Andrew Cuomo declared victory and claimed his mantle as governor of the Empire State Tuesday night, speaking in the same ballroom where his father's political career ended 16 years ago when Republicans swept into power across the country in a midterm tide of conservative populist anger.
Cuomo strode onto the stage to the blaring strains of Bon Jovi's working class anthem "Work for the Working Man."
He addressed voter anger directly, acknowledging frustration with Albany corruption and economic fears. "New Yorkers are angry that they are paying for an economic recession that they did not cause. They are disgusted by a culture of corruption in Albany and they are right," he said.
"The mandate tonight is to clean up Albany...to rebuild this state," he said.
Despite Republican victories in many parts of the country, New York Democrats were optimistic about their prospects. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand sailed to easy victories. As of 11:25, Attorney General candidate Eric Schneiderman had a comfortable nine-point lead over his Republican opponent, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan.
The crowd at the Sheraton, the State Democratic Party's traditional locale for election night festivities, was notably whiter and included far less of a union presence than in most years. Party staff circulated in the crowd, working to lather up excitement. By the time Cuomo arrived to claim victory, people were dancing and waving campaign signs.
Crisscrossing the state on the campaign trail made him "proud to be a New Yorker and proud of New Yorkers," Cuomo said. He said attempts to divide the state's populace were unsuccessful, because New Yorkers understand the state's diversity as a strength.
"Yes, we are black and we are white and we are brown, but we are one state because we are New York. Yes, we are rich and we are poor but we are one state because we are New York. Yes, we are gay and we are straight, but we are one state because we are New York," he said.
"We believe in community...Yes, we have challenges. Yes, we have to get the economy running. Yes, we have to clean up Albany, but we are going to do it because we've faced worse times before...We are going to make this state the Empire State again. We are New Yorkers first...We are going to be more united than ever before. We are going to give this state the government it deserves."
While voters turned out for Cuomo, they seemed to do so without much passion. Unlike the support Mario Cuomo enjoyed -- at least early in his governorship -- many of Andrew Cuomo supporters seemed to be voting more out of duty.
Cuomo's ascent to the governor's mansion seemed a fait accompli for much of the year. For a brief period after Paladino's upset in the Republican primary, the race tightened. But in recent weeks as the Paladino campaign sagged beneath an undisciplined candidate, Cuomo's victory again seemed certain.
In a concession speech that ricocheted between sober and his more usual angry tone, Paladino worked to establish himself as a watchdog in exile, telling supporters, "Our campaign to take back New York State does not end tonight. This is where our work begins...Make no mistake, you have not heard the last of Carl Paladino."
Paladino said Cuomo ran an extremely aggressive campaign. "They tried to beat us into the ground and leave us for dead. Well, we're not afraid, and we're not dead...We have their attention and we will not let it go. Now is the time to keep our pitchforks ready."
Cuomo's campaign focused on centrist themes of fiscal discipline, reining in state spending and encouraging tax cuts for small businesses. He did not endorse state comptroller candidate Thomas DiNapoli, who received major union backing and who, if victorious, will manage the state's massive public employee pension fund.
Earlier in the evening, a hoarse and ragged New York City Comptroller John Liu spoke passionately about Democratic ideals and praised Cuomo for what he called a campaign that did not resort to fear mongering and cheap plays for media attention.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who -- like her counterpart Chuck Schumer -- sailed to an easy victory, said the Democrats knew how to help New York State recover from the economic downturn.
“This election is about who we fight for. I know how families are struggling. I understanding working families are worried about their future,” she said, arguing that investment in infrastrure, high tech research and development and tax cuts for small businesses would turn the Empire State around.
Alfred Ojeranti, 60, from Far Rockaway said he came to celebrate with the Democrats because he is concerned about the economy and the Tea Party. Ojeranti is an unemployed financial analyst and said, though he voted for Cuomo, his passion is for Schumer. Like many people in attendance at the Democratic victory party, he didn't support Cuomo so much as oppose Paladino.
Josh Oswald, 30, and Emily Stephens, 34, of Astoria came to celebrate, but were decidedly lukewarm on the top of the ticket.
“Is it really so much of liking Cuomo or of not liking the options?” he asked, then corrected himself. “I like Cuomo, I don't love Cuomo.”
Stephens admitted she didn't even vote on Tuesday. “I thought he was a shoo-in, so what's the point?” she said.