Jewish World Review May 1, 2002/ 19 Iyar 5762


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Consumer Reports

Another Cuomo
bites the dust? | The usually astute Michael Tomasky is lost in the fog of Andrew Cuomo.

Professionally, Tomasky has seen better days: an amiable left-of-center Democrat and industrious political reporter whose coverage of Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign was excellent, he still seems shell-shocked at Mike Bloomberg's fluke mayoral victory over Mark Green last November.

Also, like many inferior pundits-The New Yorker's older Hendrik Hertzberg would benefit from Tomasky's tutelage; instead he dashes off Robert Shrum-influenced screeds-the New York columnist is still smarting from President Bush's victory over Al Gore 16 months ago. In addition, Tomasky's once-regular New York forum now appears only sporadically. This may have nothing at all to do with him; the weekly's ditzy editor, Caroline Miller, has similarly stiffed "National Interest" writer Tucker Carlson, preferring to chase the listings magazine Time Out with trivial entertainment and lifestyle content. As a result, Tomasky's been slumming at other publications like The American Prospect and The Nation.

Take his gung-ho piece about hothead Andrew Cuomo, "The Action Figure," in New York's April 29 issue. The former Bill Clinton cabinet member, who's been running for New York's governorship for at least three years, notoriously blasted incumbent George Pataki on April 17 for his conduct after the Sept. 11 destruction of the World Trade Center. On a bus trip from Utica to Buffalo, the grade-A opportunist told reporters: "There was one leader for 9/11: it was Rudy Giuliani. If it defined George Pataki, it defined George Pataki as not being the leader. He stood behind the leader. He held the leader's coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader."

Giuliani, who endorsed Cuomo's father over Pataki in 1994, was quick to strike back, saying: "I held his coat as often as he held mine. We were inseparable... If he fights the campaign with this strategy, George Pataki should win unanimously. I don't get it."

Can he hear the sound
of another Cuomo career ending?

Pataki's response was more muted; he obviously didn't want to get into a politically charged argument with his probable opponent. (Cuomo first has to defeat comptroller Carl McCall, whose campaign, until this point, has been lackluster despite receiving endorsements from numerous black leaders, like the blustery Rep. Charles Rangel.) Pataki simply said: "I'm just stunned by the comments. There are things I could say. I don't think it's appropriate. I think it's just very sad."

Double-talk, of course. The Pataki campaign, already way ahead of both Cuomo's and McCall's in the polls (54-30 and 56-29 percent, respectively, in an April 18 Quinnipiac survey), was handed a gift-wrapped gaffe from the never-elected Andrew, one that enraged not only Republicans but New York City Democrats and unions as well. The Bridge and Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association released this statement: "Perhaps Andrew Cuomo should attend some of the funerals of our fallen heroes so he would understand that using Sept. 11 as a political sound bite is a disgusting and despicable act."

Denis Hughes, president of New York's two-million-member AFL-CIO, and a backer of both Hillary Clinton and Gore in 2000, added that he had "nothing but admiration for the way Gov. Pataki handled this."

Finally, an April 19 editorial in The New York Times, while throwing a few jabs at Pataki, said: "Mr. Giuliani's role during those days has made him an international celebrity. Any politician would have wanted that opportunity to be the city's leader then, and the fact that Mr. Pataki showed no jealousy about his subsidiary role seemed to be the sign of real maturity, and a perfect sense of priorities. When voters elect a leader, they are looking for a whole panoply of useful qualities. One of them is an ability to sense when an occasion is about something greater than yourself. Mr. Pataki demonstrated that part of leadership on Sept. 11. Mr. Cuomo has yet to demonstrate it during this campaign."


Tomasky, who makes the valid point that Pataki is a slowpoke who hasn't distinguished himself with coherent plans to rebuild downtown, and acknowledges that Cuomo made a "dumb mistake" in his remarks about the Governor, misses the point in his Go, Andy! column. He's hoping, if not outright predicting, that citizens will choose the younger Cuomo's liberal platform over Pataki's moderate Republican set of issues, rather than vote on the basis of emotion. That's just too cerebral: the events of Sept. 11 immediately became the new "third rail" of American politics, especially in New York. Tomasky enthuses: "This guy has got something. He's not warm and soulful, like Bill Clinton [yikes!]; he's full of sharp edges. But the edges are part of his energy, and if there's one quality that just explodes out of him, it's energy."

So what? Republican Bret Schundler, who was trounced in last fall's New Jersey gubernatorial election (another political victim of 9/11 in that the White House couldn't campaign for him as expected), was an "energy" machine, filled with innovative ideas for the state, and it got him nowhere against the Democratic hack Jim McGreevey. (I wonder if the new governor's plan to hike property taxes will hurt the slippery Robert Torricelli-as Bill Bradley was by Jim Florio in 1990-in his reelection bid this November.)

Ideology has clouded Tomasky's usually clear political instincts. He claims Andrew Cuomo is a "complicated" pol: I say he's a self-aggrandizing brat who's shamelessly parlayed his Kennedy connections (his wife is one of Bobby's daughters) and Clinton White House tenure to build a campaign war chest.

About the only thing positive I can ascribe to scurvy Andy is his obvious devotion to St. Mario: his desire to avenge his father's '94 defeat to Pataki doesn't necessarily qualify him for office, but the family loyalty is admirable.

One more excerpt from Tomasky's column that shows he's not thinking clearly: "Conventional wisdom says the worst thing a candidate can be is complicated. Think Al Gore here. [Frankly, I think "liar" when Gore's name comes up.] It's uncomplicated that the voters want, or so the media high priests tell us [Who are those "media high priests," Mike? What about naming names?]; people without scars, burdens, or doubts (usually these also happen to be politicians who can't sustain an unscripted thought past three sentences, which is somehow considered a plus). Think Mike Bloomberg, George Bush, and, of course, George Pataki."

So Bloomberg, a novice politician who's also a brilliant business entrepreneur, is a dummy? And Bush, who doesn't write or speak as well as many journalists (and that's what counts, after all, in measuring intelligence) but nonetheless upset the popular Ann Richards for the Texas governorship in '94, doesn't have anything on the ball? As for Pataki, he may shamelessly pander to untapped (for a Republican) constituencies for votes, and harbor totally unrealistic hopes of replacing Dick Cheney in Bush's 2004 campaign, but the man's not stupid.

Neither is Tomasky, even though this particular column, written in pique, despair or frustration, temporarily (I hope) puts him in the penalty box with real political dunces like Eric Alterman, Eleanor Clift, Thomas Oliphant and Robert Kuttner.

That's an ugly crowd to hang out with, Mike. Snap out of it.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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