While I’m remembering my career in small-town media, this story comes to mind:
I was covering an announcement by Andrew Cuomo that he intended to run for governor of New York against George Pataki. At this point in his career, Cuomo was “merely” the former recent secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton (as well as the son of a former governor, and, at that time, the husband of a Kennedy).
There was a day when Cuomo went to several communities across upstate NY and “announced” his candidacy in person. Ithaca must have been his third or fourth stop of the day. He held a press conference for all us tinytowners, in some lovely reception room on the Cornell campus…
I remember during the event one of his daughters, who couldn’t have been more than three years old, toddled up to him while he was at the podium. He lifted her up and it was a cute moment. Was it planned? Spontaneous? No one seemed to give a shit, because she was adorable.
A little about my reporting style: I did it with a chip on my shoulder, especially toward people running for office. I have always thought the press should be the government’s adversary. The friction is good for democracy and all that, blah blah blah.
So after Cuomo’s announcement, a few people were standing in a front hallway of this historic building. Cuomo and some of his entourage appeared, and the candidate solicited questions. I asked him something — look, I was young — about HUD funding for a local restaurant. It’s really boring, but I think HUD money helped build a restaurant in town, and Cuomo, when he was HUD secretary, cut the ribbon on the restaurant, and then something happened. No one remembers or cares.
What’s important was that Cuomo wasn’t expecting the question and didn’t know what I was yapping about. He said, straightforwardly, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” I might have been prepared to drop it at that point, but then his press person, someone not too much older than me, stepped up. Again, the details are foggy because this was another century, but I remember him violating my personal space and declaring the interview “over.”
I do recall he said, “I don’t like you sandbagging my candidate.” In other words, he thought it was a “gotcha” question, and I didn’t.
Remember, we weren’t talking about Watergate here. We were basically talking about whether this man remembered an event he attended several years before that had probably since melted into the collected memory of thousands of ribbon cuttings and handshakes.
But now some prick was rude to me and we couldn’t have that. I wish I had a tape of what was said (I do not wish this at all). But I got into a shouting match with The Prick about his violating my personal space, and about when interviews are over, and, another thing, I’m not just gonna go back to my office and regurgitate your press release, pal.
So then this happened. Mr. Andrew Cuomo stepped forward and asked me my name. “Dan,” he said. “Dan, walk with me.” I believe at this point the two or three other reporters covering the event had left. I followed Andrew Cuomo outside onto the Cornell campus. It was a beautiful day. I remember the warmth and the sunshine, but don’t recall the season.
We walked, just the two of us, while Andrew Cuomo gave me a little speech about public and private partnerships. We were about 100 yards from the building, looking at an outdoor vollyball court. That’s when Andrew Cuomo grasped my hand. He laced his fingers through my fingers. And he said, it’s good for the government to work with the private sector, sometimes.
I thought, this is strange. I actually thought of it as a charmingly Old World thing to do, like men in the Middle East who hold hands with their friends as a matter of course.
At some point, the hand holding ceased and I went back to the paper and wrote a story about what happened. But I left out the hand-holding.