New York Democrats are shaking their heads at the sudden flameout of gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Cuomo. Months ago, he was odds on to win the Democratic nomination against state comptroller Carl McCall. Now Cuomo will be lucky if he even gets on the ballot for the primary in September.
That’s because during this week’s New York Democratic convention in Manhattan, Cuomo pulled out of the nominating process and released his party delegates to nominate McCall.
A few blocks away from the state convention, Cuomo announced that he would attempt to put his name on the Democratic line of the primary ballot by collecting 15,000 names via a petition drive.
“Basically what happened was that Andy wasn’t going to win the nomination outright, and there was a real chance he wasn’t going to get the minimum 25 percent of the vote he needed for an automatic spot on the fall ballot,” says a state Democratic Party staffer. “McCall ran a better race, he’s won the party’s support, but instead of being a party man, Andy’s pissing in the punchbowl.”
Cuomo doesn’t see himself as a loser, though. He told reporters covering the convention that he felt the party system was rigged against him. And that his attempt to register 15,000 names was a more honest approach to winning the Democratic primary.
“If he were honest with himself, he’s realize this is all his fault,” says another Democratic Party operative in the Empire State. “The day he spouted off about Pataki upstate, was the day he sealed his doom.”
You’ll recall several weeks ago Cuomo told New York reporters that he felt Pataki had failed to provide leadership for New York in the aftermath of 9/11. That Pataki had done nothing more than hold Rudy Giuliani’s coat as the tragedy unfolded. Almost immediately, support for Cuomo within the party began to erode. Further eating away at his support was word that President Bill Clinton had quietly been lending his opponent McCall an ear for advice.
Cuomo’s seeming failure could very well doom the son of the former New York governor to years of obscurity. There is no way he could challenge Sen. Charles Schumer for a Senate seat in 2004, and he has told associates he would never consider a run for a House seat if something were to open up.
“You’re talking about a kid who could have been a national star for old line liberal Democrats for years to come if he had just kept his mouth shut and run a smart campaign,” says a campaign adviser to McCall. “But he couldn’t help himself. Maybe he picked this trick up from his years working for Clinton.”
Cuomo, who married into the Kennedy family, is said not to have sought advice from his more successful in-laws. That said, state Democratic insiders don’t expect him to go away from long. “He’s a son of New York, and every time he approaches me for his support he’ll have it,” says a donor to the Cuomo cause. “He’s assured us that if this doesn’t work out, he will come back and take another wack at it.”
Sheila P. Burke, former chief of staff to Sen. Bob Dole, and a sometime supporter of the Clinton administration during the time when Dole was Republican leader in the Senate, returned quietly to Washington nearly two years ago to become Smithsonian undersecretary for American museums and national programs. In late 1996 she’d left Washington to serve as executive dean at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “She has her eye on running the whole show down the road, if she gets the chance,” says a former Capitol Hill colleague.
But things are getting rocky over at the castle in Smithsonian land. Last week, the institution’s chief accountant resigned over questions about expense account payments made when in the employ of another company. While Burke isn’t involved in any way, this is but the latest in a string of controversies besetting the huge and seemingly staid museum and research facility that sprawls across Washington.
The Smithsonian has been heavily criticized for its corporate fundraising to offset expenses not covered by federal underwriting or the Smithsonian’s endowment. And just as it has been raising money, it has also been cutting back on research projects, while spending millions on such things as Asian and African museums and an Air and Space Museum annex.
Burke, whose background and specialty while working on Capitol Hill was healthcare, would appear to be an odd choice for the Smithsonian. But few in Washington had the influence and understood how to use it like Burke. Those in the know say that if unrest continues at the Smithsonian, she could look elsewhere. “There are some other options. The Red Cross, where Dole’s wife was president, the United Way in Washington,” says a former colleague. “She’s shown she has management talent, and she’s a creature of Washington, and with a Republican administration she has contacts.”