At Private Lovefest in a Shoe Store, a Cuomo Declares for Governor

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

closed.

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

Albany.)

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

bit confused.

“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

your mommy.'”

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

red dress.

“No,” answered the man in glasses to her left, looking a bit

flushed.

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

the nation.

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.