Thursday, March 13, 2008

Where Was Spitzer 20 Years Ago When The Albany Press Corps Really Needed Him?

Maybe Reporters Need Mario Cuomo To Bring Sexy Back to the Statehouse
Back when I covered the Albany statehouse for UPI in the mid-80s, coverage of state news was not only desired by editors but actively coveted.
The Legislative Correspondents Association press room was brimming with reporters from papers from Watertown to Staten Island, and many points in between.
Interest in what they did from editors was piqued then by the intriguing possibility that Mario Cuomo --then the Democrats' chief rock star -- would shed his gubernatorial garments and preen for president.
For the Albany press corps, the spectre of being anointed one of the boys on the bus traveling with "our guy" had delusions of journalistic grandeur in overdrive.
Alas, Cuomo burst that balloon in 1987, and we went back -- collective sad puppy look and all --to covering the more-routine stuff emanating from the capital and the courts.
Still, Cuomo was never boring. He was a brilliant orator, and a skillful combatant with the Legislature and press alike.
Cuomo was also scandal-free, not hard given that he could often be found working well into the night -- on policy matters, and little else.
True, us reporters always suspected he brought in a few ringers from the State Police so his team could beat the LCA every year in softball, but we never had firm proof.
Redemption came when Cuomo agreed to play us in basketball, where the reporters finally triumphed, in a game highlighted by my former colleague Bob Bellafiore. Cuomo was guarding him as he tried to inbound a pass. As he was on the verge of being called for a 5-second violation, Bellafiore bounced the ball off Cuomo's knee so it would go out of bounds and he could regoup (Bellafiore -- now a PR executive -- went on to become the chief spokesman for George Pataki, the man who ousted Cuomo. That pass no doubt looked good on the resume).
The lesson of Cuomo -- and 12 years later -- Eliot Spitzer was you need a firebrand in the governor's office to get editors to care much about anything going on in Albany.
That doesn't happen when the leadership defaults to its familiar gridlock and vicious partisanship, which made it easier for newspapers faced with ever-shrinking budgets to slash away at state coverage.
To the extent possible, Spitzer made Albany sexy. In his own way, Cuomo did too, he just didn't need to spend $1,000 an hour and up to make it happen. That made him the real Emperor of the Empire State.

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