Has Cuomo matured?

A recent spate of news articles has posited the inevitability that Andrew Cuomo will be the next governor of New York. Indeed, there is good reason to think just that. First and foremost is the Cuomo name. While New Yorkers had had enough of Mario Cuomo back in 1994 and threw him out in favor of a non-entity named George Pataki, everybody acknowledged that Mario had a golden tongue and pen and was an amusing and deft philosopher king who would unflinchingly take on any and all political comers. I know all about that, having had a longstanding statewide radio program with the man. He could do any accent and he could engage, distract and do verbal magic. He could make you laugh, he could make you weep.

Andrew Cuomo shares his last name.

There is what could only be called “Cuomo nostalgia.” Then, too, there is the office of attorney general, which Andrew currently holds. He is perceived as having done well there, and that is true. He has. He has had the wisdom to follow in Eliot Spitzer’s footsteps and recruit good people to work with him. He has pursued some tough cases against powerful interests and won. Unlike his father, and with the exception of at least one powerful Murdoch journalist who was instrumental in defeating his old man, Andrew has steadfastly eschewed the limelight. Many journalists complain that he will not accept calls to sit down and talk, either for print or for electronic media. That is a good idea. He stays away from being perceived as “all mouth,” as his father’s critics painted the senior Cuomo and he doesn’t get into trouble, something that his fearless dad was famous for from time to time.

However, I have news for all of you: Andrew is not his father. He is not glib. He is not funny. He is not a philosopher king. He is, well, Andrew.
To understand that you have to know a little about Sigmund Freud, who believed that character is developed very early in life. That means that by the time you are 4 or 5 years of age, your character is molded and baked like clay. My friend Lipsky always asks me if that means we are all doomed to repeat our mistakes. “No, Jon,” I often tell him. “It means that unless you mature you will repeat your mistakes again and again. Maturity means avoiding your old mistakes.”

Andrew started his career as one of his father’s political enforcers. He is often given credit for having been Mario’s campaign manger when he ran for governor the first time. There is some debate about that, as many people believe the credit really goes to one Norman Adler, the brilliant District Council 37 (New York City’s largest public employee union)/professor/lobbyist/tactician. But no matter, he played the tough guy over and over again and was thought to be a mean-spirited fellow. Any number of people will tell you that off the record. Nevertheless, none of that has really shown during his time in the AG’s office. Has he matured? Well, maybe, or perhaps he is biding his time until he gets to the top rung of the New York political ladder. Many politicians who have feuded with Andrew over the years are, to put it mildly, concerned about that possibility.

It would not appear that there are many people in his way right now. Assume for a minute that David Paterson gets leaned on by the likes of Barack Obama and many people who don’t wish to see the governorship, the state Senate and certain congressional seats going to the Republicans in a redistricting year. Rudy Giuliani hasn’t got the guts to run. He’s behind in the polls. Rick Lazio is a nice guy but a “who he?” if there ever was one. There is nobody on the Republican bench and that gives Andrew a free pass. But, there is a lot of apprehension on the part of many Democratic leaders. If he starts to feud with them and use them for target practice like the old man did, he will experience a terrible shove back.

Then, if he goes for their collective jugular, the state will see a war the likes of which will make the current gridlock look like child’s play. The attorney general’s office can hardly be seen as a partisan political place the way the governor’s office is. It’s a whole different thing. That’s why Freud becomes so important. Everyone wants to know if the old Andrew has changed or is he just hiding, laying in wait for the right moment? We will end with the oldest cliché in column writing.

Time will tell.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 10-5-09

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