NEW YORK -- Although stopping short of a formal endorsement, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo indicated a clear preference yesterday for Gov. Bill Clinton over former California Gov. Jerry Brown in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The signal delivered by Mr. Cuomo at a joint news conference in the Capitol in Albany was pointed enough to give Mr. Clinton fresh momentum in the final hectic days of the campaign for the New York primary Tuesday.
Mr. Cuomo said he didn't agree with Mr. Clinton on some issues such as the death penalty but added: "As a package, Bill Clinton, in my opinion, will make a superb president. Jerry Brown, I will support if he is the candidate. . . . Clinton, Brown, whoever it is, will be a superb choice and an absolutely inevitable alternative if we are to make the progress we must as a nation."
Mr. Cuomo's support was all the more striking because of the history of bad blood between the two Democratic governors. But this occasion was sweetness and light on both sides.
Mr. Clinton expressed "enormous respect" for Mr. Cuomo's handling of the New York budget crisis and made a point of noting that such state problems had arisen because of 11 years of Republican neglect of the states by Washington.
Mr. Cuomo, for his part, dismissed the possibility of a deadlocked, brokered convention if Mr. Clinton loses here Tuesday and finds his quest for the necessary 2,145 delegates stalled -- a possibility other Democrats no longer totally rule out.
"There will be no brokered convention," the New York governor said. "There will be no brokered convention because the overwhelming probability, arithmetically, mathematically, is that there will be a first-ballot selection, probably Governor Clinton, probably regardless of what happens in New York. But go beyond that, there should not be a brokered convention. . . . If you had a brokered convention, you not only would be rejecting your own process, you'd be selecting someone who hadn't been tested the way the process tests someone. It's not going to happen. As a matter of fact, it ought not to happen. It is not the way to produce a strong Democratic candidate."
Mr. Clinton suffered one obviously uncomfortable moment when a reporter asked if he had apologized in their private meeting for a remark on the Gennifer Flowers tapes that compared Mr. Cuomo to a Mafia figure. "I've already done that," Mr. Clinton said. "It didn't come up."
And Mr. Cuomo, playing the gracious host, quickly interjected that the issue was "insignificant" in the light of the problems facing the country.
Also yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Hillary Clinton said that "it was a mistake" to mention in a magazine interview a rumor that President Bush has had an extramarital affair.
In the interview, published in the May issue of Vanity Fair, she complained of the alleged double standard used by reporters. She said that reporters trumpeted Ms. Flowers' claims to have had an extramarital affair with Mr. Clinton but wrote nothing about the president's private life.
She also said that if she ever got a chance to cross-examine Ms. Flowers, "I would crucify her."
The reception Mr. Cuomo gave Mr. Clinton seemed much warmer than one tendered 10 days earlier to Mr. Brown, although the New York governor made a point of saying that he was sticking to his policy of withholding any formal endorsement of a candidate. "Given my current popularity," he said, "I'm not sure it would be an advantage."
But Mr. Clinton was clearly buoyed by a successful mission to Albany before he flew back here to attend a labor rally and make two handshaking walking tours of Brooklyn. Polls, both published and private, were showing him ahead of Mr. Brown, although there are cautionary signs that the turnout Tuesday could be remarkably low and thus confound the poll-takers.
Mr. Cuomo also termed "regrettable" the negative tone of the New York primary and said he had urged both Democratic candidates to "make a positive case for change" in the remaining days before Tuesday's voting.
But that plea did not inhibit Mr. Brown, campaigning in Harlem, from castigating Mr. Clinton as, among other things, a "prince of sleaze" who was succumbing to special interests.
Outside Sylvia's Restaurant on Lenox Avenue, Mr. Brown also called his opponent "a phony" who has "demonstrated a pattern of deceit." Mr. Clinton, he said, "is a fraud. He'll destroy the Democratic Party. I'll do everything I can to give the people an authentic choice." He added, "I just hope it's not too late."
Mr. Brown then walked several blocks down 125th Street, now known as Martin Luther King Boulevard, shaking hands and talking to voters, as a counterdemonstration led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the black activist, formed and marched parallel to him, shouting criticisms.
At one point, Mr. Brown climbed on the roof of a motorcade van and told Mr. Sharpton and his followers that he was working to form a coalition to rebuild Harlem, the Bronx, and other deteriorated urban centers. The protesters seemed unimpressed.