Word came innocuously enough-via
the Associated Press wire. Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo had hired a
campaign manager named Josh Isay, best known for his work in Charles Schumer’s
victorious 1998 U.S. Senate campaign against Alfonse D’Amato. It seemed like
another bit of pre-campaign jockeying between Mr. Cuomo and State Comptroller
H. Carl McCall, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, each of whom is trying
desperately to send out signals that his
will be the most exciting, thrilling, winning campaign of 2002.
Mr. Cuomo hadn’t exactly
hired a campaign manager. In an unusual move, he’d hired an agency, the newly
hatched firm of Isay, Klores, Prince, in business only since Dec. 3. The other
two principals are Dan Klores, a longtime Cuomo friend whose public-relations
firm, Dan Klores Communications, has provided a home to the Cuomo campaign for
the past year, and Jonathan Prince, a former speechwriter and advisor with Bill
Clinton. The firm’s only announced client is Andrew Cuomo, and it is
indistinguishable from the Cuomo campaign, which has no other offices or staff.
The startup firm is a new political entity in New York, a state
where contests between candidates often are not nearly as interesting as the
grudges held by rival consultants. It is also a more direct foray into politics
for Mr. Klores. Although he has done some political work, most notably Eliot
Spitzer’s successful campaign for State Attorney General in 1998, Mr. Klores is
much better known for working with the likes of Jay Leno, Paul Simon and,
during his trial, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. “Don’t forget the big ones!” Mr.
Klores admonished. “General Motors, Shell Oil, Avon, the N.B.A.” (He called
back to mention United Airlines; until recently, Mr. Klores’ company also
worked for The New York Observer. )
Is Mr. Klores trying to develop a full-fledged political arm?
“The answer is yes,” he said. “What turns me on about [the new
venture] is that it’s a tremendous opportunity for me to be around guys who are
30, 32 years old who are as smart as they are. And hopefully some of the good
parts of me will be beneficial for them.” (Mr. Isay and Mr. Prince are actually
31 and 34, respectively.)
“There is a need for a good
public-affairs firm in New York City with a good understanding of media,” said
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York consultant. “If that’s what they’re doing,
it could be successful. But they’re banking on Andrew Cuomo winning the
primary, and that may not be a good bet.” Mr. Sheinkopf, it turns out, was
recently hired by the McCall campaign.
Unlike Mr. Sheinkopf, whose
has been winning campaigns for two decades, Mr. Isay is a veritable babe in
arms. But according to pollster Jeff Plaut of the Global Strategies Group, “he
is a hot political talent, on everyone’s short list.” He’s known as energetic,
intense, young and smart, with good looks and a dimple in the middle of his
Mr. Isay also can’t stop
spinning. In talking about the upcoming gubernatorial contest, he asserted that
the “people that I’ve spoken to, from the suburbs in Long Island to blue-collar
workers upstate, all say they want someone new, someone who can inject excitement
back into the notion of public service.” The quote happens to be, almost word
for word, a line from Mr. Cuomo’s stump speech.
Abilities aside, since aiding
Mr. Schumer to his upset victory over Mr. D’Amato in 1998, Mr. Isay has marched
through several ventures: a stint at DoubleClick.com and then with Alan
Hevesi’s ill-fated campaign for Mayor in 2001. On Mr. Hevesi’s behalf, Mr. Isay
teamed up with Hank Morris, the sweater-wearing consultant who gained notoriety
in piloting Mr. Hevesi’s disastrous campaign.
Mr. Isay said his new partnership with Mr. Klores has nothing to
do with Mr. Morris. “Hank is my mentor and one of my closest friends, and will
remain so,” he said. “I consider him the smartest person in New York politics
and maybe anywhere.”
Mr. Klores said he’s been trying to recruit Mr. Isay since the
end of the Schumer campaign, but Mr. Isay chose the private sector and then Mr.
Morris. “I was always interested in him, but I would never take him from Hank,”
Mr. Klores said. “But he was someone Andrew wanted very much to have, in much
more than a communications role.” Eventually, Andrew got him.
Andrew also got Mr. Prince. Born in Yonkers but raised in
Danbury, Conn., before cutting his political teeth with former Mayor Ray Flynn
of Boston, Mr. Prince worked for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992. He stayed
with the Clinton administration until February of 2000, working variously in
the White House, with the State Department, even a stint “coordinating the
alliance message” for NATO during the Kosovo war. In 1998, Mr. Prince returned
to the White House as senior advisor for crisis management “doing-well, you can
guess what I did,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Prince was asked to work on the Hillary Clinton campaign but
declined, opting instead to form his own dot-com, Govolution.com. But then he
started trying to move to New York, where his fiancée, Eileen Jurist (“We both
have names for pseudo-professions” was how Mr. Prince described it), works for
the fashion industry-”the industry least suited to Washington, D.C.”
Actually, Mr. Prince himself looks at least as ill-suited to
Washington. With his stylish clothes and green-stemmed, frameless glasses, he
seems like he’d fit in much better on Madison Avenue than K Street. Indeed, his
looks have already caused him much tsuris .
A 1999 dinner conversation with a British reporter resulted in a profile that
described him as “a Quentin Tarantino hero with designer stubble and sleek
black Italian clothes.” After the article appeared, Mr. Prince was at pains to
talk himself down among his White House colleagues, who, The Washington Post reported, started calling him “The Fresh Prince
of Belgium.” In an interview, a former White House colleague described him as
“a nice guy, very hard working, and … let me say, he has a healthy sense of
Mr. Prince is also a true believer, of the sort Mr. Cuomo seems to attract. The two met in 1993, on a
Ron Brown–chaired task force on urban issues. They remained close throughout
the Clinton administration.
Of the firm’s three
principals, Mr. Klores will likely have the smallest day-to-day role. He became
friends with Mr. Cuomo in the late 1980′s, when the two were working on a joint
fund-raiser for the Children’s Health Fund and HELP, Mr. Cuomo’s
help-the-homeless empire. Since then, Mr. Klores has practically become Mr.
As for his new partners, Mr. Isay and Mr. Prince have a busy year
ahead of them. Not only are they trying to get a New York governor elected, but
they’re both getting married. Their respective fiancées insisted that they
negotiate honeymoon time into their contracts with Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Isay’s
fiancée, Cathie Levine, a former communications director for Mr. Hevesi who now
works for ABC News, made sure he got a week off. Only a week? “Well,” he mused,
“we just took a long vacation.” He’ll just have to make sure he leaves his cell
phone at home.