Cuomo's Bid for No. 4

NEW York Gov. Mario Cuomo has always followed his own political timetable. That inner schedule has not always run in sync with the wishes of supporters, let alone adversaries.

Mr. Cuomo refused to be rushed into a decision to run for president in 1992, finally declining the contest; he subsequently rebuffed entreaties that he seek out a spot on the United States Supreme Court. On some issues - capital punishment for example, to which he is strongly opposed - Cuomo refuses to change his position, even if to do so garnered votes.

Now, New York's three-term governor once again is proving his mettle for independence: At a time when voters - through term-limit measures and through elections that have sent incumbents packing - are seeking change, Cuomo is plunging forward to campaign for a fourth term as governor of the Empire State.

At first glance, the governor looks like an easy winner: No big-name opponent has yet announced. Moreover, Republicans and conservatives tend to run opposing candidates, thus splitting the anti-Cuomo vote, as happened in 1990.

Still, Cuomo may be correct in calling himself ``the underdog.'' A liberal, he watched two fellow liberal Democrats lose recent reelection bids, New York City Mayor David Dinkins and New Jersey Gov. James Florio. Little wonder that Cuomo now sounds like a Republican, touting tax cuts, stronger anti-crime measures, and welfare reform. New York State lost more than 500,000 jobs in the recent economic downturn. And there is the matter of polls: Cuomo is currently at a low point.

Cuomo-watching has always been a fascinating sport: A consummate politician who knows how to work a New York City crowd in ways that surely would have impressed a pro like former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Cuomo is also a genuine intellectual who is the first to admit that there are not always easy answers in government.

It is that balance between gritty political pro and reflective citizen-philosopher that makes Cuomo so attractive - and that surely explains why he has to follow the dictates of his own inner timetable.

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