William O’Shaughnessy Interview with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

A far-ranging interview with Governor Andrew Cuomo … like you’ve never heard him.  He almost sounds like Mario on this one.

Earlier today he spoke with William O’Shaughnessy, Editorial Director of Whitney Global Media’s WVOX, an old family friend of the Cuomo Family. 

His stunningly candid, exclusive interview with Governor Cuomo follows. 


William O’Shaughnessy:

This is Bill O’Shaughnessy with a very special interview.  We switch to his Office in Manhattan for the Governor of New York … Andrew Mark Cuomo.  Governor Cuomo, I’ve known you for a long time.  Your family has meant a lot to me and mine.  Will you trust me to conduct myself properly?

Governor Cuomo:

I always trust you … to conduct yourself properly, no!  But I do have a deep trust for you. And I love how you say Gover-NORE.  And my Father loved how you said Gover-NORE.  And my Father loved you, Bill.  He had tremendous respect and tremendous affection for you, always.  And it was well deserved.  As do I.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor Cuomo, how is your Mother, Matilda Raffa Cuomo doing?

Governor Cuomo:

She is indefatigable.  She is just the Energizer Bunny.  She’s doing very well.  She’s staying in touch with all the grandchildren.  She’s calling and she’s remembering birthdays. She’s also picked up, Bill, on the Mentoring that meant so much to her.  She’s doing that on a State-wide basis.  As you know, she was a public-school teacher and she never really stopped teaching.  When we lost my Father and she had that void in her life that she needed to fill, I think, sub-consciously, she re-engaged in Mentoring with an energy that was just unbelievable. I think it was just partially her therapy to deal with the loss. 

Because, as you know, her whole life was my Father.  They were together all the time.  They did everything together.  It’s such a big hole in her life.  You go into the apartment and it’s like a shrine to my Father.  She’s doing the Mentoring.  She’s staying in touch with the grandchildren.  She gives me her commentary on the news accounts on a daily basis.  She’s sharp as a tack. She’s all “sugar,” my Mother. She’s all sweetness, she always has been.  She’s all genuineness, even being exposed to the rough edges of politics for all those years.  She never lost her fundamental sweetness and softness.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor Cuomo, your Mother told me something I’d never heard about you. First of all, she calls you the Energizer Governor!  You called her the Energizer Mother!  But she said sometimes you pull yourself out of the frantic, busy, political life and go over and just sit on her terrace. She says you like her potato omelet!    What’s so great about them?

Governor Cuomo:

She makes a potato omelet like no other potato omelet!  (laughter)  It is delicious.  I tell you … when my Father was alive, I went over all the time because he wasn’t well, toward the end.  So I just wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.  I just loved to talk to him as we both did, whether agree with him or disagree with him.  It was just a delightful conversation and always an exciting conversation.  Since my Father has been gone I go over more just to spend time with my Mother. 

There’s a sadness for me when I go there because there is so much of my Father in that apartment.  So many memories.  But she just loves quality time and she loves to cook.  As you know, she always has … in that Italian tradition where the act of loving is eating, you’re around a table.  She does make a phenomenal potato omelet and it is my favorite.  But it’s just an excuse to spend time with her and catch up and to get her to slow down because she’s out every night! She’s doing events and she’s recruiting for her Mentoring program.  I worry about her because she’s not as young as she used to be. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

How old is Matilda Raffa Cuomo?

Governor Cuomo:

I cannot tell you. She is 39 years old.  That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, there’s so much to cover.  We appreciate the few moments while we’re in your care and keeping – or rather you’re in ours!  These are not alone challenging times, these are awful, cruel, mean times.  First of all, you won the Primary by a hell of a lot more than people thought you were going to do.  How did the Primary set with you?  It was pretty nasty.

Governor Cuomo:

Well, first of all, these are ugly, ugly nasty times.  People are anxious. They are fearful.  It can bring out the worst of human nature and I’m afraid it has.  I’m afraid the actions of the Federal government actually have made it worse.  I think the President incites people.  I think the President plays on people’s fears and uses it politically.  I think that’s very unfortunate.  The Primary, and when I talk to you, Bill, I think of my Father and the conversations that you guys had, but during my Father’s time there was always an activist-left Agenda for the Democratic Party.

There used to be a group called the NDC – New Democratic Coalition.  They used to harass my Father because he wasn’t liberal enough, believe it or not.  Most people would say he was a great liberal.  Many people would say he was too liberal.  But there was a Left to my Father who complained that he was not left enough.  He would say they were “Professional Liberals” or Professional Political People.  Meaning that they have a valid point of view … but it’s a professional point of view as opposed to a populist point of view. 

I think that’s actually exasperated now – and if I could just take another second on it …  you have a group of political people who are engaged on a daily basis for one reason or another.  They’re running an organization or they are a political reporter or blogger.  And the communication and intensity among them is much higher.  There’s Twitter … there’s Instagram … and the energy they generate amongst themselves is much higher than it has been in the past and some of them then believe that is Reality.  It’s not reality.  That’s their own political reality. 

Reality is what people live day to day who aren’t reading the blogs because they have jobs and they are trying to make ends meet.  And when it came to the Primary, this State is the most progressive state in the United States of America!  Not because a blogger opines.  But because people know it.  People know that we passed ‘Marriage Equality.”  It was a very big deal.  They know that I passed the “Gun Safety Law” … they lived it.  They heard it.  They saw the controversy.  They know that I raised the Minimum Wage to the highest in the country because 2.3 million people got a raise.  That’s how they know. They see it in their paychecks.  They know that we have the best free college tuition for middle class families in the country because they are looking at it for their child.  So I understand the academic attack … but you’re not going to tell the people in this State that I’m not a progressive.  They know differently.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, I don’t want to label you, sir.  But are you a centrist?  Or a progressive … who the hell are you? 

Governor Cuomo:

I am a pragmatic progressive.  Whose definition was that, Bill?

William O’Shaughnessy:

That was your Father, of sainted memory. 

Governor Cuomo:

Think about that for a second.  Pragmatic progressive.  Now this is Mario Cuomo, the greatest liberal … the greatest intellectual politician.  Pragmatic Progressive.  I hated the term, by the way.  No one understands what that means.  And he would say – as only he could say:  If they’re not smart enough to know what it means … I don’t care!   Pragmatic Progressive.  It almost sounded like an oxymoron.  But his point was … you can’t be a progressive if you are not Pragmatic.  There is no academic progressive politics.  Progressive politics happens in actuality.  There is no theoretical Progressive politics. 

Either you made my life better or you didn’t.  Either I have more bread on my table or I don’t.  I don’t want to hear your theory and your intellectual exercise and your academic political analysis.  I want progress in my life because I need it because I’m poor.  I’m a working family … I’m disabled.  Because I’m a victim of discrimination.  So I need progress.  So his point was Progressive needs a modifier.  And the modifier is the words Pragmatic.  Not because it is an oxymoron or inconsistent.  But it is a modifier.  It is the practical Progress.  It is the actuality and the concrete accomplishment of the progressive theory.  That was his point. 

And when you are an executive, you realize very quickly – as opposed to a legislative branch or an academic – to make actual change.  That is much harder. That involves compromise.  It involves nuance.  It involves fashioning a specific solution to a problem.  It is not as easy as just opining or pontificating about absolute idealism.  The pragmatic takes you to a different place.  We now have to get it done.  That means I have to get a piece of legislation passed.  That means I have to talk to Republicans.  That means I have to talk to conservative Democrats.  That means we’re going to have to shift a little bit from the ideal because we live in the real … and that is the pragmatic part. 

He would voice this in the on-going debate he had at that time with the people at the time who were to his left and he would say Look … it’s very easy to be a purist ideologically if you don’t have to get anything done, right?  If all it is about writing a paper on it or giving a speech on it, then it’s easy to advocate for the perfect.  But if you have to get something done as a executive or because you believe people actually need help, and because you actually want to improve the situation, that then introduces the element of pragmatism.  So he was a Pragmatic Progressive.  And that’s what I would call myself.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, first of all, the clock is ticking.  The Democrats, your party, they’ve got to put somebody against President Trump.  I risk our friendship of many, many years.  Is it possible to like Donald Trump – President Trump – and Governor Cuomo?

Governor Cuomo:

Anything is possible!  Can you like both theories … both philosophies?  No.  My philosophy, my theory of government is diametrically opposed.

William O’Shaughnessy:

How so?

Governor Cuomo:

This President delights in division.  He thrives in division.  It’s not just that he thrives in competition … or he thrives in confrontation.  He thrives in division.  He looks to energize people through anger, I believe.  I try to do the opposite.  I try to appeal to people’s better angels.  Now, it’s much easier to appeal to fear as opposed to love. 

Hate is, in many ways, easier to generate than love is to generate. And when people are anxious to begin with, as they are now – they are economically anxious, etc. – it’s easier to give them a target for that anxiety and to vent for that anxiety. And to say it’s them over there.  They are the problem.  The different people are the problem.  You know the different people … people who pray to a different God.  The people with a different sexual orientation.  The people with different skin color.   The people who speak a different language.  There’s the target!  And I believe that’s the course that the President follows. 

Now, Governor of New York, 19 million people from all over the globe, you start to divide us … that unleashes a cancer in the body politic because what you feel everyday in New York is … we are all about differences.  You start to demonize differences … that is incendiary and that is spontaneous combustion where you would make the situation intolerable.  Now is it harder to motivate people by the positive?  Yes.  Is it harder to explain to people that creating a situation where we all do well enures to your personal benefit ultimately. That the concept of community is not just self-lessness but also selfishness.  That you can benefit when others benefit?  Yes. 

That’s a much harder case to make.  Especially when people are angry. 

But that is the case that I preach.  And the President does the opposite.  We had a situation over this past weekend, Bill, for all your listeners who haven’t been able to detect … You are a Republican the last time I checked!  The Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City invites in a group called the Proud Boys … who are the Proud Boys?  They are a hate group.  They are white nationalists.  They are White Supremacists. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

They call themselves Western Chauvinists!

Governor Cuomo:

Western Chauvinists!  What a label!  They have a long history of hateful speech.  They advocate violence.  Metropolitan Republican Club brings them in.  They offer no real explanation.  They said Free Speech … we believe in Free Speech.  So I guess the Republican Party will invite the Ku Klux Klan next week in their continuing series of “Free Speech” scenarios. It’s hateful.  It’s demeaning to who we are in New York.  It’s demeaning to a productive political dialogue.  They invited them.  There was then vandalism and should be prosecuted.  And then there was violence afterwards.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Didn’t you have a message as a “Queens guy” for this group?

Governor Cuomo:

Well, I said that they are a bunch of thugs! 

William O’Shaughnessy:

That’s pretty clear …

Governor Cuomo:

That was as far as I will allow my Queens roots to take me because I try to maintain basic protocol now as Governor of the State of New York.  But these are just thugs.  I also called them that which was also reminiscent of my Queens roots.  But that’s who they are.  It’s incendiary and it is disgusting.  And I believe it was tactical …  I believe to fire up the Republican base for the mid-term elections in November which are very, very important for the Republican Party.  They use the flames of bigotry and racism and sexism to fire up their base.  I believe that’s what they’re doing.  I believe the Metropolitan Republican Club mirrored what President Trump was saying nationally about the importance of the mid-terms and getting out the vote. And it’s a shame because I remember the Republican Party. Nelson Rockefeller, Senator Javits, Warren Anderson … you could have principled political differences.  But the Republican Party was a party of honor and values.  And what we’re seeing now, Bill, this is a different Republican Party.  This is the Republican Party of a brand of extremist conservatives that we haven’t seen before.

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, you said that you hold the president responsible.  Do you really mean that?

Governor Cuomo:

I believe the national Republican strategy is to fire up the base.  And the President was saying that the Democrats are bad people and that they’re a mob and they create chaos.  The President was going on this weekend about his take on the Civil War and Robert E. Lee.  The President said after Charlottesville when you had White Supremacists rallying and protestors on the other side and Klu Klux Klan rallying … he said there are good people on both sides.  That, Bill, was – to me – the single most damning statement he’s made.  Because there are no good White Supremacists!  And you should never suggest that to the American people. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor … first of all.  I am almost at a loss for words as I listen to you today.  You are so profound dealing with the great issues. Today I’m listening … and you really are your Father’s Son.  I’ve got to ask, as you prepare to move forward … people are starting to talk about you … I’ll lay it right on the table … for president of the United States.  You’re starting to get into the national dialogue on this thing.  Are you interested?  Would you do it?

Governor Cuomo:

I’m interested in one thing which is running for governor and being the best governor that I can be.  The National Agenda is in many ways the New York Agenda in a way it’s never been before, Bill.   With their now takeover of the Supreme Court and with their legislative agenda, you’re talking about a woman’s right to choose being overturned with Roe v. Wade … you’re talking about gun safety laws  … you’re talking about basic healthcare for people … you’re talking about Criminal Justice Policy … you’re talking about Public Education.  Those are the core issues for New York State. 

You know in the old days, the Federal Government would do defense policy and we’d have a great debate about Defense Policy.  But the State ran state issues.  Today, many of the state issues are going to be decided by Washington and what they do.  So the confluence of the two agendas has never been stronger.

But I’m running for Governor.  I love what I’m doing.  I believe I’m making a difference. And as long as I’m making a positive difference, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor, I hear them knocking on the door so I’ll be very brief and rap this up.  You’ve given us some beautiful and wonderful stuff.  The book on Andrew Cuomo … on Governor Andrew Cuomo … is that he’s respected.  Even your critics “respect.” He’s got “dynamism.”  Nobody knows the levers of government like Governor Cuomo.  He’s the Doer.  He’s the Mechanic.  You are also the son of a man they called “the great philosopher-statesman of the American nation.”  The Boston Globe said that.  I hear that today.  I hear it in your voice.  I hear it in your thoughtful comments.  Why the hell don’t you talk more like this more often?

Governor Cuomo:

You know, Bill … it was a different time when my Father governed.  They don’t give you more than 30 seconds today.  The intelligence … the substance of government, the theory of government, the philosophy of government.  There’s very little appetite for that now.  I don’t want to get myself into too much trouble.  But we had great reporters back then where you could have a two-hour conversation on an issue before they would write a story and they would think about it and research it. 

We’re in an age of blogs and tweets and frankly reporters who don’t have the background or the time to develop a really substantive piece.  My Father was a brilliant communicator.  He was a brilliant intellectual.  But he also had that pragmatic side.  Part of it, I think, is a reaction to what they said about my Father … because they said that about my Father.  But also remember they said, unfairly – but so much of this business is unfair – but he didn’t accomplish enough, right?  The naysayers – the nasty ones – and I won’t mention any names …

William O’Shaughnessy:

The “dumb blonde argument” – he was so articulate …

Governor Cuomo:

Right … he gave a great speech, but he didn’t get anything done.  He was a great talker – that’s right.  He called it the “dumb blonde!”  You can’t say that anymore, by the way. But he did call it the “Dumb Blonde Syndrome.” 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Sir, let me ask you … as you go forward for governor or president or whatever is in your future Andrew Mark Cuomo … do you want to be loved or do you want to be respected?

Because as I hear you today on this rainy, drodsome day, you’re not really showing this inner, wonderful stuff to many people.  Do you want to be loved or respected?

Governor Cuomo:

I want to be loved by the people I respect!

William O’Shaughnessy:

I’m going to give you the final word, sir.  We’re very grateful to you.  You are your Father’s son.  Thank you ..

Governor Cuomo:

Thank you. Good to talk to you, my Brother Bill.

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published.  He is currently working on his fifth book RADIOactive for Fordham University Press, another anthology with interviews, commentaries, speeches and tributes.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher
Whitney Media
914-235-3279
cindy@wvox.com

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