Cuomo Promotion Seems to Bar Challenge to D'Amato
By Guy Gugliotta
Despite considerable achievements of his own, Andrew M. Cuomo up to now has lived at least part his public life in the reflected glory of his famous father. Now he will get to make his own mistakes, and forge his own reputation.
The man President Clinton named to be the new secretary of housing and urban development yesterday is a 39-year-old lawyer believed to have political ambitions nurtured as the onetime campaign manager and top aide for former New York governor Mario M. Cuomo (D).
But he has also served for four years as HUD's assistant secretary for community planning and development, where he has played pivotal roles in the department's initiatives on homelessness, empowerment zones and program consolidation.
Until yesterday, Cuomo had talked of going home to New York, and left open a possible challenge to Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) in 1998. Such a race, against the man who orchestrated Gov. Cuomo's 1994 reelection defeat, would have provided high drama for those steeped in the ethos of political payback.
But apparently it will not happen. After accepting the HUD appointment during a telephone conversation with Clinton Thursday night, Cuomo abandoned immediate political plans, and even suggested his strong relationship with Vice President Gore might translate into a protracted stay at HUD. "I will be at HUD for four years, maybe even eight years, in the first Gore term," Cuomo said. "That is, unless the president asks me to do something else, or nothing else. That would preclude any political ambitions."
And by accepting the Clinton appointment, Cuomo committed himself to build on the substantial reforms wrought under the leadership of HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, who will leave the job next month.
Under Cisneros, and with Cuomo as a leading lieutenant, HUD has abolished or consolidated scores of programs, streamlined delivery of services and simplified one of the most confusing sets of regulations in the federal government. None of this should change.
Cuomo "is a believer in doing what's right, and he is a determined leader who gets it done," Clinton said in announcing Cuomo's nomination. "His test is never soft sentiments, but hard results."
Sometimes achieved with a hard edge. When he was carrying the governor's baggage or running a nonprofit homeless program in New York, Cuomo often displayed sharp elbows, but his friends noted that he was young, 23 and just out of law school when he took over as campaign manager during his father's first gubernatorial campaign in 1982. "Some people found him to be very aggressive and were not fond of him," said former New York state Democratic Party chair John Marino. "That was 15 years ago. Anyone who says that now is out of touch."
After stints as his father's unpaid adviser, a public prosecutor and private practice lawyer, Cuomo in 1986 founded the Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged (HELP) in New York City, developing what he called a "continuum of care" for the homeless, holding that effective housing programs needed to be accompanied by drug and medical treatment, education and job training.
He brought the concept to HUD in 1993, and it became the cornerstone of the Clinton administration's homeless initiative. Since 1993 money for homeless programs has risen from $572 million to as high as $1.8 billion a year.
Cuomo was also instrumental with Cisneros in developing the nation's first federal "empowerment zones," using tax breaks and other economic incentives to bring private sector development to inner city neighborhoods.
This idea, a GOP favorite, highlighted Cisneros's and Cuomo's willingness to depart from traditional liberal solutions, a view Cuomo shares. "Unlike Mario, Andrew is not a liberal or a conservative," Marino said. "He is a guy who believes you should do what works."
It was Cuomo in early 1995 who suggested in a brainstorming session with other HUD assistant secretaries that the department consider replacing scores of inefficient programs with a few simple block grants. The proposal, adopted by Cisneros and presented to the new Republican Congress, was so radical that it helped defuse GOP efforts to abolish HUD. With the experience of these wars still fresh, Cuomo brings to HUD an institutional continuity enjoyed by few Clinton Cabinet departments.
Cuomo said he is satisfied with the department restructuring achieved by HUD, which has gone from more than 100 programs to fewer than 30 in the last two years, suggesting that further consolidation is unnecessary.
He also said he would continue public housing reforms inaugurated under Cisneros, calling for the destruction of 100,000 of the nation's worst units by the end of the century.
From the beginning, Cuomo displayed much of the same personal magnetism as his father. And he is clearly his father's son: a tall, dark-haired man, but without the droopy eyes and the bald spot.
"I never saw myself as being in his shadow," Cuomo said of his father. "I think when you are associated with a public person, the public tends to see one individual in the unit, until the other person has a similar public profile."
That time has arrived. Besides enjoying Clinton's confidence, he also has a close relationship with Gore, whom he advised before this year's vice presidential debate. And he is married to Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, further enhancing his political pedigree.
Finally, he has the rhetorical flair common to Cuomos and Kennedys: "We at HUD share your vision for a new era of opportunity, and your commitment to create a future in which no one is left behind," he told Clinton in brief remarks yesterday, "a future in which the bright sun of opportunity will reach those who have lived too long in the shadows."
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company