean up state government, control overspending and rein in some of the nation’s highest property taxes. He styled himself a fiscally conservative new Democrat.
As attorney general, he helped bring about national reforms in the student loan industry, on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. In Albany, he turned the public integrity unit he created into a force to be reckoned with.
The top job in New York opened up for Cuomo earlier this year when Democratic Gov. David Paterson dropped his election bid amid an investigation into whether he interfered in a domestic violence case against a top aide. No charges were filed against Paterson. Paterson himself took office in 2008 after Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a call-girl scandal.
It was Cuomo’s second run for the state’s highest office. His 2002 bid ended in disaster after he said Republican Gov. George Pataki merely held New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s coat after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Cuomo dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination just days before the primary.
Cuomo’s father was governor from 1983 to 1994 and became known for his liberal conscience and the very public way he agonized over whether to run for president in 1992. (Ultimately he decided not to.)
Cuomo’s longtime girlfriend is Sandra Lee, the 43-year-old host of two Food Network TV shows: “Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee” and “Sandra’s Money Saving Meals.” The couple have not said whether they would live together in the executive mansion in Albany.