Cuomo Takes Office, Calls New York State's Reputation a 'National Joke'

ALBANY, N.Y.—Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took office on Saturday proclaiming his inauguration a rebirth of trust in a state government that he described as a "national joke."

Associated Press

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke Saturday during his swearing-in ceremony in at the Capitol in Albany.

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At 12:20 p.m. EST, the 56th governor of New York performed a ceremonial oath of office and delivered a 20-minute inaugural address in which he promised to restore New Yorkers' faith in a capital racked by fiscal turmoil and ethical lapses.

Albany's budget troubles are such that even the bishop of Albany, who delivered the invocation at the event, made mention of the state's deficit. But Mr. Cuomo, who spoke mostly from memory, said a lack of cash is only part of the problem. "It's actually worse. The state faces a competence deficit, an integrity deficit and a trust deficit," he said.

"The words 'government in Albany' have become a national punchline, and the joke is on us," Gov. Cuomo said. "Too often government responds to the whispers of lobbyists before the cries of the people."

Incoming New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the state after being publicly sworn in.

And to reinforce that point, Mr. Cuomo reopened to the public the Hall of Governors, a stretch of hallway outside his offices in the executive chamber that had been blocked by a security post since the Pataki administration. By lifting the barriers, his administration was removing a "symbol of the way the government has turned away from the people," Mr. Cuomo said after his speech, as he sliced a red ribbon at the hallway's entrance before a pack of reporters and cameras.

The 55-minute inauguration ceremony was staged in the chilly air of the Capitol's so-called War Room, a second-floor chamber that is decorated with ceiling frescos depicting the goddess of war and violent battles scenes from New York history. About 175 people attended the ceremony, hundreds fewer than witnessed former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's outdoor inauguration four years ago.

[cuomo1] Associated Press

Andrew Cuomo took office as New York governor Saturday. He was sworn Friday night during a private ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Albany, N.Y., accompanied by his girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

Along with some 60 or so other Cuomo family members and friends, they were hosted in the 135-year-old manse's storied dining room by the new governor and his celebrity-chef girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

The ceremony was also a family and political reunion. Former Gov. Mario Cuomo and his wife Matilda sat in the front row, joined by the new governor's three daughters and girlfriend, celebrity chef Sandra Lee.

In his speech, the new governor invoked the plight of taxpayers on Long Island, who he said are "imprisoned in their homes," as well as laid-off construction workers in Brooklyn who are running out of unemployment insurance checks. "My gray hairs are multiplying just thinking about what we have to do," Gov. Cuomo said.

But while Gov. Cuomo spoke of "right-sizing" state government and called on lawmakers to pass a property tax cap, he also spoke of his belief in the power of his office, echoing the political philosophy of his father, who served from 1983 to 1995. "We want the government to succeed. It is not an alien force. It is the organizing force for people," he said.

Associated Press

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center left, embraces his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, center, after being sworn in.

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And he called on New Yorkers to enlist in the struggle.

"Where are the people in Albany? Where are the people in the capital? That is the profound absence in this system. The people aren't engaged," he said. "If there's a silver bullet in the battle to recapture Albany, it is the re-engagement of our citizens. This capital has become a physical metaphor for the isolation and alienation of our people."

Gov. Cuomo thanked Ms. Lee by name—something he didn't do in his victory speech on Election Day. And he drew laughs when he told a story about how the youngest of his three daughters, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, took credit for softening his image. "Not that soft," Gov. Cuomo quipped.

Gov. Cuomo praised his predecessor, David A. Paterson, who served as governor for nearly three years after the resignation of Mr. Spitzer, who was toppled by a sex scandal. The governor said Mr. Paterson "became captain of a ship just when the ship was headed into a storm, and he warned us about the storm and brought us through." Messrs. Spitzer and Pataki weren't invited to the ceremony.

Gov. Cuomo took the oath last, following the swearing-in of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a former Democratic state senator, incumbent comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, a former mayor of Rochester.

The new governor also ordered construction crews to remove concrete and steel barriers in front of the Capitol on State Street, allowing tour buses to park and drop off visitors to the building. The security measure was installed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

After the ceremony, Gov. Cuomo walked outside and briefly chatted with a couple of Department of Transportation workers in John Deere cranes, who were removing the barriers. The crew was paid overtime hours, but the extra cost was borne by Mr. Cuomo's campaign funds, a spokesman for the governor said.

The official oath was administered at 10:09 p.m. on Friday by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Mr. Cuomo officially became governor at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, after signing an oath of office at the executive mansion.

"It was inspiring," said Kenneth Cole, the clothing designer who is married to Mr. Cuomo's sister Maria. "He's going to need millions of people to come together and take a step back so we can steps forward."

Write to Jacob Gershman at jacob.gershman@wsj.com

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