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Prince Andrew

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He courted his wife out here. On their first date, he took her, on his Harley, to see her father's Bed-Stuy project, and then he took her to see his own deal.

He shoehorns his wife into almost every conversation in a way that suggests that he either thinks the Kennedy thing is the biggest political asset he's got going for him, or she's been after him to get some credit for herself (It's not all about you!).

Or it may be that, like many liberal Democrats of a certain era, he has a Kennedy fixation -- he's just taken his a little further than most.

Peter Ragone tells me that Andrew was giving a talk the other day to which he'd brought his family, and, in the middle of his speech, his young daughter walked out onto the floor. "Upstaged by a Kennedy," Andrew said proudly. (I ask him if he thinks of his children as Kennedys. He says, with some amazement, that they have Kennedy mannerisms and gestures.)

I think it's part of the class thing.

You can make the case that there's a lost generation of pols. If you were a hotshot in the eighties and nineties, you didn't go into politics -- you became a finance guy, or technology guy, or media mogul. But Andrew, because he had to help his father, or because he was an underachiever, or because it was the way out of Queens, did go into politics, and he really doesn't want to be thought the less of for it. In addition, even putting aside the doing-good part, housing the poor seems, as he talks about it, at least as interesting as being a finance guy or technology entrepreneur.

Still, I don't think he has any illusions about politics or people in politics. He knows it's largely low-grade work. A politico is not high up on the doing-big-things ladder. When he talks about Pataki, you feel that's what he objects to most -- Pataki is small-time (he seems embarrassed that this is his opponent, that they would be in any way comparable); Carl McCall, too. These are just political-class guys.

"I don't think he has any illusions about politics or people in politics. He knows it's largely low-grade work. A politico is not high up on the doing-big-things ladder."

Whereas he's pitching himself on a higher level. So even though he is a vastly more accomplished politician with a brighter future than anyone currently named Kennedy, I think he thinks the Kennedy thing helps dignify his endeavors (there are rumors, though, of dissatisfaction among the Kennedy men about a non-Kennedy using the brand). He's in the Kennedy political class and everyone else is in another political class.

You get a powerful sense that it is Andrew who is searching as hard as anyone for the real thing. He has forged a filial bond not only with the Kennedys but with Bill Clinton -- he's one of the few Clintonites to have lasted the entire term.

Then, too, he's among the most loyal and dedicated Gore-ites (if Gore had won the presidential race, in all likelihood Cuomo would not be running now but would have ascended to some higher, executive-branch place) -- although he cringes at the thought of the Gore campaign.

And while I don't see any trace at all of reluctance about running -- after all, he's been doing this for more than twenty years; in some sense, there has never been anyone, at least since Bobby Kennedy, as well prepared to run for public office as Andrew Cuomo -- I wonder if knowing what he knows must not engender a certain painful self-consciousness. What is your chance of not disappointing yourself and everyone else?

Indeed, the one liberal giant who oddly, or not so oddly, he doesn't seem to identify with is Mario. Mario's ambivalence is something to steer clear of.

We're sitting back on Water Street, the car idling. I'm starving, but politicians never go out to eat (they scarf something down and go on to the next event). Peter Ragone is scrunched up in the backseat, paying rapt attention to Cuomo. I wonder if he's worried about Cuomo's motormouth -- Cuomo is, for a politician, unusually aware of the process of being a politician, and oddly willing to talk about it. (Most politicians are absent people -- there but not there. Whatever they say, they've said innumerable times. You never have a real conversation.)

He's demonstrating for me the Clinton touch: holding my shoulder, taking my hand, stroking my knee. It's perfect mimicry. He seems to understand both the humor of it and the power of it.

"He knew every nuance of what he was doing," he says, with some awe, about Clinton. "The effect of touching you there, or touching you here."

The real thing, Andrew seems to be saying, is, of course, always partly a phony.

He goes on to a brief deconstruction of Mario -- that he could accept an intellectual relationship with the voters, but was not at all interested in an emotional one. So, equally, the real thing may fail because it's not phony enough.

He keeps chewing: What does it take to be the kind of person who voters or the media want you to be, or think they want you to be -- and do you want to be that person (Gore, he believes, in the end did not)? And what does it take to be a politician who is not tainted by being a politician?

The question he seems to be trying to answer, at the beginning of his first campaign for office, is: How far is it possible to distance yourself from the pack of hacks, seducers, wonks, special-interest-group guys, and fathers' sons?

"What do you think?" asks Ragone, after Cuomo has gone back to his office, and we go looking for a sandwich.

Not to jinx it, and because you always end up paying for a political crush, I say, "He looks good, but there's a long way to go."

E-mail: michael@burnrate.com


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