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The Name of the Father

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So hold on, I ask Andrew. Your dad opened the window?

“He did not open the window,” Andrew insists. “He had a separate, ongoing conspiracy to . . . eliminate the parrot.”

In 1982, Andrew joined his father’s primary campaign against Ed Koch. It was brutal. Koch was the party favorite, and Mario, a potent combination of brilliant and distrustful, proved hard to advise. Eventually, Andrew became the campaign manager and earned himself—rightly, no doubt—a reputation for being a hothead, a more-than-willing henchman. But his job was also the one that invites the most awesome quantities of abuse. “Mario was extremely hard on Andrew,” says Norman Adler, who was deputy campaign manager but fell out with both Cuomos shortly thereafter. “I remember one time when he came down so hard on Andrew that Andrew was just wrecked by it. And I said to Mario that night, ‘I think you really beat up on Andrew unnecessarily today.’ He looked up and said, ‘You really think so?’ Like what I was saying to him was news.”

“It was a unique situation, granted,” says Burgos. “But Andrew also used his youth and naïveté to run the campaign the way he wanted, and he always outfoxed them.” He recalls the evening before the state Democratic Party convention in 1982. At 2 a.m., he and Andrew went into the suite of Dominic Baranello, Koch’s campaign manager, at the Syracuse Hilton, and found him lounging in his underwear. “Andrew walks in and says, ‘I know you’ve got us beat. We don’t have 25 percent of the delegates. So you have to be very careful here. My father’s crazy. If you don’t give him the 25 percent of the delegates, he’ll attack you for being big party bosses.’ ” He chuckles. “In the meantime, we knew we had 38 percent of the votes, but we didn’t want Koch to raid our delegates. We didn’t want them to work that final day. So Andrew ordered me to get a boat. And we put all our delegates on Lake Onondaga, and the engine died.”

Did it really die?

No. I killed the engine. So for ten hours, we were on Lake Onondaga while the Koch people were trying to find and convert our delegates.”

Twenty years later, Andrew Cuomo ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary himself, under circumstances that were remarkably similar—the party machine arrayed against him, the unions and bosses all in favor of his rival. Maybe he needed himself as a campaign manager; maybe he wasn’t as likable as his father. Whatever the case, we all know the outcome. By the time the state-party convention came around, it looked like he didn’t have enough delegates to earn himself a place on the primary ballot. So he refused to go. “It’s ironic,” says Burgos. “Years later, Andrew actually did what he said his father was threatening to do.”

It’s 8:23 in the morning, and the phone rings. It’s Cuomo. The day before, I’d spoken to him for two hours. Today, we follow up for nearly 30 minutes more. The majority of these calls are dominated by the same thing: a wish to revisit and debunk the criticisms I’ve repeated to him. He seems determined to win each point, though he never loses his cool. One gets the sense this is sport for Cuomo. He invites dissections, almost, of both his own personality and public policy alike. He is the first politician to whom I find myself uttering the words: You should know that I’m writing your personality can be a real problem. Your character can overwhelm your attributes.

He tells me that what I’m describing is not character but style.

The following day, I get an e-mail.

You asked me about my “management style.” Not to be difficult (ha ha), but I believe at one point the proof is in the dividends, and whether at HELP or HUD, we achieved great results.

But I do hear your point, and I think that I have always been extremely passionate about what I do, because for me it is about justice and reform and ending terrible conditions. I’m sure also that same passion has made me impatient [and] at times and has sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. In my “old age” I’ve realized that sometimes you can’t accomplish all you want to or even all you need to, despite the urgency or merits.

It occurs to me that Andrew really is the baby-boomer version of his dad. Divorced, a veteran of psychological counseling (in his marriage, anyway), struggling with how to keep the Democratic Party alive and fresh. Unlike most boomers, though, he refuses to blame his parents (or, let’s face it, his father) for the more challenging aspects of his temperament. Perhaps Mario doesn’t deserve the blame. Or perhaps he does, and it doesn’t matter. Perhaps Andrew’s really, finally, at long last, a grown-up.


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