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The Cuomo Family Business

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Andrew has abandoned few of his father’s broad goals—they’re both pragmatic progressives who believe government can be an instrument for good. But the son is a man of his era. “My father liked the concept of people,” Andrew says with that laugh, at once loving and dismissive. “I like people.” Mario wanted to inspire from the podium. “He would say, ‘My mission was to lead, to communicate a vision,’ ” says Andrew. Andrew sees himself differently—he operationalizes. He’s not speaking directly about his father, but the undercurrent is unmistakable when Andrew tells me, “A thought without action is hollow at the end of the day.” Andrew has found other role models, like Bill Clinton—and Matilda. “My mother is a real people person. She’s much more comfortable with emotion [than my father],” he says. “She’s a natural retail politician.” Andrew has taught himself to work a room. “He can make you feel like you’re the only person in the world,” says a person who worked with him. “It’s similar to a Bill Clinton thing. It feels sincere.”

The competing Andrews are still there—a do-gooder with lofty goals, and the Prince of Darkness who will win at all costs. “Fuck them if they’re not with us by now,” his aides have been heard to say. “He has no qualms about misleading reporters, pressuring them, playing favorites,” says a person who has worked with the Cuomo camp. “It’s a game to him. He thinks he’s good at it, and he is.”

Andrew has compiled an impressive 224-page treatise of his policy positions—pro-choice, pro–gay rights, anti–death penalty, among others—but in this economy, that’s mostly window dressing. His priorities are, of necessity, the same as those of all recent governors: Clean up Albany, get the state’s fiscal house in order, right-size government. The current record budget deficits will make austerity more palatable, as Andrew knows, and he has intimated that layoffs of state workers may be a dramatic early step. Mario expanded social programs because he believed that was the right thing to do, even if it meant raising taxes to some of the highest levels in the country. Andrew believes taxes are too high, and will be faced with cutting programs cherished by his father. Whereas Mario increased Medicaid spending by two thirds, Andrew has pledged to trim the cost of the health-care program for the poor, which now accounts for an estimated 38 percent of the state budget. “Andrew will be elected to dismantle a lot of what his father helped build,” says a member of the Cuomo camp. And his father’s old Democratic colleague, Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, is likely to resist Andrew’s efforts and, as the Cuomo source says, “to quote Mario in doing so.”

To some, Andrew’s style brings to mind Spitzer, who faltered even before the scandal. Both can be bullying and self-righteous. “Andrew is as angry as Eliot,” a disillusioned former Spitzer aide told me. “He’ll self-destruct, too.” But the newly self-aware Andrew has thought about this and rejects the comparison. For Andrew, Spitzer was as subtle as a hammer, viewing every problem as a nail. Andrew is an experienced political operator who sees himself as more emotionally mature than Spitzer (and than the angry 24-year-old he was) and who believes, like his model Clinton, that he can mobilize political will, pushing voters while pressuring politicians. Like Spitzer, he is running against a dysfunctional Legislature. But here, too, Andrew believes his approach is subtler. Spitzer took on legislators directly, sometimes denouncing them in their own districts. Andrew has recently launched a TV-ad campaign to rally voters, urging them to petition their legislators to cap property-tax increases.

This time around, Andrew is a better gubernatorial candidate. In part, he says it’s because he’s found a measure of peace: “I’ve already lost. What else can they do to me?” In part, it’s because he’s more disciplined, his aggressive side carefully kept from public view, one luxury afforded by a 2-1 lead in the polls against a weak Republican field. Though he recently took his girls upstate on a campaign-fishing trip—both offering photo ops—he seldom grants extensive on-the-record interviews. “He is running to not make mistakes,” says a friend.

These days, much of Andrew’s life seems designed to keep risk at bay. His personal life has rebounded. He’s got a live-in girlfriend, Sandra Lee, who’s smart, photogenic, and unthreatening. “What you see is what you get,” says an occasional Cuomo confidant. She’s a successful down-market Martha Stewart who created the Semi-Homemade brand, which includes recipes to help the busy homemaker whip up meals from ready-made ingredients—Matilda has been known to shudder at Lee’s lasagne, made from canned tomato soup and cottage cheese.


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