BY Kenneth Lovett
DAILY NEWS ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF
ALBANY - Prince Andrew has been crowned king of the Empire State.
Andrew Cuomo pounded Republican Buffalo blowhard Carl Paladino in a nasty gubernatorial race - taking the post his dad, Mario, held for three terms.
Flanked by his parents, kids and girlfriend - TV cook Sandra Lee - Cuomo delivered a message of unity to supporters at a midtown victory rally.
Cuomo spoke of "angry" and "frustrated" New Yorkers - and vowed to restore competence, performance and integrity to state government.
"The mandate tonight is to clean up Albany and to have elected officials who represent the people of this state and not the special interests and not the lobbyists," Cuomo told a cheering crowd.
Cuomo, the state attorney general, will return to a governor's mansion he inhabited in his younger years. The victory completes the 53-year-old Queens native's political resurrection after an embarrassing failed gubernatorial run in 2002.
Paladino, the bombastic Buffalo builder and Tea Party darling, veered wildly off his message of cutting taxes and spending. He was engulfed in controversy for forwarding racist and sexually offensive emails and anti-gay rants.
In his concession speech in Buffalo, Paladino held up a bat, offering it to Cuomo as a symbol of the people's anger. He warned Cuomo that if he doesn't swing it, he runs the risk "of having it wielded against you."
Cuomo, who did not mention Paladino in his victory speech, insisted voters rejected a divisive message designed to prey on New Yorkers' fears.
"They thought they can divide us and they thought they could take our diversity and make it a weakness," he said. "But they can't."
"We are going to be united," he vowed. "That's what made this state and that's what's going to make this state the Empire State once again."
Cuomo now takes over a government that has become a laughingstock nationally: One now known for corruption and dysfunction.
Eliot Spitzer four years ago promised to clean up the state Capitol, but resigned in 2008 amid a hooker scandal. His successor, the scandal-scorched David Paterson, was the target of multiple investigations.
Cuomo comes into office with the state held hostage by a historic financial crisis: Next year's budget deficit is projected at $9 billion.
Cuomo promised to attack the deficit without raising taxes. He and his No. 2, Robert Duffy, have challenged public employee unions with calls to cap state spending and property taxes, slice Medicaid and education funding, reduce the workforce and freeze state worker salaries.
Cuomo, known for his work ethic and hot temper, has made restoring confidence in New York's broken government job No. 1.
He has called for comprehensive ethics reform and greater oversight of the Legislature.
During the campaign, Cuomo cast the recent years of corruption as an anomaly, often referring back to his father's tenure as the genesis for his love of public service.
"My father's given me words of wisdom all throughout," he said earlier yesterday. "In terms of a voice of principle and integrity who knows the issues of the state, there's no one better."
Cuomo's greatest challenge could prove to be Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the powerful Manhattan Democrat who has thwarted past budget and reform agendas.
For his part, Silver said he is certain he and Cuomo will work together to "find common ground on a whole agenda of items."
"I'm looking forward to working with a governor who will provide leadership, who is talented, has a great vision for New York and will bring us through tough times," Silver told the Daily News.
After graduating from Fordham University and Albany Law School, Cuomo worked for his father as a $1-a-year adviser - often serving as his political enforcer.