New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has a few words of advice for fellow Gov. Michael Dukakis: Don't underestimate the power of Jesse Jackson. In a lunch meeting with reporters yesterday, Governor Cuomo warned Mr. Dukakis and the Democratic Party against alienating the black electorate.
``You don't win without the black vote if you are a Democrat,'' Mr. Cuomo said, as he emphasized the need to give the Rev. Mr. Jackson enough head room at the convention and beyond to sustain the support of the constituency he represents.
Tension has been building between the Dukakis and Jackson campaigns in recent days over the way Jackson was notified of Mr. Dukakis's vice-presidential choice.
``You've got to put Jesse in a position where he can turn plausibly to his constituency and say not only here is why Jesse Jackson is satisfied, but here is why you should be. That now is the next challenge,'' Cuomo said.
The New York governor offered the following points to the Dukakis campaign as key to a victory in November. The party must offer:
Competence - an ability to run the government well.
Change - in the form of better management.
Hard Work - in what he called the tradition of the Democratic Party.
Honesty - in support of the rule of law.
A smooth campaign - mistakes must be avoided.
Cuomo called Dukakis's choice of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as his running mate as ``a bit of a gamble.'' But he said that the senator would broaden the experience factor on the Democratic ticket and help Dukakis reach out to sectors of the party that are not enthusiastic about Dukakis's liberal image.
Dukakis ``needs to reach Democrats who are not ready to be called liberals or even progressives,'' Cuomo said.
Cuomo sees an ironic challenge facing the party with a conservative Southerner on the ticket. The trick, he said, is to reach out to the more Southern and conservative elements in the party - elements that went to President Reagan in 1980 and 1984 - while still being able to hold on to the strength of the Jackson constituency. ``Now is the true test of coalition building,'' he said.
The difficulty for the party is dealing effectively with black voters, a task Cuomo says is much more difficult than dealing with Jackson alone.
``He's not going to be able to just whistle on election day and deliver 7 million people,'' Cuomo asserted. ``We have to ... accommodate [more than] Jesse Jackson the individual, we have to say to that community, we understand your concerns and we are prepared to deal with them.''
``That has to be done very precisely, it can't be done with atmospherics,'' Cuomo added. ``You have to say things to them that appeal to their self-interest.''
When asked if this wasn't a form of pandering, Cuomo forcefully disagreed. ``It is intelligent to deal with a guy who gets 7 million votes and you are going to ask to go out there and [campaign for you]. It seems to me appropriate to develop a relationship with him.''
Cuomo, who has been keeping in touch with both Dukakis and Jackson, is confident the convention will turn out well.
``I think ... that Jesse will preserve his position on the issues, he has to. I think he will do it respectfully, he will do it with a minimum of disruption, and do it well enough to preserve his credibility with his own constituency and thereby put himself in the strongest possible position to help Dukakis in November.''