A Sober Cuomo Victory Party, With Tough Times Ahead

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Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Maybe it was the steep prices at the cash bar, but there was a distinct lack of levity at the New York Democrats’ election-night party. Oh, there were plenty of smiles and hugs and cheers, yet there was as much anxiety and disbelief in the midtown Sheraton ballroom as there was celebration. Which made sense, because the giant TV screens kept reporting the particulars of the red tide washing over the country, with Republicans winning big nearly everywhere but here (though the GOP did gain at least five congressional seats, including one on Staten Island). New York is always its own peculiar political ecosystem, but on this night the state, and especially the city, felt like some increasingly exotic and embattled Democratic preserve.

Adding to the sober subtext was the fact that the new game warden is all business. Andrew Cuomo, the governor-elect, gave a short and gracious speech, but even his triumphal moment demonstrated the drastic shift in style and tone that’s about to hit state government.

Beginning at about 10 p.m., Cuomo’s aides were on high alert. They’d receive texts or calls and snap to attention, whispering that Cuomo’s arrival onstage was “imminent,” then they’d dash out of the room, presumably to prepare for the boss’s arrival … only to return ten or so minutes later and repeat the drill. A longtime Cuomo family intimate laughed knowingly at the false alarms, and at the new governor’s obsession with discipline and calculation. “Andrew is waiting for eleven o’clock, so he can go live on the news,” he said. Sure enough, moments after the magic hour arrived, so did Cuomo, accompanied in a tight line by his shimmering blonde girlfriend, dark-haired daughters, and proud parents.

Friends of Mario Cuomo were scattered throughout the crowd, and they provided the most compelling commentary. “We’ve known for 25 years that Andrew would run for governor,” one said. Another, wistful, noted how physically small Mario appeared — and that tonight was likely the high point of the complex, competitive relationship between father and son. The veterans of the first Cuomo era, while enjoying Andrew’s achievement, also know better than most that winning an election is the easy part. Albany provides its own special brand of chaos, and lately seems to specialize in thwarting smart, controlling chief executives.

Still unclear is whether Cuomo will get a perverse bit of help: Party loyalty aside, he wouldn’t be unhappy to see Republicans gain a majority in the State Senate, providing not just a stable negotiating partner, but a foil that could absorb some of the heat that’s sure to be generated by layoffs and budget cuts next year. Cuomo will need help from both sides of the aisle in his looming battles with labor unions.

“Will he succeed as governor? I don’t know,” one Cuomo friend said. “But no one will work harder at it than Andrew.” Which is certainly a welcome change from the past two years, when David Paterson often didn’t seem to be working at all, and the two years prior to that, when Eliot Spitzer could have saved himself a lot of trouble by cutting out the extracurriculars. The new, no-fun era of New York state government began Tuesday night. Andrew Cuomo’s team was careful not to party too hard: They were all due at a staff meeting Wednesday morning at 10.