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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stakes out progressive turf

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo positioned his state on Monday as the “progressive capital of the nation” and proposed policies to drive a middle-class economic recovery.

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In a state of the state speech in New York City that seemed aimed at Republican President-elect Donald Trump without naming him directly, the Democratic governor said that welcoming immigrants, providing for the poor and protecting religious freedom were “all being questioned, blamed and attacked.”

As part of his progressive agenda, Cuomo said he wanted to create a new hate crime task force within the State Police. He called hate speech “disgusting,” “ignorant” and “anti-American.”

Trump has drawn criticism for disparaging remarks about women and immigrants, as well as his promise to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

The call to arms by Cuomo, seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, “sets him up to be the obvious antidote to Donald Trump, more than anyone else, because this is Trump’s home state,” said longtime Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

“Underneath it all, he’s really saying, ‘Hello, Donald Trump, here I am, and by the way, Democrats, I’m a national leader and I’m speaking to you,’” Sheinkopf said.

Cuomo said he aimed to help struggling middle-class New Yorkers with a bigger-than-ever state budget allocation for education, without giving a specific amount; more economic development investments; and a doubling of the child care tax credit.

The speech in Manhattan, the first of six planned in a State of the State tour across New York, was given at 1 World Trade Center in the heart of the rebuilt Financial District destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. This year he is eschewing his usual address to the legislature at the state capitol in Albany.

Cuomo has released several proposals in recent days, including a renovation of the John F. Kennedy International Airport, the closing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant north of New York City by 2021 , banning bad actors from the financial services industry and free college tuition for 1 million families.

He said New York state is “stronger than it has been in decades” and that he would push ahead with major infrastructure projects, try to lure businesses to New York from overseas and invest $650 million in life sciences research.

Later in the day, Cuomo also said he would seek a total of $2 billion of investments, spread over multiple years, for upgrades to drinking and wastewater systems and for source water protections.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a statement that he hoped Cuomo would work with lawmakers on tax reform for middle-class families but that the last thing they needed were “flashy press releases.”

Reporting by Hilary Russ; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler