Today, Albany; Tomorrow, the World?

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

three-hour-plus program.

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.