You would think Machiavelli was describing Mario Cuomo:
This Lord is very secretive, and I think no one but himself knows what he will do. His highest aides have often assured me that he never reveals his plans until he issues an order, and that is as late as possible, when the thing has to be done, and not otherwise.1
Actually, Machiavelli was reporting on the inscrutable Cesare Borgia. Hanging around the Duke’s court in Imola, Machiavelli complained to his superiors in Florence much as journalists in Albany lament having to explain to their editors why it is impossible to get a straight or simple answer out of Cuomo. Sometimes Machiavelli could not gain access to “the lord.” At other times Cesare would summon him late at night to berate him over the actions of his principals—like Cuomo explaining to a reporter why New York newspapers plot against the Governor of New York.
One should not press the Italian analogy too far—that can lead to the truly despicable whispers about Italian “connections” in Cuomo’s family. Nicholas Pileggi, the expert reporter on “wiseguys,” patiently followed up every rumor about Mafia skeletons in the Cuomo closet, and found nothing to them.2 He questioned the prosecutors who monitored all the tapes of bugged Mafia meetings and phone calls, who had found not even the normal name-dropping of big-time politicians in Cuomo’s case.
Another expert on the subject, the FBI’s Joseph Spinelli, who put Anthony Scotto and others behind bars, is a Cuomo appointee as New York’s inspector general. William Webster, when he was director of the FBI, made a special trip to New York to thank Cuomo for his help in the war on crime. Oddly, some of those who continue to circulate anti-Cuomo rumors without evidence would be the first to object to blanket accusations about Jews or African Americans. Racism comes in many varieties.
Others find the mystery of Mario in some psychic debility—his “Hamlet” hesitancy. Yet Cuomo can act rapidly in a crisis, as he proved during the Ossining prison riot that faced him immediately after he was sworn in as governor. In fact, he likes dramatic gestures that surprise others—and sometimes surprise himself. He took only ten minutes to decide that Soviet jets could not land in New York after the USSR shot down the Korean jetliner. I saw him reassign controversial space at a state hospital, on the spur of the moment, when answering a question at a public event.
Some people think of Cuomo as a tease, one who likes to keep others guessing, as he is purported to have done in the 1988 campaign. Yet he assured several Democratic candidates in that race that he would not enter. Why, then, did he keep kibitzing from the sidelines? He loves to “wargame” political strategies for himself and others—perhaps the one trait he shares with Richard Nixon.
Those who are obsessed by Cuomo’s mythical connections with the Mafia have not enough reflected on…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.