None of which matters, of course, if Hillary Clinton wants to be president. Realistically, Cuomo only has one path, and the outlines of his strategy are taking shape. At every opportunity, he praises Bill Clinton as his political mentor—a sentiment that’s genuine, based in Cuomo’s years as hud secretary in the Clinton administration, but also shrewd. Ingratiating himself with the former president tamps down talk of an Andrew-Hillary rivalry and might make it more palatable for Hillary boosters to accept Cuomo as an alternative if Clinton doesn’t run (though if Hillary’s out, Cuomo might have another intramural rival: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand).
“Andrew is generally viewed with a combination of grudging admiration and cautious suspicion in larger Democratic circles,” a former Obama-campaign consultant says. “He has a capacity to really get it done when he wants to turn it on, but he also has a darker side that gets in his way. Andrew has done a very good job of governing in a pragmatic, centrist style rooted in progressive values, and of not being a classic lefty politician, but written in the assumed narrative of American politics is that Democrats and Northeasterners and New Yorkers are liberal-elitist types. It’s a story line you’ve got to work against.” Another prominent national Democratic strategist sees a more fundamental style problem: “God, his voice is really terrible. You can’t take that voice to Iowa. I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s an issue.”
Most Hillary intimates don’t even deign to discuss Cuomo. “There’s nobody but Hillary to the real adherents,” a Clinton associate says. “And they think it’s inconceivable anyone could run in a primary against her. But they’ve been impressed by Andrew and his discipline. A lot of us are waiting to see if the new Andrew can hold a steady course, or does he revert to form.”
Bill Clinton beams down at Andrew Cuomo. It is the funeral of Andrew’s former antagonist, Ed Koch, and Clinton has cut short a trip to Japan to speak. Religious settings bring out the best in Clinton, and from the grand pulpit of Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue he tells funny and moving stories about Koch. Yet Clinton makes sure to single out the state’s current governor when he mentions the fight against gun violence. “[Ed] would have been very proud of you, Governor,” Clinton says, grinning at Cuomo in the first row. Hillary Clinton, presumably home resting, is not among the mourners.
After the service, waiting for the simple brown oak coffin to be carried out, Cuomo hangs close to Clinton, making sure to tell the former president to say hello to Hillary for him. A long black hearse bearing Koch’s body pulls away from the curb. Cuomo walks to the corner, then turns east onto 65th Street, shaking hands every few steps. Walking in the other direction, alone, is Eliot Spitzer. About twenty feet behind the current governor, thin and moving slowly, comes Mario Cuomo, wrapped against the 25-degree day in a black coat and hat. Andrew strides purposefully forward, chin held high, in a dark suit, leaving them all behind.