Cuomo camp to de Blasio supporters: Back off

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Joe Percoco and Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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Governor Andrew Cuomo's office has pressured elected officials and others to pull support from Mayor Bill de Blasio's universal pre-kindergarten plan, several sources confirmed to Capital.

One New York politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of antagonizing Cuomo, discussed receiving a call earlier this year from a top Cuomo aide, Joe Percoco, after publicly endorsing de Blasio's proposal, which calls for a tax increase on wealthy city residents to fund a pre-K expansion.

"I provided a quote to Mayor Bill de Blasio in one of his press releases regarding universal pre-K in supporting it, of course, and … supporting his agenda in terms of a funding stream that was stable," the official told Capital this week. "A week later I got a call from Joe Percoco asking me if I was upset with them."

Percoco, the governor's executive deputy secretary who is soon switching from his government job to the Cuomo re-election campaign, referenced issues of importance to this official's district, but did not make any direct threats, the person explained.

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According to the official, Percoco said he was reaching out "about my position in supporting Bill de Blasio's proposal to fund universal pre-kindergarten and making a strong argument as to why the governor's proposal was a better one. He was angry, that this is not the time to raise taxes. He didn't want me to make any public statements supporting Bill de Blasio's proposal for pre-K."

Percoco argued against the merits of a tax hike during the phone call, the official said.

"He said that the economy was doing much better and that it's not the right message right now," the official continued. "Basically the underlying message was, you know, 'We appreciate if you're not publicly out there actively supporting this.'"

The message did not sway this politician, who signed onto another press release after the conversation.

"Look, these things happen every day, but yes, I believe I guess that other people will take it as a very strong message from the governor that you better back off," the official said.

Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing denied that Cuomo's inner circle is applying any pressure to de Blasio's supporters.

"Our office promoted the governor's plan to fully fund full-day universal pre-K statewide, just as the mayor's office promoted their plan. Any other claims are untrue," he said.

De Blasio is asking Cuomo to allow him to raise income taxes for five years on city residents who earn at least $500,000 annually. The levy would yield an estimated $530 million year, according to City Hall's estimates. That would fund both full-day universal pre-K and expanded after-school programs for middle-school students.

Cuomo, who is running for re-election this year, has opposed the tax increase and vowed to pay for full-day pre-K throughout the state, something the mayor has thus far rejected as insufficient and unreliable.

The fight has escalated in recent weeks, with Cuomo claiming the mantle of charter-school advocate to position himself against de Blasio, who halted plans to allow three of eight charter schools run by former councilwoman Eva Moskowitz to move into traditional public school buildings and share space with other students.

The official isn't the only one who told Capital of having received pressure from the Cuomo camp. Another source tells of having received a similar call from someone close to Cuomo urging him not to donate to a 501c4 set up to raise money for the pre-K lobbying effort.

"I think it's safe to say that they asked [me] not to contribute," said the source, who is a member of the city's business community.

The person would not say who made the call on the governor's behalf, but described it as a direct message to withhold monetary contributions from the fund-raising group, which has so far refused to disclose its donors.

"Someone in the Cuomo world called and inquired about whether contributions were being made to universal pre-K and asked that a contribution not be made," the source explained.

When asked what reason the Cuomo affiliate gave the source replied, "They didn't have to give a reason."

A third source confirmed another New York politician reported getting a call from a Cuomo aide expressing anger over that official's support of de Blasio's pre-K campaign, but would not divulge further details, also out of concern for angering the governor.

"They made themselves unambiguously clear that they were not happy," the source said.

A state legislative source told Capital that the pressure has gone both ways, claiming de Blasio's union allies have threatened to pull political support from lawmakers in both the State Senate and Assembly who are up for re-election and do not back him on pre-K.

The source, who requested anonymity, would not identify the person or people behind those phone calls.

"I can tell you that the pro-de Blasio forces were giving as good as they were getting and then some," the source said.

Josh Gold, a lobbyist for the pro-de Blasio coalition UPKNYC, said only the following in response: "We've asked tens of thousands of New Yorkers to support UPK and polls show that 86 percent of them do."

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Cuomo called Jeff Klein, co-leader of the State Senate, to push for a reduced amount of pre-K funding in his budget proposal.