The shoe-store welcome-home party where Andrew Cuomo’s
supporters began to drop hints about a run for the Presidency a few years hence
was closed to the press. The event where the sons and daughters of Martin
Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy paid homage to the son
of Mario Cuomo was by invitation only.
That, at least, was what Mr. Cuomo’s flacks had been saying.
In the days leading up to the Jan. 29 event, they were insisting the party was
“closed press,” which usually means no reporters (though other media guests
might attend). It was private and the room would be too crowded, anyway.
Appeals were made. Have a press pool, Mr. Cuomo’s handlers
were entreated; allow in at least one television camera, one radio station, one
newspaper, one wire. That’s what former President Bill Clinton (no friend to
the press) would do when in town for certain New York fund-raisers. Hillary
Rodham Clinton (about as warm to the Fourth Estate as her husband) would rotate
in reporters a few at a time.
But Mr. Cuomo’s army of P.R. men was firm: The event was
Yet, upon arrival, the words “closed press” seemed to mean
something else entirely in the world of the would-be Governor. It meant “closed to those not on the guest
list.” Those on the list included: Adam Nagourney of The New York Times ,
Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker , Frederic U. Dicker of the New York Post and Marc Humbert of the
Associated Press. (The latter two had made arrangements to travel down from
At 6:45 p.m., these working reporters were told to file in
and check their coats behind the pants rack (the ones for sale, that is) at the
Rockefeller Center store of shoe magnate Kenneth Cole, who is Mr. Cuomo’s
brother-in-law. A reporter for The New York Observer , however, was pushed
by three black-jacketed security guards in the direction of the door and
threatened with arrest before eventually being let in. It did not seem to help
that The Observer shares a public
relations firm with Mr. Cuomo.
Even John Marino, the former Mario Cuomo aide who has now
been grafted onto Andrew, stood by, shrugging. “This is not my event,” he said,
before finally calling off the guards.
The restrictiveness was seemingly for no reason. For
upstairs, shoved between racks of micro-mini shorts and the spring camisole
line, was a lovefest for Mr. Cuomo-and the young former Housing and Urban
Development Secretary was at his public best.
People like Bill de Blasio, the erstwhile campaign manager
for Senator Clinton and a former regional director of H.U.D. under Mr. Cuomo,
and Mr. de Blasio’s successor, Charles King, were there. Both enthused about
Mr. Cuomo’s work at H.U.D., his dedication to the homeless, his energy, his
work countering racism.
And there was Mark Penn, former pollster to the Clintons,
sporting a pink-and-blue tie with a dolphin motif and looking like he’d rather
chew crushed glass then talk to a reporter. “I expect to be working on Mr.
Cuomo’s campaign” was virtually all he would concede.
Many former aides to former Governor Mario Cuomo were there,
too. As were the glitterati: Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg; Ally Sheedy, the
actress; Russell Simmons, the music impresario; and, of course, Mr. Cole, who
is married to Andrew’s sister, Maria Cuomo.
Weaving among them all were waiters circulating tiny pieces
of lobster on toast, foie gras and shrimp provençale.
Not long after, Mr. Cuomo came in, with wife Kerry Kennedy
Cuomo. He stopped to speak briefly to television reporters, now roped off at
the bottom of the stairs.
“I intend to run for Governor,” Mr. Cuomo told them, in a
surprise announcement. “I’m filing papers tomorrow. The race is in 2002; it’s
just about two years. I want to be clear that that’s what I’m planning to do,
and I don’t want any undue speculation. I’m trying to do this in a different
way, and I want a different relationship with the people of the state.”
That different relationship, apparently, did not include
allowing tape recorders into the party room.
Mr. Cuomo then stepped into that room and, taking about a
half hour to handshake his way through the guests, finally stepped up to a small podium set up by the shoe department
in the back of the room. He was introduced by Martin Luther King III, who came
in from Atlanta, where he heads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Any minute now, State Comptroller H. Carl McCall is expected
to announce his own gubernatorial run, likely as soon as Feb. 1. If elected,
Mr. McCall would be the state’s first black governor. His story is powerful: In
1998, in a video introducing his run for State Comptroller that year, Mr.
McCall said: “One time, things were tough. We were on welfare. And so at one
point, I used to receive a welfare check. But now I’ve come to the point where
I’m the person who signs every check issued by the State of New York.”
But there was the son of the greatest civil rights leader of
all time, introducing Mr. Cuomo. Saying nice things, if sounding, at points, a
“It sounds strange, coming from me, because I’m from
Atlanta, to welcome Andrew Cuomo and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo home. I don’t know
what Andrew is going to do. I just know I want to be a part of it,” Mr. King
said. He then was careful to mention Mr. Cuomo’s work while H.U.D. Secretary
opposing the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis in public housing.
He was followed by a waifish-looking Caroline Kennedy
Schlossberg, the daughter of John F. Kennedy. Dressed in a black twin-set, she
urged: “It’s time for a new generation to recommit ourselves to the fundamental
principles by which we were raised.”
Then Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, wearing a black dress and a huge
diamond cross and looking radiant, related a story about going to her twin
daughters’ kindergarten class to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. But her
6-year-old daughter Cara decided to do the talking.
According to Ms. Kennedy
Cuomo, her daughter told the class: “Many years ago, black people and white
people had to drink from different water fountains. Martin Luther King worked
hard to bring black people and white people together. But Martin Luther King
couldn’t do it alone, so my grandpa helped him. But they both died, so my daddy
is doing it today.”
Sighs. Long, deep breaths. Applause.
Ms. Kennedy Cuomo picked up the story from there: “When we
got in the car, I said, ‘Your daddy and
And then it was Mr. Cuomo’s turn.
“We need to restore the relationship between people and
government,” he said. “Remember when you trusted government and wanted to be a
part of it?
“So what am I going to do now?” he continued. “I’m going to
get a good bagel, a piece of pizza, an egg roll and some ribs. And then, my
friends and my family, I want you to know I intend to run for Governor of the
State of New York.”
Loud, sustained applause. Surprised looks all around.
“Did you know he was going to say this?” said a woman in a
“No,” answered the man in glasses to her left, looking a bit
And then Mr. Cuomo offered a rationale for his candidacy.
The speech-one of several since the Democratic State Convention last May-was
shorter, more convincing and more powerful than any to date. But there were no
tape recorders or television cameras rolling on it.
“New York was always the first. It was always the best. We
always led the way,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We have lost that position …. We will
make New York No. 1 again; we will make the Empire State the Empire State
again; 2002 is going to be the year the Empire State strikes back!”
More loud, sustained applause and whoops. And then the
hordes moved in, enveloping Mr. Cuomo in warmth.
Forgotten in the wash of floodlights from Rockefeller Center
and the circulating bottles of champagne was Comptroller McCall, who has
already raised $2 million and lined up his own impressive list of supporters.
Mr. Cuomo’s supporters are still predicting that Mr. McCall won’t go through
with it. But Mr. McCall is telling his backers, “You won’t be disappointed.”
Mr. McCall could become a huge inconvenience for Mr. Cuomo.
For one, he gets in the way of the story line, the one that has Mr. Cuomo
defeating the man who ignominiously ousted his father in 1994-before going on
to greater things.
And those greater things were very much on the minds of some
of the guests there at Mr. Cuomo’s welcome-home-from-Washington party. Mr.
King, for one, kept slipping, mentioning the things Andrew Cuomo would do for
And then he caught himself. “I keep talking the nation. I’m
not talking for Andrew; I’m talking for me.”
Well, perhaps. But there
were fervent hopes sprinkled among the spring line of boots that evening-hopes
that the man in their midst might be the next M.L.K. or J.F.K. or R.F.K., and
that he at last fulfills their agenda. Hopes of another father-son tale, of a
redemption drama that starts in Albany and ends in D.C.
But remember this: To get a good seat for this drama, you’ll
need to be on the guest list.