How Hugh Carey Handled the Press [Updated]

A reader who knows his way around the second floor emailed yesterday in response to my story about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s relationship with the press.

James S. Vlasto–who served as press secretary to Governor Hugh Carey–offered a bit of perspective on how Carey dealt with the media.

First, a bit of background: According to The Man Who Saved New York–the recent biography of Carey that Cuomo has sent around to labor leaders–Carey struggled for press attention throughout his campaign, overshadowed by the Watergate scandal and an ongoing feud between New York City’s mayor and the city comptroller. Linda Greenhouse, who was the young reporter assigned to cover him for The New York Times, said she often got asked: “Which one is Carey?” That changed during the latter stage of the election and, of course, after he won.

Mr. Vlasto offered a bit of insight into the internal conversations about Carey’s press strategy.

“The Carey Administration began a series of weekly news conference which proved successful,” he wrote. “A few members of the senior staff opposed the news conferences. Carey overruled them.”

As I mentioned in the story, Mr. Vlasto’s son, Josh, serves as the deputy communications director for the new governor, who is also known to take a very active interest in his office’s communications strategy. The elder Mr. Vlasto said one of the arguments for holding a weekly news conference was that it avoided the potential pitfalls of impromptu question-and-answer sessions, which he said “never worked.”

There happens to be one point of overlap for the two Vlastos: Fred Dicker, the influential New York Post state editor, began covering the statehouse for the Albany Times-Union during Mr. Carey’s tenure. And it sounds as though Mr. Dicker was a force to be reckoned with even then.

“The conferences went on for so long reporters ran out of questions,” Mr. Vlasto said in his email. “We had set a time limit of thirty minutes. Not to be. Fred Dicker made sure all of his questions were asked.”

UPDATE: Another reader points out that the younger Mr. Vlasto’s mother, Carol Opton, also served in the Carey administration. She worked in the appointments office and the Executive Chamber, as well as the 1974 and 1978 campaigns, and was known to be a close confidant of Mr. Carey, serving for most of his eight-year administration.

The elder Mr. Vlasto served as press secretary for nearly two years, and went on to work for a number of other public officials–including, most recently, former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

How Hugh Carey Handled the Press [Updated]