Cuomo says he's not going to run -- unless On Politics Today

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

August 19, 1991|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

Washington -- GOV. MARIO CUOMO of New York, indicating discomfort with continued speculation that he may yet seek the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, says he will not be a candidate -- but again with a slight caveat.

In a telephone interview from Albany, Cuomo said: "This situation makes me uncomfortable. What do I have to say?....All right, I'm not going to run. Now I've put it to rest."

Having said that, however, Cuomo said he will be asked, "Is it possible you could change your mind?' And he answered his own question: 'Everything's possible."

The New York governor insisted, at the same time, that this caveat should not be taken as an evasion, and that he means it when he says he has no plans to run. He emphasized that he has made no effort to line up a campaign organization or to raise campaign funds, and said the absence of such activity should underscore that he is not going to run.

Cuomo said he wouldn't have to be coaxed if he wanted to run because he knows he's at the top of the polls. "I'm not playing games with myself, I'm not being cute," Cuomo said at another point in his call.

The call came in response to an earlier column that suggested by declining to say flatly he would serve out his current gubernatorial term that runs through 1994, Cuomo may have wanted to keep the speculation about his availability alive.

In a speech to a committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Hyannis, Mass., on Aug. 9, he turned aside pleas for him to run by saying that 'I don't think my state has ever needed a governor more than it does now, and that's the commitment I'll make.' It was this statement that led to the question he later sidestepped about serving out his full term.

Cuomo's speech at Hyannis, in which he called on his party to hone a message of economic reforms that would give relief to middle-class voters by facing up to heavier taxes on the wealthy, was to be the first ofa series outside New York. The scheduling of these engagements fanned speculation that he might still be a presidential candidate.

But Cuomo said in the phone interview that although he feels strongly that the Democratic message must be more effectively crafted and that he can help in doing so, he may speak out less in coming months, rather than continue to fuel the candidate speculation.

He reported that he recently turned down a request for a #F network television inteveiw for that reason. Once it becomes clear that it is toolate for him to run, he said, perhaps he will be believed and his observations taken as other than indications of interest in running.

Asked at one point why he doesn't want to run, Cuomo shot back: "None of your business." He said he had no obligation to the public to say why, but he denied that in saying earlier that New York "needs a governor" more now than ever, he meant it was in trouble requiring his continued attention.

Cuomo also denied that continued speculation that he might run was holding back other Democrats. "They're not going to wait," he said. "They didn't wait in '88," when Cuomo also said he wasn't running but was not believed by many Democrats.

Neverthless, he has always been regarded as the one party leader who had the potential to sew up the nomination early if he entered the race. Whether his statement that he is not going to run--with the 'everything's possible' caveat--will break the logjam Democratic ranks and

produce some declared candidates may be seen shortly.

The one prospective candidate who would figure to be most damaged by a Cuomo candidacy, and hence most encouraged by his latest statement, is fellow-liberal Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. But Harkin has been enthusiastically received among Democratic liberals for his Truman-like "ive 'em hell"stump attacks on President Bush and is not likely to be affected one way or another now by what Cuomo says or does. Harkin is expected to declare his candidacy next month.

NTC Cuomo paints himself as a sort of boy-who-cried-wolf. No matter how many times he says he's not a candidate, he laments, nobody believes him, to the point that what he has to say about what his party's message should be gets drowned out by the will-he-or-won't-he speculation.

He says he wants to lay it to rest once and for all -- but with that "everything's possible" caveat that is likely to keep the door open just a crack to many of those who hear it.

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