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The Name of the Father

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Among the many photographs and doodads in Andrew Cuomo’s office at Island Capital is a picture of Andrew, his father, and Bill Clinton, all seated at a state conference. Cuomo is more expansive about this photo than any other article in the room. “My father’s going to get up to speak,” he explains. “So I take someone’s business card and write on the back DON’T SPEAK TOO LONG. TEN MINUTES. Then I cross out TEN MINUTES and I put FIVE MINUTES.” When Mario read the card, he handed it to Clinton, plainly amused. Clinton wrote back, CLINTON’S EIGHTH LAW: BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER, BUT THE PAYCHECK IS THICKER THAN BLOOD. Mario got up to speak. “And he is talking like a machine gun,” says Andrew. “Badabada, badabada, badabada . . . and then he stops, and he says, ‘Wait, why am I talking so fast? You know why I’m talking so fast? Because I have a twenty-minute speech, but Andrew just sent me a note saying no longer than five minutes. But what do I care what Andrew says? If I want to speak, I’m the governor, I’m going to speak!’ ”

“I don’t think ego is driving him this time,” says a friend. “There’s a degree of entitlement that’s now gone.”

Mario must have been one hell of a father to grow up with. Revered by the public, absent from home, he was, by pretty much all accounts, a man who listened to few and hectored many. Back when he was governor, it was said that Andrew was one of the few people he’d listen to.

Inevitably, anyone who knows both Andrew and Mario becomes an amateur Cuomoologist. Their relationship is a mysterious one, a neurotic combination of loving and slightly perverse. Right through Andrew’s failed 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Andrew publicly referred to his father not as “my dad” but “Mario.” (“Look, I couldn’t go into a meeting and say, ‘My dad said this, my dad said that,” says Andrew, explaining how the habit started.) Mario, meanwhile, spent his Albany days calling his son “the Big Mamoo,” which through some glitch of onomatopoeia comes off sounding both exalted and infantilizing all at once.

Andrew is acutely aware of this preoccupation. When I first ask whether there are any books or plays or operas that capture some essential complexity of their relationship, he deadpans, “Yes. The story where the father chains the little boy to a chair. In the basement. And leaves him without food. And then beats him.” A couple of weeks later, I shoot him an e-mail telling him I planned to phone his father for this story. His reply—a typical combination of charm and shrewd second-guessing—comes just seven minutes later:

And if i said no???
what psychological penchant would that suggest??
but then if I say yes, what political punditry must i endure?
you better just call me.

I phoned. We chatted; he was noncommittal. I phoned Mario. Mario never returned my calls.

“From the day Andrew came out of the womb, his job was to serve his father,” says Ed Hayes, the ubiquitous superlawyer. “He was his father’s campaign manager, his father’s axman. Whenever a dirty job had to get done, they sent Andrew—and I don’t think that’s right. Dad is not supposed to send his son to do his dirty work. Then Andrew got into a relationship with the Kennedys, and they did the same thing!”

“Personally, I don’t think Andrew is a prick,” says Hayes. “I think he’s a decent, very handsome guy, a very fine lawyer, a guy who genuinely wants to serve other people. I just think his father tortured him no end of it.”

When Andrew was growing up, he didn’t see much of his father. Mario was hardworking and ambitious, toiling late at his law firm in Brooklyn, then making his way up the ranks of the Democratic Party. “The governor will tell you, Andrew was the dad,” says Marino. As the five Cuomo children got older, the trend didn’t change much. Several people told me to ask Andrew how long his father spent at his wedding to Kerry Kennedy.

“Seventeen minutes,” he answers, when I finally get around to it. He starts to giggle. “No. He was actually good that day. He stayed . . . through the vows.” He starts to laugh again. “No, he came for the whole thing. He was on his best behavior.”

Has he missed other Cuomo wedding receptions? Is this why I was told to ask?

“He doesn’t . . . travel a lot, my father, it’s fair to say.”

In 1980, when Mario was still lieutenant governor, Andrew moved in with his father. It was a strange choice for a 22-year-old law student, attractive and awash in hormones, especially considering that his father didn’t like to tell him when he was coming home—“he was always thinking he was going to catch me.” But Andrew figured what the heck, his father was staying over only a couple of nights a week, and he was attending law school in Albany anyway. The two men shared an apartment in the Wellington Hotel. It was a two-bedroom dump with a pale-green rug and a yellow couch. “Think of Mickey Spillane’s first novels,” says Tonio Burgos, an old Cuomo adviser, who lived downstairs. “Shades half-torn, neon sign blinking in the background.” Mario hung two pictures on the wall. One was of Andrew’s mother. The other was of the Virgin Mary. And Andrew kept that green parrot, which dive-bombed visitors and freely relieved himself wherever he chose. “It was a nightmare, that bird,” says Burgos. “Very loud, very smelly. It flew out the window one day because Mario left the window open. We all cheered.”


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