Andrew Cuomo is running for President of the United States.
At least, that might have been the conclusion of anyone who
attended the dinner on June 7 at the Sheraton New York hotel at which Mr. Cuomo
launched his bid to become Governor of New York in 2002. The guests, who had
paid $1,000 each for a seat in the crowded ballroom, were expecting a mere
political fund-raiser. What they got was quite different.
While State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, Mr. Cuomo’s likely
primary opponent, was busy with the drudge work of lining up support among
local party leaders and minor elected officials, Mr. Cuomo pulled together a
bright-lights extravaganza. The speakers preceding Mr. Cuomo, presented by M.C.
Rosie O’Donnell, were Martin Luther King III, Adam Clayton Powell IV and Mr.
Cuomo’s wife, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo himself was introduced by a
Clinton-style biographical video set to music in which his home borough of
Queens replaced Hope, Ark., as a metaphor for all that is good in America.
Dynasty, inheritance and generational succession were the evening’s themes, and
for the benefit of the few people in the room who may not have grasped that
message, Mr. Cuomo was happy to explain it. “This will be more than just a
political campaign,” declared Mr. Cuomo. “This is about seeking to continue the
work of the great progressives.” He mentioned the names of Martin Luther King
Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Robert Kennedy and, of course, Mario Cuomo. “We are
all interconnected and interrelated,” he said.
The rhetoric was over
the top by almost any standard. Ms. Kennedy Cuomo’s introductory speech alone
ran to about half an hour, to the amusement of some in the press, seated at the
back of the room. And Mr. Cuomo, who shares his father’s talent for soaring
oratory, seemed at times to be forcing the White House imagery: He opened by
recounting a folksy tale about a farmer and a flood that was eerily similar to
the one that Karl Malden, playing a priest, told to Martin Sheen’s President
Bartlett on an episode of The West Wing.
Mr. Cuomo also spent a significant portion of his speech
attacking Governor George Pataki, whom he hopes to replace. All in all, it was
not his most impressive presentation, and certainly less inspiring than many of
the antipoverty lectures he has delivered in the past. But the audience seemed
happy enough, remaining enthusiastic right up to the end of the evening’s
When Mr. Cuomo thanked a number of his close associates for
putting together such an elaborate event on short notice, it almost seemed
intended as irony. Aside from the fact that the event was spectacularly and
meticulously choreographed, it is also widely known that Mr. Cuomo has been
considering elective office for years, encouraging speculation throughout his
tenure as Bill Clinton’s Housing Secretary that he might, at various moments,
answer calls from desperate New York Democrats to return home and run against
Governor George Pataki (1997), Senator Alfonse D’Amato (1998) or erstwhile
Senate candidate Rudolph Giuliani (2000).
But if the slick presentation was designed in part to induce
yet more flattering speculation about Mr. Cuomo’s ultimate ambitions-last year Esquire ran a story on Mr. Cuomo
entitled “The Perfect Prince of Cool”-it also suggested that he hasn’t lost
sight of the immediate task at hand. Mr. Cuomo faces stiff opposition from the
65-year-old Mr. McCall, who was the top vote-getter in the last statewide
election, is well-liked within the party and would make history by becoming the
state’s first black Governor. The stampede of Democrats to Mr. McCall’s side
after he declared his intention to run was such that Mr. Cuomo’s apparent lack
of support became a running joke in certain circles. “Is anybody supporting
Andrew?” State Senator Eric Schneiderman asked The Observer’s Andrea Bernstein at the Democratic National
Convention in Los Angeles last August. “Nobody in the state that I can find.”
If nothing else, Mr. Cuomo’s gathering-which raised $1.5
million-will put such questions to rest. The impressive display of power deftly
reinforced his position as one of the Democratic Party’s heavyweights, to the
extent that many of his declared enemies within the party may begin to rethink
their vocal hostility to his candidacy. At the same time, Mr. Cuomo is building
a coalition of supporters that includes not only traditional New York
Democrats, who are willing to bet that the 43-year-old Mr. Cuomo will outlast
his older opponent, but also a more glamorous contingent of national political
luminaries acquired through his association with various Clintons, Kennedys and
other members of the Democratic aristocracy.
Mr. Cuomo, who looks increasingly like the favorite to win
his party’s nomination, finally is moving to fulfill the ambitious career
blueprint he sketched out years ago. It is clear what his immediate plans are.
It would be more interesting to know what he has penciled in for 2004.
Terry Golway will
return to this space next week.