The Un-Campaign of Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY—Of all the public-minded people insisting they are not campaigning in the non-campaign to convince David Paterson they should be appointed to the U.S. Senate, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is not-campaigning the hardest.

Publicly, at least, it’s working like a charm.

A poll released on Jan. 5 shows Mr. Cuomo has surged ahead of Caroline Kennedy, whose glamorous nomenclature, personal wealth and well-connected backers have put her name within the first three paragraphs of every story written about the seat in the last month. Still, 58 percent of those surveyed now say they prefer Mr. Cuomo, compared to 27 percent for Ms. Kennedy. Polls last month had the two roughly tied; the poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, indicate 44 percent of people think less of her since her carefully choreographed rollout tour of upstate cities, round of calls  to prominent politicos and flurry of newspaper interviews for which she received as much criticism as praise.

The case for Mr. Cuomo has been made much less splashily-no listening tours, fact-finding missions or metered unveilings-and there is as yet no evidence that the attorney general, who made his reputation as a famously brash arm-twister, has lobbied personally for support, even privately.

It’s almost enough to make one wonder if he wants the seat at all.

Almost.

“How could he not want it?” said a longtime friend of the Cuomo family. “There’s no question. Because politically he’s blocked otherwise.”

Mr. Cuomo himself has consistently punted on the question.

“I have a job, I’m the attorney general of the state of New York, I have my hands full doing it, I enjoy doing it,” he said as he was grilled by reporters on Dec. 11 after announcing a plan to pare the number of local government entities in New York.

He wouldn’t say whether he told the governor of his interest, or if he’d been asked whether he wanted the job. Mr. Cuomo said he calls the governor often-it’s part of his job-and that while they’ve discussed the vacancy, any other details of those conversations are private. It’s unclear if he’s had a formal “interview” withGovernor David Paterson-or if he would need one-as others have to make their case to the governor.

(Mr. Cuomo’s office declined to comment for this article, citing his previous public comments.)

But some of Mr. Cuomo’s allies have been less reticent about making the case publicly.

One of the first was Bill O’Shaughnessy, a wealthy Westchester donor and owner of the WVOX radio station who has been close to the Cuomos since Mario was governor. Mr. O’Shaughnessy wrote Paterson on Dec. 10, urging him to let Andrew “do us all proud.”
“I never thought that I would live long enough to oppose anyone named Kennedy, for anything, especially a daughter of John Fitzgerald Kennedy,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said by phone a few weeks later, claiming he acted simply as a private citizen. “I just think that Andrew Cuomo is one smart guy. Who would you rather have on their feet in the U.S. Senate? Boom. Next question. You’d rather have Andrew.”

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, another Cuomo friend, said he considered the attorney general “someone we can all stand behind” as opposed to Ms. Kennedy, who he said has created some backlash.

In addition, according to two state legislators, there has been a quiet push among Democratic members of the State Assembly, who have their own reasons for wanting Mr. Cuomo to move to the Senate: The power to replace him as attorney general would lie with their conference. The theory, then, is that it might then make sense for Mr. Paterson to appoint Mr. Cuomo as a means of generating goodwill with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
But Mr. Cuomo’s chances may come down to something simpler than any of that.

As one Cuomo acquaintance pointed out, Mr. Cuomo, in his capacity as attorney general, has a direct line to the governor. He can make his case at any time, at least in theory.

Also, since Mr. Paterson alone is making the pick, the only real requirement is that the senator-designate be able to establish him or herself as a credible and recognizable presence with voters by the time the next election comes around. Mr. Cuomo, if nothing else, is recognizable.

He ran once for governor, unsuccessfully. He ran successfully for AG, and now has a taxpayer-funded press staff putting out releases on everything from legal settlements to holiday gift cards. And, of course, his dad was a famous governor.

“I think that he feels that the people of the state know him, and he knows their issues,” said George Arzt, a consultant and a longtime adviser to Representative Carolyn Maloney, another contender for the appointment. “He doesn’t need a listening tour. He also has a very high ID compared to the others in the race, with the exception of Caroline Kennedy.”

Then again, the downside of not being clear is, well, your intentions are unclear.

“I have not heard from anybody from Andrew or anybody representing Andrew. He’s probably one of the few candidates that we have not heard from, so I’m wondering whether he really is interested,” said Len Lenihan, chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee, who has endorsed Representative Brian Higgins but has met or spoken with others vying for the seat. “He has not expressed any interest to me personally or anyone in western New York, that I know of. It speaks for itself; he has not contacted us. That’s why you wonder if he’s interested in this or not.”

Regardless, Mr. Cuomo makes not only the short lists but the short-short lists.

Joe Mercurio, a consultant, said that aside from Ms. Kennedy, Mr. Cuomo is “the only other real candidate that’s emerged for the Senate seat. His numbers in the polling have stayed firm and have gotten better.”

That may end up being a mere consolation prize for Mr. Cuomo. Which is something.