Washington Prowler

Cuomo’s Crackup

And why it's probably left Bill Clinton gleeful. At least until he pondered who would pay for his next return to Arkansas.

By 4.22.02

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ANDY FIDDLES AND BURNS
Maybe it's the drought conditions and he's not getting enough fluids. That, or it's that hot Italian temper. Whatever, New York Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo went a bit nuts last week, saying Empire Staters should support him over Gov. George Pataki because the incumbent "failed to lead New York" after Sept. 11.

Cuomo's rant included a distasteful allusion to Pataki "playing second fiddle" to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "while the city burned."

"There was one leader for 9/11: it was Rudy Giuliani," Cuomo, told reporters on his campaign bus. Pataki "stood behind the leader. He held the leader's coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader."

"We were stunned at the anger," says a reporter who was riding on the bus. "Someone asked him if he was serious, or if he wanted to amend his comments for the record and he just kept spewing about Pataki. It was in shockingly bad taste."

Cuomo's antics are apparently the result of internal polling his campaign has undertaken that shows him losing ground to Democratic primary opponent, state comptroller Carl McCall. "We're still up, but the numbers are real soft," says a pollster who has done work for Cuomo in the past six months. "If this helps him with the hardcore Democrats who have been walking away from him for McCall, then maybe it was worth the risk. But I don't even think his father [former Gov. Mario Cuomo] would have approved of this kind of hatchet job. I think this actually hurts him."

PAYBACK TIME
In the battle for the Democratic nomination for New York governor, there appear to be some lingering hard feelings between former President Bill Clinton and the Cuomo family. You'll recall that back in 1992, Clinton was forced to apologize to then-Gov. Mario Cuomo for comments he made about the governor's Italian ethnicity in taped conversations between Clinton and Ms. Gennifer Flowers.

Clinton attempted to make right by giving Cuomo's son a job in his administration as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Andrew Cuomo repaid that generosity by largely ignoring Clinton during his tenure at HUD, making sure the Cuomo name was always first on press releases and burying the administration name deep in promotional material. "It was always about Andy and the job he was doing, he never gave Clinton credit," says a former HUD staffer under Cuomo.

Now Clinton is getting some payback. While he has publicly attempted to stay above the fray in the primary battle between Andrew Cuomo and state comptroller Carl McCall, Clinton aides say that behind the scenes Clinton has been giving McCall's campaign advice on how to take Cuomo down.

"McCall is still trailing and with the Cuomo name and state political machine he's an underdog," says a current Clinton staffer. "I think the president relishes and relates to McCall's situation and wants to help."

McCall and his staff are said to have visited Clinton on several occasions at his Harlem offices for meetings and strategy sessions.

IT AIN'T HOME NO MORE
Bill Clinton will tell anyone he loves living in New York. Everyone also knows he loves visiting Washington. But does he still love Arkansas? True, he's spending some time down south, campaigning and fundraising for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross in Hot Springs, Clinton's old stomping grounds. But he's not doing it out of the kindness of his heart. "Mr. Clinton doesn't do charity," says a campaign volunteer for Ross. "We're paying his expenses on this trip."

You have to pay if you want Clinton to play. "Let's face it, no one wanted Carter around after he left office," says a DNC advance staffer. "Clinton's really the first guy we've had in a while to move around the country. Of course we have to pay his expenses."

Ross had extended invitations to Clinton in the past but those invites never included an all-expense-paid trip home.

"Clinton doesn't have a home in Arkansas, unless you count the home his mother lived in," says the DNC advance person. "Who knows if Clinton even considers it his home anymore? Most likely he thinks he's a New Yorker."

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