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The Cuomo Family Business


Andrew is a child of his time, more New Agey than his ascetically inclined father. He’s dipped into the seeker’s syllabus, reading The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, an achiever’s guide to the spiritual journey that urges each person to seek his “personal legend,” that which he wants most (and which, Coelho says, the world will help him find). For Mario, gloom is a steady state. You make efforts, but don’t expect answers. “Andrew is a positive thinker,” Matilda tells me. “He doesn’t dwell on the negative. He never did.” Yet if Andrew thirsted for inner knowledge, it was in answer to specific career questions. “Should I have run? How did I run the campaign?” he asked himself.

I ask if it was mostly hubris that did him in. “It was just a fundamental miscalculation,” he insists. “I forgot all politics are local.”

But Andrew seems to have learned another lesson. Even those closest to him could find him overbearing and obsessively controlling. Quietly, a few cheered his humiliation. “Andrew needed to be knocked down,” says a friend; “2002 was the best thing that could have happened to him. You have to learn by being humbled.”

Andrew had had a long love affair with his own destiny, and that was over for the moment. “The humiliation freed Andrew to be himself,” one friend claims. He listened to friends more, and spent more time with his three daughters, a comfort that he found a blessing and a bit of a surprise. “My father would be amazed at how much time I spend with my kids,” he tells me, as if noting a transgression. And Andrew’s outlook changed, his natural optimism suddenly tempered by a bit of Mario’s fatalism, if not his grimness. “There are things in life you don’t control,” Andrew says, working himself up. “Control is an illusion. You control nothing. Give up the illusion.” And yet, if humiliation caused Andrew to pause and reorient, Andrew is Andrew, pragmatic and unflinching. Laid low, he quickly found new reasons to believe in himself. “When you survive your worst fears, it’s actually liberating,” he says. “If you take a punch, will you get up? You always wonder. ‘Yeah, I think I would.’ But you don’t really know.” Andrew got up, with the counsel of his oldest ally. “Andrew never allowed [the 2002] loss to kill his desire in politics. Not for a minute,” Mario explains to me. “I’m not sure I could get up off the canvas,” Mario told his son, “but if you can and you make it, that would be an extraordinary accomplishment for you.”

Andrew surveyed the political landscape in 2005. Eliot Spitzer, the celebrated sitting attorney general, looked certain to win the governorship, leaving his office available. Andrew entered the race, but didn’t repeat his previous sins. He went on a kind of listening tour, making the rounds of small Democratic gatherings around the state.

Andrew won easily. But victory didn’t prove the catharsis he’d hoped. For the son of a governor, attorney general was a consolation prize. Spitzer looked like a lock for eight, maybe twelve years. “Andrew sat in that nondescript office thinking, I’m going to be in purgatory for a long time,” says a person close to him during that period.

Then, after the banks almost failed—and as they came back, with taxpayer help, as lucrative as ever—history gave Andrew a role to play. There were echoes of his rabble-rousing father, and also of Spitzer, who’d found in Wall Street a worthy villain. But there was also something of Andrew’s own, that arrogance and anger harnessed to a cause larger than his ambition. Andrew delightedly grabbed the headlines, going after Madoff enablers, school-loan hustlers, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, as well as the AIG bonuses, sometimes prosecuting but always taking names that usually filtered into the press. A few complained that some of the publicity merely burnished his image—and needlessly embarrassed his targets—particularly when the charges didn’t go anywhere. Clearly, though, Andrew’s office was effective: He is widely credited with ferreting out deep-rooted corruption in the New York State pension system, for instance.

In the meantime, Spitzer’s political career had started to crumble, a phenomenon that began slowly and ended with stunning speed. An early blow had been allegations that, as governor, he’d used state officials to spy on his political opponent. Andrew and Spitzer had long disliked each other—perhaps they were too alike. Spitzer had been born wealthy, and so each in his own way was a child of privilege with something to prove. Andrew’s office had quickly produced a report critical of Spitzer, undisclosed elements of which dribbled out in the papers from Syracuse to New York City over several days, always citing anonymous sources. Andrew delighted in Spitzer’s trouble. “Eliot hears my footsteps,” he confided at the time. Then Spitzer’s identity as Client 9 was revealed, prompting his resignation in a prostitution scandal. Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, proved ill-equipped for the job, and Andrew, showing newfound restraint, stayed out of the spotlight as Paterson was pushed aside—the world did seem to work on Andrew’s behalf. “He was reborn,” says a person close to him at the time.


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