No one is terribly surprised that Gov. Mario M. Cuomo plans to seek a second term as governor of New York. But even as the popular Democrat announced his plans yesterday to run again for the job he calls ``exciting, challenging, and a high honor,'' the overriding interest among New Yorkers seems to be the 1988 race for president.
``I think if he does have any presidential aspirations, this is a prudent decision,'' says Bruce Miroff, an assistant professor of politics at the State University of New York in Albany. If Governor Cuomo took off two years to campaign and raise funds for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, as Colorado Sen. Gary Hart did in 1980, he might lose some of his fascination as a national candidate, Professor Miroff says.
Most New Yorkers simply assume Cuomo will win the November election. He is seen by many voters as effective, down to earth, and philosophical. There is criticism from some quarters that Cuomo's first term has done nothing dazzling, but most voters seem to like the governor's rhetoric, and are proud that he is mentioned as a national contender.
In a letter to state Democratic chief Laurence Kirwan saying he would seek reelection, Cuomo did not mention the possibility of a presidential run in 1988. But in a later news conference, he didn't rule out the possibility either. When asked if he would renew his 1982 campaign pledge to serve a full four-year term, Cuomo said he didn't believe ``that's the best thing for the state or me.''
Westchester County Executive Andrew O'Rourke, who is expected to receive the endorsement of the Republican Party later this month, is seen as a credible candidate, but he does not have much name recognition.
While Cuomo is seen as a hands-down winner, Mr. O'Rourke will likely receive considerable help from Republicans in both state and national party organizations, who do not want to see Cuomo win by a landslide. A large victory here, combined with a successful term as governor, could put Cuomo in a good position for the Democratic nomination two years from now.
``I think 1988 will be like 1976,'' says Miroff. ``The Democratic Party will be very eager for a `winner'.''
Most Cuomo supporters reacted with enthusiasm to the news of his reelection bid. Mayor Edward I. Koch says that Cuomo has ``been a superb governor.'' Though Mayor Koch has not always agreed with the governor, he says Cuomo has been willing to tackle tough issues, including medicaid, the infrastructure bond issue, preserving state and local tax deductability, tax amnesty, and educational aid.
``[Cuomo] started out very good and has gotten better,'' says Koch. He has used his talent for ``communication, conciliation, and consensus in an unusually successful way,'' says the mayor.
Miroff says that Cuomo all along has sought to contest the territory that Ronald Reagan occupies. While retaining his stance as a traditional Democrat, the governor espouses fiscal responsibility, economic growth, and individual opportunity, and speaks of ``compassion.'' Using such phrases as ``the family of New York,'' Cuomo is effectively employing the catch phrases of the Reagan '80s.