RELUCTANT TO RUN. Cuomo insists he will not run for president in '88. But some supporters hope he will change his mind
See Mario run ... New York State. Despite all the hoopla and the polls and the cameras focused on him in speculation, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo insists he will spend the next year running the state, and not running for the presidency of the United States.
Some of his would-be supporters hope it is a clever ploy. ``You notice he says he can't run the state and campaign,'' says a Democrat who heard the governor speak at a luncheon here last week. ``That doesn't mean he would turn it down. I'm voting for Cuomo in '88!''
But detractors scowl and say the governor has good reason not to run. They complain about state government and say he could not stand the personal scrutiny.
Governor Cuomo continues to stand by his mid-February announcement that he will not seek the Democratic nomination because he cannot run the state and travel around the country campaigning. He has not entirely ruled out running if drafted at the Democratic national convention, but at recent speeches Cuomo seems to discourage the audiences from assuming he will eventually become a candidate.
``I meant it. Nothing has changed,'' Cuomo told an audience of direct marketing professionals in New York.
Cuomo says polls that show he has more support than declared candidates only reflect the recognition he has received as New York's governor and as the keynote speaker at the last Democratic convention.
``I think the Democrats have an excellent bunch of candidates,'' says Cuomo. But in his speech last week, he underlines the success Democrats have had in running the nation's most populous state - and says the rest of the country could learn from the example.
The idea of New York, says Cuomo, is a blend of pragmatism and progressiveness, common sense and compassion. New York, he says, has learned to ``survive and thrive'' with controlled expenditures, slowed budget growth, and tax cuts on the one hand, and with help for the homeless, education, and economic development programs on the other.
The logical hope would be to bring this type of government to the nation, one might conclude from listening to his speech. Judging from the applause and comments afterwards, the undercurrent here is who else to do that than this governor who many call intelligent, articulate, and compassionate?
It was not a major speech or appearance, but Cuomo clearly captivated the audience. He charmed and kidded and elicited genuine laughter. He won hearty applause when he responded to a question on the Iran-contra scandal with a strong defense of the Constitution. And he hit hard at the Reagan administration's ``status quo'' - the Iran-contra debacle, no arms limitation agreement, and the startling trade and budget deficits.
``He's doing exactly what he should be if he was running for president,'' says Gerald R. Goldhaber, professor of communications at the State University of New York at Buffalo. ``He's the most talented, the most desired candidate, because he's not running.''
``He is waiting to be tapped on the shoulder,'' says Steven Wayne, professor of political science at George Washington University.
Sources close to the governor say he enjoys some of the attention, but he will not run. Some fans, such as New York City Mayor Edward Koch, say Cuomo could be a very strong candidate at a brokered convention. Mayor Koch has urged New York Democrats to support Cuomo as a favorite son candidate.
Dr. Goldhaber says this strategy could work if a large field of candidates spreads out support and no front-runner emerges. But Professor Wayne is skeptical. Such a scenario would require not only indecison and lack of public consensus, but also such hostility among candidates that coalitions would not be built before the convention.
Moreover, Wayne points out, there are other possible Democratic ``saviors,'' such as Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
Although many political observers complain that presidential races last too long, they say it would be difficult for a candidate to catch up by joining the race late. Cuomo's political war chest had $3.6 million in January, but networks and local support are often built during the grueling long campaigns.
In a year when political ethics and intense scrutiny are headline news, some observers have charged that Cuomo is ``thin-skinned'' and would not handle the inevitable probing well. And others have raised questions about Andrew Cuomo, the governor's son and close adviser.
Mr. Cuomo, who was a special assistant to his father and is now a lawyer, was accused earlier this year of intervening in a dispute on behalf of a major campaign contributor. The dispute centered on the state rental of a New York City building. Cuomo has denied any inappropriate action.