As the Big Apple Turns

Offbeat entries into New York's campaigns for governor and senator make for lively races

IT will be an entertaining spring for New Yorkers.

We are not talking about Disney's new play, Beauty and the Beast. Or David Letterman's strolls down Broadway. Or any gyrations in the Yankee lineup that George Steinbrenner can dream up.

We are talking politics.

The race for governor is starting to get ... interesting.

On Wednesday, radio ``shock jock'' Howard Stern announced he would seek the Libertarian Party's nomination. This is the Howard Stern better known for his raunchy ``bleeps'' on radio than his budget proposals. This is the Howard Stern who's cost his radio station, WXRK-FM, $1 million in fines from the Federal Communications Commission. And this is the Howard Stern whose book-signing forays resulted in lines so long they'd make a governor jealous.

Mr. Stern, with his shoulder-length hair and sunglasses, insists he is serious, even if he doesn't know what a libertarian is. His main platform is the imposition of the death penalty. But he also wants to make road crews work at night and improve the collection of highway tolls - pressing issues for people who listen to Stern on their radios while tied up in traffic. He insists he can get ``hundreds of thousands of votes.'' Normally the Libertarians, who favor less government, get about 40,000 votes. After Stern asked his supporters to register as Libertarians, the only phone line to the party's headquarters was jammed for hours.

Stern joins a growing crowd that hopes to take the ball away from New York's point guard - oops - the governor, Mario Cuomo, who would probably rather challenge Stern to a game of hoops than a debate. The Democratic governor, seeking his fourth term, is known for his slashing style - we're talking basketball here, not politics.

Basketball, in fact, seems to have become part of the governor's way of communicating with people. This month, he held a press conference in a Harlem school to talk about crime. But first there was a photo op on the basketball court as the governor took on eight-year-olds. In his tailored suit and wingtips, the governor tried to block their shots. The subliminal message was that the governor hates losing. Perhaps he will challenge Stern to a ``foul shooting'' contest.

Actually, the governor says Stern's entrance in the campaign presents ``another interesting dimension.'' Mr. Cuomo says it could give the campaign excitement he didn't think it would have.

Stern is not the only one wanting to go mano a mano with Cuomo. There is a swarm of Republicans - some more interesting than others. For example, Richard Rosenbaum, a former state party chairman, wants to run as the anti-boss candidate. He says the GOP, trying to find a conservative candidate, is handing the job back to the governor. ``They might as well hire [Dr. Jack] Kevorkian as their campaign manager,'' he said at his news conference Tuesday. Unfortunately for Mr. Rosenbaum, Stern's announcement received far more media attention.

George Pataki, a state senator from Peekskill, thinks he's the front-runner since he seems to have the endorsement of United States Sen. Al D'Amato (R), who thought about running at one time. Last week, Mr. Pataki bused his supporters to the city from Putnam County for his announcement. However, Mr. D'Amato didn't make the ceremony. Pataki pointed out that D'Amato was busy trying to sort out the Whitewater affair.

The race for the Senate seat could be just as interesting as the gubernatorial race. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D), used to pontificating about the president's health-care program, instead may face the Rev. Al Sharpton in a primary battle. Mr. Sharpton is better known for his rush-hour marches across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest some alleged injustice. To illustrate the contrast between himself and Mr. Moynihan, Sharpton announced his candidacy underneath a dilapidated Brooklyn subway station. Lest anyone take Sharpton for granted, he received 15 percent of the vote in a 1992 primary run against D'Amato.

Yes, it could be an interesting spring.

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