The first time I came face to face with Andrew Cuomo, he threatened to punch me.
In September 1977, while I was waiting to escort Conservative Party nominee Barry Farber into an NYC mayoral candidates’ forum held at St. Sebastian’s parish hall in Woodside, Queens, I booed Mario Cuomo when he took to the podium. And at 6-foot, 6-inches tall, I stood out as the guilty culprit.
Shortly thereafter, when poking my head outside to see if Farber’s car had pulled up, Andrew Cuomo turned to several of his buddies, and said, “Let’s go beat the s---t out of that guy.”
An old friend overhearing Cuomo, followed them outside and waved his cane as they approached me. Having second thoughts, the hooligans retreated back into the parish hall.
The image of the 19-year-old Cuomo that night has stuck with me all these years, because from that time until he announced his resignation on August 10, he had not changed very much. He has always been a ruthless bully.
During the 1977 mayoral battle between Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch, the rules of civility didn’t apply to Andrew. To his dying day, Koch held him responsible for “VOTE FOR CUOMO, NOT THE HOMO” flyers that circulated throughout Queens County.
Serving as campaign manager in Mario’s successful races for lieutenant-governor in 1978, and governor in 1982, Andrew’s “take no prisoners” reputation grew by leaps and bounds.
On election night 1982, Governor-elect Cuomo, describing his son as “24 going on 68,” named him head of his transition team. In that job, Andrew further enhanced his reputation for playing political hardball as he aggressively fired holdovers from the outgoing Carey administration.
As the governor’s Special Assistant, Andrew was known as an intolerant political hothead and was dubbed the “Prince of Darkness.”
Like his father, Andrew has trusted only family members.
Like his father, Andrew has been a control freak, incapable of delegating authority to executive chamber subordinates. His finger had to be in every governmental pie. He insisted on total control over every decision, even routine ones.
Staff members feared Andrew’s wrath. They were afraid to speak or negotiate in his name. There wasn’t anyone who could stand up to him and say “no” to his demands or to criticize his behavior.
One significant difference between father and son: Mario’s political role model was St. Thomas More; Andrew’s was Machiavelli.
In fact, when Andrew was secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he distributed to his senior staff copies of Machiavelli’s The Prince, telling them, “This is my leadership philosophy.”
Unlike his father, Andrew had no core governing principles. Whatever worked to maintain his power was all that mattered.
And while Mario looked to Andrew to be his political henchman, Andrew served as his own enforcer. He thought nothing of badgering or verbally assaulting anyone who got in his way. By all accounts, he relished the role.
As the years passed, Andrew’s ruthless approach to governing took its toll. State employees and elected officials may have feared him, but they also hated him with a passion.
Albany political wags agree that after 10 years in office, Cuomo had few friends and a long list of enemies. Hence, it came as no surprise that he had little support after revelations of his alleged public and private behavior made front-page headlines.
Like Richard Nixon in 1974, Cuomo had given his adversaries a sword and they used it with relish to cut him to pieces.
When Cuomo’s most ardent defender, Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa, abandoned him, one could hear the death knell. Forty-eight hours later, the forsaken governor announced he was resigning.
This sad ending did not have to be.
After his disastrous campaign for governor in 2002, I, and many others, thought Andrew had learned his lesson — that he was discarding Machiavelli.
He reached out to political conservatives like me to discuss policy issues. He even appointed me to his gubernatorial transition team and to his council of Economic and Fiscal Advisors.
But his outreach was a charade. By the end of his first year in office, Andrew reversed to his old self — the great intimidator, the hulking bully.
Yet, while Cuomo has dodged an impeachment trial conviction, he has imposed on himself a life sentence.
For the remainder of his days, he must live with the knowledge that he disgraced his family name.
Andrew’s description of his father as a public intellectual, as a humanist who “had strong feelings of right and wrong based on his religion, philosophy, and life experiences,” will take a backseat to Andrew’s fall from grace.
And that is a tragedy.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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