Cuomo is also actively fund-raising. His pursuit of AIG and Bank of America has antagonized much of Wall Street, but the old sources of financial-industry political donations are hurting anyway. Fortunately, Cuomo counts among his friends private-equity and real-estate moguls who seem to be holding up just fine. Among these backers is Andrew Farkas, who gave Cuomo a job after he’d left HUD, and steered $800,000 toward his run for A.G. “All the smart money is going to Andrew already,” one Democratic insider says. “You’ll see it in the next fund-raising filing, the shift to Andrew from David. Andrew is viewed as the governor already.”
Privately, Cuomo insists there is no way he’ll run for governor in 2010 if Paterson is in the race; he’s learned his lesson about jumping the Democratic line, and he’s worked hard to mend fences after his 2002 confrontation with black leaders. But with Paterson plunging in the polls, Cuomo is doing everything he can to nudge the incumbent out of the race. In February, as Paterson was taking a beating over the messy selection of Kirsten Gillibrand for the open Senate seat, Cuomo accepted an invitation to speak to the state Conservative Party—a gratuitous show of bi-partisan strength. “Andrew is getting a little cute,” an Albany insider says. “It’s so Machiavellian; it’s the old Andrew emerging.”
In March, Cuomo hired fund-raiser Cindy Darrison, an ace who raised millions for Spitzer and the state Democratic Party. She’d recently been pushed out by Paterson, in the latest reshuffling of his campaign team. Hiring her, says a longtime Cuomo associate, was “a mental fuck-you to the Paterson people. It doesn’t matter whether she can raise a penny; this is just Andrew’s way of sending a message. And he’ll have other people saying, ‘I don’t know how Paterson can make it.’ ”
Coincidentally, unnamed Democratic players were recently quoted in the Daily News saying that Paterson has to turn things around by November or they’ll give up on him. That same day in the Post, a Cuomo spokesman kept the drums beating by criticizing the state’s recent budget deal, edging ever closer to a direct assault on Paterson. “Andrew sees all of these different pieces, and he’s orchestrating all of it at the same time, to construct the conclusion that Paterson shouldn’t run,” the Cuomo associate says. “That’s his endgame: that Paterson shouldn’t and can’t run. He does it indirectly and with sleight of hand, because that’s what Andrew knows best.”
He seems to be at the top of his game—actually, multiple games. He’s moving his political rival aside while feigning uninterest in the governor’s job, and positioning himself as a champion of the taxpaying masses as he lines up campaign money from business titans. He has been very good, but he’s also been very lucky. It’s a combination that state government hasn’t seen in a very long time. But Andrew Cuomo knows better than anyone how quickly the game can change.