Like a wounded bear, Governor Cuomo finally emerged from his Albany lair yesterday – five days after The New York Times made his anti-corruption commission look more like a puppet show than a team of Eliot Nesses.
Giving the Albany and New York City press corps as much advance notice as you'd allow on a high-school scavenger hunt, the governor's press office issued an advisory at 11 p.m. on Sunday about a 10 a.m. event on Monday – in Buffalo. Perhaps the Adirondacks were unavailable on such short notice.
Before the governor finally took questions about the scandal that’s threatening to derail his express bus to an easy re-election, he held what amounted to an Erie County pep rally – with speaker after speaker praising Cuomo for the "Buffalo Billion" – his stimulus plan for the state's second-largest city.
But eventually Cuomo spoke with reporters for more than 20 minutes and discussed the Times story at length with a literary flair that Lewis Carroll would have loved.
Calling the commission's work "a phenomenal success", Cuomo insisted that all of his administration's meddling into work by Moreland Commission investigators was fair play.
"Independence,” the governor said, “doesn’t mean you get holed up in an ivory tower and you don’t talk to anyone.”
In a move that had a feel-bad Soviet-style vibe about it, one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William Fitzpatrick, issued a statement yesterday, professing: “"If I or my co-chairs or any other commissioner had been told or ordered not to pursue a sensitive topic, I can state with a high degree of certainty that we all would have resigned. That never happened."
Nevermind a private e-mail from Fitzpatrick to his colleagues earlier that groused that the governor “needs to understand this is an INDEPENDENT commission and needs to be treated as such.”
Cuomo's father, the former governor, also decided to weigh in on the Moreland mess yesterday, telling The Daily News' Annie Karni in a telephone interview: "Andrew is as honest a politician as we have seen in New York…Whatever other difficulties others might find, I don't find 'em. I don't see them."
It's all very reminiscent of the last time that Andrew Cuomo committed political self-immolation, an ugly episode in 2002 when he unwisely brought up the 9/11 attacks when he was unsuccessfully running for governor against George Pataki.
''There was one leader for 9/11: it was Rudy Giuliani,'' Cuomo said to a small group of startled reporters on his campaign bus. "If it defined George Pataki, it defined George Pataki as not being the leader.”
The days following those remarks were disastrous for Cuomo, who saw his political standing collapse as he refused to apologize for politicizing something that was still very raw in New Yorkers' minds.
And just like he did yesterday, Mario Cuomo in 2002 jumped in to defend his son, telling a newspaper reporter: “I don’t want to see anything negative about him. Please do not hurt this kid.”
But as the wheels came off his campaign, the younger Cuomo never admitted that he may have made a mistake by dragging 9/11 into the race, eventually skipping the state Democratic convention before quitting the campaign shortly before Primary Day.
While Cuomo has a long way to go before his campaign bus gets stuck in that kind of mud, it might make sense to eat some humble pie and admit that maybe for once he should have been an alpha-dog that howled at the moon –rather than at his hand-picked investigators.
But for Andrew Cuomo, being governor means never having to say you're sorry.