Several Democratic state lawmakers called Wednesday for Andrew Cuomo to quit the governor's race, saying his criticism of George Pataki's post-Sept. 11 leadership demonstrated "inexperience and a lack of political maturity."
Cuomo, the former federal housing secretary and elder son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, said he would not drop his candidacy.
The lawmakers, all supporters of Cuomo's rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, were led by state Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, a Buffalo-area Democrat.
Cuomo touched off a firestorm of criticism last week when, during a campaign bus interview, he criticized Pataki for ceding post-Sept. 11 leadership to then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Pataki "stood behind the leader. He held the leader's coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader," Cuomo had said.
In a letter to Cuomo, the five state Assembly members cited numerous newspaper editorials critical of Cuomo's remarks.
"When voters elect a leader, they are looking for a whole panoply of useful qualities. One of them is an ability to sense when an occasion is about something greater than yourself," The New York Times said recently in one such editorial. "Mr. Pataki demonstrated that part of leadership on Sept. 11. Mr. Cuomo has yet to demonstrate it during this campaign."
"The view of newspapers and political insiders are troubling enough, but we are hearing from constituents and people in our districts about how offended they were with your remarks," the five lawmakers wrote.
"Respectfully, we urge you to drop out of the race for governor for the good of the Democratic Party," the letter added. "That will ensure that your remarks will not be held against other Democrats."
At a Manhattan news conference where he was unveiling a campaign finance reform proposal, Cuomo said he would not quit the race.
And, noting he had complained about the slow progress in the rebuilding effort in lower Manhattan, Cuomo took credit for a decision Tuesday by state-city committees in charge of the rebuilding effort to speed things up.
"Point was made, point was heard and they've accelerated the process, and that's what a campaign is all about," Cuomo said.
Cuomo also said: "Some of my supporters are asking Carl McCall to drop out of the race. I don't think anyone should drop out. I think the democratic process works best when you have people competing."
The Cuomo campaign then produced a letter from five pro-Cuomo county chairmen calling for McCall to quit the race.
"Once again, you and your allies are coming to the defense of George Pataki instead of telling the truth about his record," the letter said.
Asked if McCall would heed the advice to get out of the race, spokesman Steven Greenberg said, "Absolutely not."
Cuomo's campaign finance proposal called for his rivals to agree on a "Clean Money Pledge" under which they would take no additional campaign funds from those who do business with the state. Both Pataki and McCall, like Cuomo's father before them, have been criticized for doing that.
The letter to Cuomo was signed by, in addition to Tokasz, Assembly members Robert Sweeney of Suffolk County; Jake Gunther of Sullivan County; RoAnn Destito of Oneida County; and Keith Wright of Manhattan. The Assembly's top Democrat, Speaker Sheldon Silver, is also a McCall supporter.
The county chairmen's letter to McCall was signed by Steve Pigeon of Erie, David Alpert of Westchester, Jeanne Crane of Orleans County, Donna Klemann of Ontario County and Dorothy Betz of Madison.
Meanwhile, Pataki picked up the endorsement of the Business and Industry Political Action Committee, the political arm of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, on Wednesday. The group represents about 270 companies in a 19-county area of upstate New York.
"We need Governor Pataki in office to build upon his pro-growth policies, continued with needed reforms and make New York an even friendlier place to do business," said a statement from the business PAC.