Cuomo bows out of race for president Citing budget woes in N.Y., governor ends speculation

December 21, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Ending months of speculation, and quite possibly his chances of ever becoming president, a somber Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York took himself out of the 1992 Democratic race yesterday, saying he needed to devote himself full-time to his state's budget problems.

His stunning announcement, which he indicated was irrevocable, was a boost to the announced Democratic candidates, since Mr. Cuomo would have been considered the man to beat had he run.

Less clear is the impact on Democratic chances of defeating President Bush next fall. Some analysts had considered Mr. Cuomo the party's strongest challenger, while others believed that if he sought the nomination and lost, whoever beat him would emerge as a giant-killer.

Mr. Cuomo's decision leaves Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton as the early Democratic favorite. But the biggest beneficiaries may be Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who could draw votes and contributions that might have gone to Mr. Cuomo, and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who was in danger of losing potential liberal-labor support to the New York governor.

At a nationally televised news conference in Albany, N.Y., Mr. Cuomo said he could not abandon his official duties when his state's financially troubled government was nearing "the brink of disaster."

He announced his decision, after more than two months of highly publicized indecision, less than 90 minutes before the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Cuomo said he came to a conclusion earlier in the day that he would not run.

Although he began warning more than a month ago that a failure to close the state's $875 million budget gap might keep him from becoming a candidate, his decision came as a surprise because his aides and advisers had been actively recruiting potential campaign workers and financial donors for weeks.

"I would be less than honest if I did not admit to you my regret at not having the chance to run for president," Mr. Cuomo said.

He blamed Republicans, who control one house of the state legislature, for the failure to reach a budget compromise. But he stopped short of accusing them or the Bush White House of stalling the negotiations to block his candidacy, saying he would leave that conclusion "to God and their conscience."

He said that "all people who might have been waiting for me are free" to support someone else and appeared to rule out a late presidential bid even after his state's budget problems are solved. Democratic analysts agreed that there is only a remote chance of a deadlock during the primaries that might give Mr. Cuomo a chance to jump in.

"Ron Brown said that the best thing for the party is for me to make clear now that if we settle the budget in a month or a week that it's too late, that this should be some kind of definitive deadline, and that's what we'll treat it as," Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor had ignored the pleas of the party's national chairman that he get in or out of the race by Election Day in early November, and Mr. Cuomo said he had not informed Mr. Brown of his decision before his news conference yesterday.

Some Democrats speculated privately yesterday that Mr. Cuomo was using the budget negotiations and the wishes of the party chairman as an excuse for a deep-seated reluctance to put himself through the ordeal of a primary campaign.

Mr. Cuomo refused to elaborate on any other reasons he might have had for his decision, saying again that the budget problem was "really" the only thing standing in the way of a presidential campaign and denying that he had any other reservations.

Mr. Brown, in a statement released by his office, praised Mr. Cuomo's "great grace and integrity" in placing the interests of his state "ahead of politics."

Mr. Cuomo's drawn-out deliberations had attracted considerable national attention and criticism since he revealed Oct. 11 that he was thinking about running. Many analysts think the indecisiveness issue would have faded soon after he announced, however.

The wait for him to decide overshadowed the other candidates, to their considerable irritation and the anger of some within the party.

"Clearly, the press was more interested in what turned out to be a non-candidate than they were in the candidates," said Paul Goldman, the Virginia Democratic chairman and top adviser to Gov. L. DouglasWilder, one of the six announced Democratic contenders. "Hopefully, they will now focus attention on the real candidates."

Mr. Clinton said in a prepared statement that he was "deeply moved" by Mr. Cuomo's announcement and that, had he run, Mr. Cuomo "clearly would have been the favorite to win the nomination."

Mr. Cuomo refused to concede that his presidential ambitions were behind him, saying he would leave that analysis to others. He said he would "never know" whether he could have won the Democratic race and said he had no interest in the vice presidency.

As for 1996, he said that was "an eon away" and that anything could happen, quoting his immigrant mother, Immaculata: "Between now and then a pope will be born."

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