viernes, 28 de enero de 2011

Governor Works to Build Rapport at Home

ALBANY — On the menu for the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the State Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, was a tossed salad, chicken and a sober conversation about the state’s grim financial prognosis.  For Republican members of the Senate, it was sliders and wine and a call to arms to cut spending and shun new taxes.


For Democratic members of the Assembly, it was bagels and lox and a delicate discussion about ending the income tax surcharge on wealthy New Yorkers. Call it Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s kitchen diplomacy. While “soft” and “gentle” hardly fit Mr. Cuomo, he is trying hard to avoid the testiness that often typified his predecessors’ relationships with the Legislature. The governor is engaged in what amounts to a charm offensive, hosting lawmakers at the Executive Mansion, hoping to soften their hearts by filling their stomachs.

For Mr. Cuomo, who took his own shots at lawmakers during the election campaign last year, the passing of canapés and goblets of chardonnay is meant not only to brace lawmakers for a painful budget season but also to build friendlier ties over all. “Metaphorically, he is welcoming us into his house, and I think that is appreciated,” said Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer, Democrat of Queens, who was invited to breakfast at the mansion one recent morning.

And, she added, “the cantaloupe was delicious.”

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has limited the receptions to about 30 lawmakers at a time to allow for a certain intimacy. He has held six so far, with more planned next week.

Mr. Cuomo’s aides say the receptions will be a regular feature of his governorship. He starts each one with a history lesson about the 40-room Victorian home, which has been used sparingly since his father, Mario M. Cuomo, left office as governor. The governor’s guests praise the receptions as refreshingly cordial in tone. That is precisely the point: four years ago, Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, took office and described himself as a “steamroller” — only to find that his hard-charging style failed miserably in winning support for his proposals.

“With Spitzer, I think if he had done it, you would probably get the feeling he was going through the motions,” said Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, Democrat of Suffolk County. “One difference here is I genuinely felt that he meant it. He was sincere.” Republicans were no less complimentary. “We had good food and good company,” said Senator Martin J. Golden of Brooklyn. “It was not the in-your-face type of discussion that you usually get into around budget time.” Of course, inviting lawmakers to the mansion is not groundbreaking. In the 1940s and ’50s, Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, a Republican, would host legislative leaders every Sunday night. Mr. Sweeney and other veteran lawmakers recalled similar receptions when the elder Mr. Cuomo was governor. Even Mr. Spitzer hosted legislators at the mansion a few times.

Mr. Cuomo was inspired by his father and by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Republican, who was known for charming legislative leaders, both at the mansion and at his estate in Westchester County. At his estate, where he gave politicians a taste of high society, Mr. Rockefeller would pull a painting off a wall and give it to a guest who admired it, said Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz who has written about the Rockefeller administration.

“Cuomo can’t bring that,” Professor Benjamin said. “But what he can bring is a willingness to engage socially and to establish a network of relationships that will make acting on hard things easier.” That was largely the message Mr. Cuomo sent in the meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers, warning them of the misery to be caused by the cuts in his budget, which aims to close a shortfall of more than $9 billion.

Mr. Cuomo also talked of the importance of cooperation — a message he hopes will be the theme of his administration as the state navigates turbulent times. Though Mr. Cuomo declined to comment about the gatherings, a spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said, “The meetings at the mansion have been cordial and productive, and we look forward to continuing them.”

Each reception follows the same script. After mingling for a while, lawmakers gather in the mansion’s Drawing Room at round tables covered in white tablecloths. Mr. Cuomo’s top aides, many of whom are relatively new to Albany, spread out among the tables, giving them a chance to get to know legislators.