What It Was Like to Cover Mario Cuomo as a Reporter for the New York Times

Four years of covering Cuomo as a reporter have put me at his side day after day, week after week, from the Soviet Union to Canada, from San Francisco to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We’ve drunk vodka together at backyard cookouts and in a Leningrad hotel. (Often after a few vodkas, and in other times of reflection, he dwells not on moments of glory but on those of defeat, especially the bitter 1977 New York City mayoral race he lost to Edward I. Koch.) He has fallen asleep next to me on the red-eye flight out of Los Angeles. (He snores.) He has threatened to ruin me for articles he perceived as negative. (”I could end your career. Your publisher doesn’t even know who you are.”) He has offered to have the state police bring me chicken soup when I was home with the flu.

The four years are a roller-coaster ride of images:

Cuomo pacing in his office: ”Lincoln. Lincoln had bad press, too. He wasn’t appreciated until after he was gone.”

Cuomo backstage in seclusion after one of his major speeches, bent over, breathless and spent, like an athlete who has just finished a race.

Cuomo, the lawyer and student of the Vincentians, playing his favorite role, part Socrates and part Clarence S. Darrow, grilling a 10-year-old boy in the halls of the State Capitol: ”And how do you know you’re 10 years old? Your daddy says so? How do you know your daddy’s right?”

Cuomo, at the age of 55, still wearing on his right hand his St. John’s University ring, so deep is his gratitude to the college that transformed a son of poor Italian immigrants into a member of the professional class.

Cuomo, the Roman Catholic and the quick wit, remaining calm as some around him panicked when one of the two engines on his state plane failed: ”What’s the matter? Aren’t you in a state of grace?”

Cuomo making his own coffee in the kitchen of the Executive Mansion on a Saturday morning, then walking through the residence pointing out the nicks in the woodwork left by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wheelchair.

Jeffrey Schmalz, writing in the New York Times Magazine, May 15 1988.

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