Cuomo Gets Young Turks For 2002

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.

Except …

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

chin.

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

self.”

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.

Cuomo’s alter-ego.

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.