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The Cuomo Family Business


In 2001, a week after leaving HUD, Andrew marched into New York like a returning hero to declare his own bid for governor against Pataki. Kerry accompanied Andrew on the campaign trail, spreading the Kennedy fairy dust. Still, in that campaign, it was the Cuomo name that mattered. “There was a whole crosscurrent,” Andrew says, “of the party not wanting to go back to another Cuomo.” Andrew may have been a stronger general-election candidate, but party leaders had already rallied around the likable state comptroller Carl McCall, who’d apparently reserved his spot in line.

In his office, I ask Andrew how he made what is, in retrospect, an obvious political blunder. He pushes back in his chair, moves his hands around like he’s about to pass a basketball. “I don’t know. I was going to go home to New York, and they were going to appreciate that. I had been part of the Clinton administration,” he says. “It’s not like I was on the beach in the south of France.”

Andrew’s campaign faced another challenge. He’s sharp-minded, naturally engaging, funny, and seductively candid, especially in small groups. In some old friends, he inspires an almost fawning loyalty—“He’s the person you’d want in a lifeboat,” one tells me. On the stump, Andrew showed passion, the type supporters said harkened back to his father-in-law. But to many, Andrew seemed to be trying too hard. “The more voters saw of him, the less they liked him,” explained one political observer. To some voters his expertise played as disdain, and even his passion seemed tinged with anger. Andrew, then 44, pulled out the week before the primary.

Andrew had long held an unshakable belief in his own destiny and hadn’t seemed to consider that he might fail. “I lose and my political career was over,” Andrew tells me. “I’m relatively young. I didn’t have a second career ready. No plan B.”

“My father liked the concept of people,” Andrew says. “I like people.”

Then came another, more humiliating blow. Nine months after his defeat, Kerry’s lawyer released a brief statement to the New York Times: Their marriage was over. Andrew acted as if blindsided by the announcement. The Kennedys, well schooled in public scandal, had expected Andrew to behave “honorably,” a Kennedy word. But Andrew’s pride was wounded, and his instinct to fight, never far from the surface, apparently took over. His own statement used the word “betrayed”—Kerry was seeing someone. (“She’s obsessed with him,” Andrew told a friend at the time, referring to Bruce Colley, her married lover. The friend added, “And he couldn’t get her away from him.”) Andrew’s statement infuriated the Kennedys. And not just for airing the seamier details in public. He was up to his dirty tricks, as they saw it, managing perceptions and distorting the truth. As a person briefed on the family version tells it, “Kerry had been trying for years to get a divorce.” She’d hired a lawyer, sent him letters. Andrew was trying to save the marriage. “You do everything you can to preserve a family, a marriage,” Andrew tells me. But for Kerry, the marriage had been over for some time. Andrew was inattentive, at best, and she’d begun to feel like his career accessory. In Kerry’s mind, if not in Andrew’s, they came to an agreement. “He begged her to stay with him through the gubernatorial campaign, with the promise that he would give her a divorce after,” says a family friend. Kerry believed Andrew would be a good governor. “She stuck with him during the governor’s race and asked him to keep his word afterward, and he refused,” still hoping to work things out.

In his sprawling office, Andrew asks me, “Did you read about the divorce?”

Andrew, a gifted narrator of his own life, says, “You are going to run for your father’s old job. You’re going to lose in a very terrible, tragic sense, and then your personal life is going to fall apart. That pretty much sums up a lot of fears I had at that time.”

It was a spectacular flameout, and for Andrew an unprecedented one. “I had had minor setbacks; I had not been hit by a truck and then the truck backed up over me.”

Andrew disappeared. He used to call up friends, family, associates constantly, sometimes just to check in. “How am I doing?” he’d ask. Now the phone went silent. Eventually, he taught at Harvard and edited a book on American politics, resurfacing in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Manhattan.

Andrew didn’t discuss the divorce much with friends, not even with his oldest confidant—what would Mario know about divorce? Internally, however, there was a process going on. Andrew is into personal development, “self-improvement,” Chris tells me. (“I think Chris needs a lot of improvement,” quips Andrew when I bring it up.) Andrew tells me, “It was a terrible time in life. Yeah, all right. But the flip side is, the optimistic side: What can we learn from it? How do I improve?”


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