Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off a major campaign road trip today in Rockland by rallying supporters at Rockland Community College and calling for voters to back his plan to reform state government.
Local political leaders who joined Cuomo at a standing-room-only reception room at the college said they believe his "rock star" style is already making a difference by encouraging more New Yorkers to become politically involved.
"This is a mission," said Rockland County Democratic Chairman Vincent Monte. "This is more than an election. If we don't change the way we are doing business in New York, we're not going to survive. There is such frustration in the atmosphere but Andrew Cuomo is convincing people that it's possible to change things."
Monte said Cuomo's campaign has already gathered a record number of volunteers and that his personal style and message of reform are hitting home with many Rocklanders coping with higher taxes, fewer jobs and an economy that is not showing much recovery from the recession.
Cuomo, along with his family, came to RCC today in an RV – with Cuomo behind the wheel – for the first stop in the first phase of the "Drive for a New NY," an 11-day swing with Cuomo holding organizing events in more than a dozen counties. The Drive for a New NY is slated to take Cuomo throughout the state over the months leading to the November election.
Cuomo's visit attracted political leaders and supporters from all five Rockland towns. In addressing the group, Cuomo quickly made it clear that he doesn't think the 2010 election is an ordinary one.
"This is the most important election for the State of New York in my lifetime," said Cuomo, who is New York's attorney general. "This state can go either way – it's at a tipping point. It's time to get our act together or we will be left behind by all the other states. It is time for a change, and a time for a fundamental change."
Cuomo, who said it is outrageous that the state still does not have a new budget, called for support of his reform package, which urges a reduction in the size of state government, no new taxes and for the state to help grow businesses – and jobs – through incentives.
"We must get our fiscal house in order," Cuomo said. "The answer is not raising taxes, because we can't afford any new taxes. State government is too fat. We have to cut expenses and get efficiencies with scale."
Cuomo said New York State can no longer afford to have the 1,000 separate agencies that make up state government. Additionally, he extended the call to reform to local government, where New York has more than 10,000 governments ranging from village boards to a variety of special districts that most people don't even know exist.
"We have to right-size government to make it work better for the people of the State of New York," said Cuomo.
That message sounded good to Joe Tarangelo, 73, of New City, a retired Wall Street broker who attended Cuomo's rally.
"He said the right thing. We need change," Tarangelo said. "We have to change Albany. We have to cut taxes. We have to go after the waste in government."
Cuomo told the group at RCC that he is attempting to convince the average citizens of New York that it is possible to change state government so that it's focus is on solving the state's problems – not just politics.
"The politicians in Albany will change when he people demand change," said Cuomo. "This campaign is about having the citizens of New York State organizing behind an agenda for change. We will being going across the state and create a coalition like no other coalition that has been seen before."
After hearing Cuomo speak today, Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack, a Democrat from Congers, said he believes Cuomo can build the coalition he speaks of because of his style, reputation and stature.
In addition to being attorney general, Cuomo was the Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Bill Clinton and he is the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
"What he brings to the campaign and eventually to the Office of the Governor is his stature," Gromack said. "We need someone the people feel they can trust and respect."
Gromack said that while he thought Gov. David Paterson had done a good job in office, he feels Paterson did not convince the public that he is a true leader.
"I think Andrew Cuomo is that type of person, he is a leader that people can respect," Gromack said.
Clarkstown Town Clerk David Carlucci, who is running for state Senate, said that most Rocklanders are skeptical when they hear politicians talking about reform.
"I'm excited we have someone with a rock star style to push reform," Carlucci said of Cuomo. "There are so many problems, people are skeptical that any politician can solve them."
Carlucci, a New City Democrat, is running against Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef for the state Senate seat that was held by the late Sen. Thomas Morahan, who died Monday at age 78. Morahan decided not to seek re-election to focus on his work in the Senate and fighting leukemia.
The rally at RCC opened with the group observing a moment of silence for Morahan, whose funeral is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Augustine's Church in New City, with burial in St. Anthony's Cemetery in Nanuet.
Calling hours continue tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Higgins Funeral Home, 321 S. Main St., New City.