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'All Things Possible' — Cuomo's Tome on Self-Interest

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Thursday, 23 Oct 2014 08:08 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Memoirs penned by public officials fall into two categories: self-serving but thoughtful, and merely self-serving.

Examples of the former include Dean Acheson’s Pulitzer prize-winning "Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department," by Dean Acheson, and Henry Kissinger’s "White House Years."

Among the pure self-serving cohort are Richard Nixon’s "Six Crises" (1962) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent "All Things Possible."

Those of us who have followed Cuomo’s rise from the beginning know that, like Nixon, he has long been accused of being a bully and cynic. And "All Things Possible," like Nixon’s "Six Crises," is a selective account of his “setbacks and successes,” interjected with doses of pop psychology and Dear Abby advice. Cuomo tries to argue in his memoir that he has reinvented himself. He fails, inadvertently laying bare that his “Prince of Darkness” reputation of old has never been more accurate than the present.

Two Cuomos

The first 80 pages of the book describe Mario Cuomo’s long march to the governor’s mansion as seen through Cuomo’s eyes. The elder Cuomo failed in his first two attempts at elective office — lieutenant governor in 1974 and New York City  mayor in 1977.

What’s most interesting about Andrew’s take on these and other elements of his pre-history is what he neglects to mention. For example, the book doesn’t state that in the 1974 primary for Democratic lieutenant governor, Mario was publicly pro-life.

The New York Times reported that in a televised debate, Mario said “he would have voted against the [state] law that relaxed abortion curbs in the state,” — the very law Andrew has proposed to expand.

As for his description of the 1977 mayoral race, Andrew states that his father named him the Bronx campaign manager because he was an undergraduate at Fordham University located “in the heart of the Bronx.” That’s news to me — I thought Bronx Borough President Bob Abrams was the manager.

In that race I was working all over Queens for Conservative Party mayoral candidate Barry Farber and would frequently see Andrew with his father’s entourage at candidate forums.

In fact, at a particularly large gathering sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and held at St. Sebastian’s parish hall in Woodside Queens, Andrew and I had a slight altercation after I booed his father.

Perhaps he played up the Bronx connection to avoid any discussion of posters that appeared in Queens neighborhoods stating “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.” Ed Koch believed to his dying day that Andrew had a hand in that political stunt.

After Cuomo the elder lost the Democratic primary to Koch, Andrew recounts that his father kept his word to Liberal Party boss, Ray Harding, to run on that party line in the general election, and in November he received 41 percent of the vote to Koch’s 50 percent.

What was omitted was that Mario also ran on the line of the “Neighborhood Preservation Party,” which he founded. In Neighborhood Preservation Party campaign literature, he declared that he was “as angry as you are about crime . . . We need more cops, more judges, more people going to jail.”

Needless to say, that message was a far cry from the born again liberal one Mario expressed in his famous keynote speech at the 1984 National Democratic convention. It is also relevant to understanding Andrew Cuomo’s background and political education.

The Prince of Darkness
 
As Mario plotted his political comeback, Andrew worked at his side as friend, adviser, and campaign manager. To get elected lieutenant governor in 1978 and governor in 1982, however, Mario had to reinvent himself.

He discarded his public pro-life stance declaring he was privately pro-life but opposed to imposing his personal beliefs on others. (One exception to this Cuomo rule was the death penalty. Although personally opposed, he insisted on imposing his views by vetoing pro-death penalty legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by state legislators and the general public.)

Andrew feigns surprise that the Albany crowd quickly dubbed him “Prince of Darkness” and “Darth Vader,” because, as the transition director for his father after he was elected governor in 1982, he fired holdovers from the outgoing Carey administration.

He claims that he was only the “messenger carrier.” But many Albany pols say Andrew earned the title “Prince of Darkness” because he was indeed a “hatchet man” and appeared to enjoy the role.

In 1984, Andrew decided after serving two years as a special assistant to Gov. Cuomo, it was time “to walk his own path” and joined a law firm. It was not always smooth sailing, as he and some of his partners became embroiled in litigation over an investment they had made in a savings and loan in Florida.

When working in the private sector Cuomo came up with a plan to build transitional housing projects for homeless families that would serve as an alternative to the scandalous “welfare hotels” in New York City.

The project was a success and led to a job in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of housing and urban development for community planning and development, from which position he advanced to secretary of HUD in January 1997.

Cuomo gets defensive about the 2008 housing collapse saying “some critics tried to pin the blame for the foreclosure crisis on my time at HUD in the late 1990s, but that was an inaccurate rewriting of this story.” He claims that he was the one who blew the whistle on the growth of subprime lending, issuing a 120-page report titled “Curbing Predatory Home Mortgage Lending.”

But the root cause of the housing market crisis was not predatory lending practices but loosening of lending restrictions that began under President Clinton’s first HUD secretary, Henry Cisneros.

Cuomo never issued any statements publicly criticizing the ease on lending requirements and states in his book that “For decades, through the Federal Housing Administration and in its oversight of mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, HUD has been a leading player in home ownership.”

Decline and Reinvention

After concluding his term at HUD on Jan. 20, 2001, Andrew returned to New York and “unofficially announced his intention to run for governor in 2002.”

His campaign to obtain the Democratic nomination was a disaster. He was oblivious to the facts that his time in Washington had alienated him from the party faithful, that the establishment was comfortable with the other announced candidate, state Comptroller Carl McCall, and that a large number of Democrats were not eager to have the “Prince of Darkness” become the “King of Darkness.”

Then, speaking at a Democratic Party dinner after Carl McCall, he responded to McCall’s claim that Gov. George Pataki didn’t do anything on 9/11 by saying “That’s not fair, Carl. He did do something. He was there to hold Giuliani’s coat.”

Though Pataki’s inept management of the rebuilding of ground zero would cause people to call it “Pataki’s Pit,” the critical reaction to Cuomo’s remark was so severe that Pataki was turned into a victim. Cuomo withdrew from the race shortly before the state Democratic primary.

That humiliating defeat and the subsequent collapse of his marriage to Kerry Kennedy forced Cuomo to re-evaluate his life and to begin the process of reinventing himself. He describes the various phases he went through on his road to recovery and makes psychology 101 recommendations to readers who face similar crises.

The first key decision he made was to take a big paying job with real estate developer Andrew Farkas. This was the same Farkus that Village Voice journalist Wayne Barrett, in a expose titled "Andrew Cuomo’s $2 Million Man," reported Cuomo “denounced” when he was HUD secretary and “personally authorized the filing of a civil suit by federal prosecutors in 1997 that accused Farkas’s then company, Insignia Financial Services, of paying $7.6 million in kickbacks to the owners of 17 federally-subsidized projects that Insignia managed.”

During the four years Cuomo worked for Farkas, he earned several million dollars and, according to Barrett, received over “$800,000 in identifiable campaign contributions from varied Farkas companies, family members, and business associates.”

That cash, plus an energetic bout of retail politicking throughout the state, enabled Cuomo to secure the 2006 Democratic nomination for state attorney general, and easily prevail in the general election. The self-destruction of Governor Eliot Spitzer and the ascendency of the hapless David Paterson permitted Cuomo to set his sights on the executive chamber.

As he prepared to run for governor, I met with him several times to discuss public policy issues. Impressed, I dropped a note to his father that said they were the most satisfying discussions I’ve had with an elected official in years. I also wrote several Op-Ed pieces expressing support of legislation he proposed that permits local communities to be given referendum power to reform, consolidate or to eliminate municipal subdivisions.

I concluded there was a new Andrew Cuomo and was convinced he was prepared to take on the establishment to fix the state’s fiscal mess. Although we are on opposite sides of the political fence, I was appointed to his transition team and shortly after he took office, I was named a member of the governor’s fiscal and economic advisory board.

The Reinvention That Wasn’t

Officially, Cuomo’s first-term agenda as governor was one of center right fiscal policy and social liberalism. Cuomo describes the successful battle he waged to eliminate a projected deficit for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2011, of $10 billion.

He attacked baseline budgeting that included codified formulas that automatically increase Medicaid and education spending every year with no regard to revenue availability. To eliminate the structural deficit, Cuomo spared no facet of state spending. He used effectively the powers of his office to negotiate a budget that was passed on time and included real spending cuts of about 2 percent; caps on Medicaid and education spending; and no tax or fee or tax increases.

My fellow conservatives and I were shocked that blue New York was getting a red budget.

To placate leftists unhappy over the budget cuts, the governor’s next move was to push for passage of a same-sex marriage law. To secure passage, Cuomo convinced Republican leader Dean Skelos to break his promise to New York’s Archbishop, Timothy Cardinal Dolan that he would not permit a roll call on the issue.

Even though Cuomo was on a roll and very popular, by the end of his first year in office, there were rumblings that the old Andrew had returned. There were stories that he was back to micromanaging, brow-beating his staff, bullying anyone who got in his way and serving as his own enforcer.

In late 2011, I witnessed the change in the man at a meeting of his advisory board in which he argued for extending the state’s so-called millionaires surcharge tax that was to expire on Dec. 31. I was shocked, because during the campaign, not only did he pledge to veto any tax increases on the surcharge tax, he said, “I was against it at the time, and I still am. It’s a new tax. It was supposed to sunset. If it doesn’t sunset, it’s a tax increase.”

Cuomo’s rationale for breaking his vow was that he wanted to prove he could get a tax increase while Obama and Washington Democrats could not. Similarly, after the tragic gun violence at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, Cuomo pushed through the legislature in early 2013 hastily prepared and seriously flawed gun control reforms solely because he wanted to prove that he could get done in Albany what Obama couldn’t in Washington.

People were beginning to wonder if Cuomo’s only core belief was employing any tactic that promoted his self-interests. I came around to that view when I learned that after he proposed expanding abortion rights in his 2013 State of the State address and shouted three times “It’s her body, it’s her choice,” Cuomo assured Cardinal Dolan that he had nothing to worry about because the women’s rights bill wasn’t going anywhere.

In his book, Cuomo actually states that like his father, he “has deep respect for people who are pro-life.” That’s odd considering in January of this year, he made a comment that Catholics and others are unfit and no longer welcome in the Empire State: “Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

Cardinal Dolan made the best response when he said the governor’s remarks were “unfortunate at best; inflammatory and outrageous at worst.”

Andrew Cuomo Is No White Knight

After reading the book, I had to ask why he agreed to write it. Some pundits suggest he signed a contract with Harper to kill New York Post political writer Fred Dicker’s deal to write a Cuomo bio and that he couldn’t resist a $700,00-plus advance.

Others say a show-and-tell autobiographical book is nowadays a prerequisite for presidential wannabes.

They may be right but I also think he was motivated to create an image of himself as a “white knight” visionary devoted to public service and not a manipulative, mean-spirited control freak “Prince of Darkness” who strove to be elected governor to avenge his father’s 1994 defeat and to settle scores.

Personally, I’m in the camp that holds the new Andrew has reverted to the old Andrew. While he may get re-elected this November, I believe if he attempts to seek a lease on the White House he will quickly learn that all things are not possible.

George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
 

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While Andrew Cuomo may get re-elected this November, I believe if he attempts to seek a lease on the White House he will quickly learn that all things are not possible.
cuomo, pataki, mario, governor
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2014-08-23
Thursday, 23 Oct 2014 08:08 AM
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