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An Anxious N.Y. in Contest for Clinton's Favor


WASHINGTON — New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, apparently frustrated that the Clinton Administration has focused so much time and energy on helping California and not his state, asked Thursday that the White House not show such favoritism in its health care reform package.

And in what could be the opening salvo of a transcontinental feud between leaders of the nation's two largest states, Cuomo suggested that New York should move its 1996 presidential primary to an earlier date--in much the same way California has--to get White House attention for its demands on health care and other issues. For 1996, the California primary has been moved to March 26, one week ahead of the New York primary.

White House favoritism toward California is not a new issue. Other states have enviously eyed the new Administration's emphasis on helping California, which delivered the largest electoral vote for Clinton in the 1992 election and appears to be suffering more economic troubles than any other state.

Clinton's appointment earlier this year of Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown as the Administration's point man to oversee and coordinate Washington's efforts to help the California economy also raised eyebrows elsewhere. No such White House coordinator exists for other states, although Henry G. Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is responsible for ensuring that South Florida receives sufficient help in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.

Sources said Thursday that Cuomo and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, have complained to the White House about the Administration's handling of a major physics project that was awarded to Stanford University in Palo Alto over Cornell University in their state. The Department of Energy has awarded a $36-million grant for design and construction of the B-factory, a high-energy physics facility at Stanford.

Cuomo and other New York leaders appear to be convinced that the Administration's tentative health care reform plan will impose an unfair burden on New York. Cuomo seems certain to push for significant changes in the plan in return for his support.

"On health care, (Clinton) has a chance to do something for us, and I hope he will. . . . We have to get some degree of fairness," Cuomo said in an interview published Thursday by the New York Post.

California lawmakers said that they could understand the motivation behind the New York complaints, especially since the Administration has a history of accommodating groups that demand more.

"It's not that shocking that a state like New York would want to make sure it is not overlooked," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "But I think both Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Moynihan understand how critical it is for California to have special attention."

Thursday night, a spokesman for Cuomo agreed with that sentiment.

"New York understands California's plight and it sympathizes," spokesman Chuck Porcari said. "New York's request for fairness should not be at California's expense."

White House officials stressed that the Administration's focus on California is justified by the state's economic condition.

"The President often talks about how these things go in cycles," said one White House official familiar with the issue. "Right now California is at the low end of the cycle and needs special help. This kind of tension is inevitable when you have loud voices that have needs and concerns. On a certain level, the squeaky wheels get attention. And Moynihan and Cuomo have never been shrinking violets."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) declared: "I cannot believe that New York wants to go ahead and say, 'It's OK, California, stay in recession,' and say to the federal government, 'Don't worry about the fact that the largest state in the union has a million and a half people out of work.' "

The New York complaints came on a day when Clinton met with Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who was in Washington to seek more federal funds to hire hundreds of new police officers. Riordan emerged from an Oval Office meeting convinced that the President got the message.

"He said, 'As California goes, so goes the country,' " Riordan recalled.

Ironically, California political leaders said that they have seen few results from Clinton's pledge to help California. Some even suggested that the Administration's policies have hurt the state.

"So far, the Clinton Administration has paid attention to us on military base closures, on illegal immigration, on timber, on the endangered species act, on tax increases and on a centralized smog check program," said Dan Schnur, spokesman for Gov. Pete Wilson. "If New York wants some of this attention, they are welcome to it."

The aid California has gotten has been relatively modest. State lawmakers noted that the state has received a $200,000-grant for defense conversion, a $10-million grant for low-income housing in Los Angeles and a White House commitment to open up a freeway in Oakland that collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake.

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