For the first time in its history, the state Independence Party is poised to give a pre-convention nod to AG Andrew Cuomo for governor, and he appears ready to accept the party’s line in spite of an ongoing investigation by the Manhattan DA’s office.

The executive committee of the state’s third-largest minor party is scheduled to meet in Troy this afternoon and will all but surely vote “unanimously” to endorse Cuomo, according to Indy Chairman Frank MacKay.

The decision will be codified by the full party at its convention in Albany on June 5, MacKay said.

Cuomo will join MacKay at 12:30 p.m. for a joint press conference in Troy to announce the party’s decision.

The Indys recently gave a very early endorsement to Sen. Chuck Schumer, but have never before chosen a standard bearer before the convention, MacKay said. I asked why the party is going this route, and he replied:

“We’re getting out ahead and letting all the other candidates know we are with Andrew Cuomo.”

“…I think Andrew Cuomo is a proven statesman. I think he’s the one man out there – the one person out there – that can handle the issues and the challenges and he certainly has the experience.”

“I believe strongly that he’ll be the next governor, and we’re proud to hold his coat on the way to the governor’s mansion.”

(That’s a rather unfortunate choice of words. A similar phrase employed by Cuomo to criticize then-Gov. George Pataki’s post-9/11 leadership in comparison to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani ignited a spate of negative press during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, which Cuomo ended up quitting early).

I asked MacKay if he expects Cuomo to accept Row C, and he replied: “Absolutely. We are fully expecting Andrew Cuomo to be our gubernatorial candidate.”

I guess the fact that Cuomo is going to be on hand with the Indys today is a clear sign that MacKay is right.

This is a blow to the Republican gubernatorial contenders – both Rick Lazio and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who has run locally with the Indy line in the past, sought the party’s support this time around.

Even Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who is being counseled by Indy founder Tom Golisano, reached out in hopes of landing the line. But, as Paladino told me recently, he has been advised by Golisano, who ran three unsuccessful campaigns for governor, that the minor party route alone is not a path to victory.

Cuomo’s decision to accept Row C is also a big blow to the Working Families Party, who the AG is keeping at arm’s length at the moment.

As I reported in my DN column yesterday, WFP leaders are worried Cuomo won’t take their line due to an ongoing US attorney’s office investigation and are coming up with a Plan B – perhaps running a celebrity candidate to make sure they hit the magic 50,000-vote mark and retain their ballot status.

The Indys are under investigation by Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. in connection with a $750,000 campaign contribution from Mayor Bloomberg last year that was passed on to GOP consultant John Haggerty.

Haggerty providing Election Day poll watchers and other services to help Bloomberg, but to date has not fully accounted for where all that money went.

The WSJ’s Michael Howard Saul has a very interesting piece today on a Bloomberg aide who is on the City Hall payroll and also gets paid privately by the mayor and is said to be a key witness in Vance’s case.

Sources have indicated to me Cuomo sees a difference between the WFP and Indy probes, feeling the former is about the party itself (and its for-profit arm, Data & Field Services), while the latter is just about Haggerty and not the party.

WFP leaders disagree, and some party insiders worry Cuomo is trying to take them down a peg – if not out completely. Others say it would be best for the WFP to run its own candidate anyway, since Cuomo’s agenda is too conservative for their taste.

I asked MacKay about the DA’s investigation and why that’s not a concern for Cuomo. He replied:

“All I have to say about the investigation is we have a tremendous amount of respect for DA Vance and the process, and, as always, we will be as cooperative as we can.”

It seems the Indys have a hard time avoiding controversy. In 2006, the main issue was the presence in the party of controversial downstate leader Lenora Fulani, whose long-ago (and since repudiated) anti-Semitic remarks caused considerable consternation.

Back then, Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton pressured MacKay to sideline Fulani, indicating they wouldn’t take the Indy line unless he did. He complied, and both ended up running – for governor and the US Senate, respectively – on Row C.