Streams

Brian Lehrer: Andrew Cuomo His Own Worst Enemy?

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Carl McCall has won the backing of the New York State Democratic Party in his campaign for governor. But his endorsement was upstaged by the decision of his rival, Andrew Cuomo, to skip the party convention altogether and go right onto the September primary.

WNYC's Brian Lehrer wonders if Cuomo is becoming his own worst enemy.

Brian Lehrer: Andrew Cuomo is basing his appeal largely on his personality. He and McCall differ little if any on the issues, so Cuomo's message is: I'm more aggressive than he is, more passionate, and more willing to make waves. That would make me a tougher challenger for Pataki and a better governor.

But Cuomo's personality - maybe we should say his charcater - is also getting in his way.

For example, his decision this week to skip the state democratic convention raises questions about his loyalty. He is, after all, a New York state democrat. he played a kind of party whip role when his father was governor, helping to keep other democrats on Mario's message. But rather than suffer the indignity of coming in a weak second for the party's endorsement this week, he bolted, implying that the party machinery he helped to build was, well, just a machine. Now it's certainly true that the convention's endorsement is somewhere between laughable and irrelevant to who wins the primary. But a political party can be a meaningful community, especially in a party as diverse as the New York state democrats. Many of the delegates Cuomo dissed are the party's core members: union activists, environmentalists, women's group leaders and others doing the day to day organizing for causes Cuomo purports to represent. Did too much personal ambition cause Cuomo to weaken the community from which he comes?


Which brings up another character question: about his judgment. Andrew Cuomo has made news three times during this campaign, each time for alienating a constituency. Last fall, he got caught on tape saying an endorsement of McCall by Latino leaders would be a racial contract that should not be allowed to stand. When the tape became public, he never explained why ethnic coalitions - a staple of New York politics - suddenly became dirty pool, other than that this one might disadvantage him.

Of course, there was the "he just held Giuliani's coat" remark last month about governor Pataki after 9/11, which almost no one wanted to hear, and now his transparent abandonment of the convention. No one believes Cuomo when he frames it as a matter of populist principle. So one begins to wonder: is he really more aggressive than McCall, or just less careful?

Andrew Cuomo IS a man of ideas. A decade ago, his creative approach to homelessness in New York won him kudos from both left and right and landed him a job as president Clinton's housing secretary. He COULD be out there running on the future and making a case that Carl McCall has not shown the same spark. The McCall campaign has been short on both energy and innovation. Cuomo may well be the better candidate. But instead of running a campaign of ideas, Cuomo is tearing down the very political bridges he'll need to win - both in the September primary and the November election.

As Mark Green learned the hard way last year, New York democrats will vote for an acceptable republican if they're angry enough. And personality matters. If Cuomo is running on whom he is, he might need a better mirror.

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