- Son of former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo
- Served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bill Clinton administration
- Former New York State attorney general
- Was elected governor of New York State in 2010
Andrew Cuomo was born December 6, 1957 in Queens, New York. His father, Mario Cuomo, was an attorney who would later serve as governor of New York State, from 1983-94.
In 1977, Andrew, who was attending Fordham University, managed his father's New York City mayoral campaign against Ed Koch, the eventual winner. After graduating from Fordham in 1979, Cuomo earned a J.D. at Albany Law School in 1982. That same year, he managed his father's winning gubernatorial campaign and subsequently took a job as senior adviser to the governor in the state Capitol.
In 1984 Andrew Cuomo left Albany and became an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. He later joined a private law firm and, in 1986, founded the Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged, a nonprofit group that brought together government agencies and private developers to construct housing for the homeless.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Cuomo to replace Henry Cisneros as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this role, Cuomo was instrumental in forcing lending institutions—including the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—to dramatically increase their approval rates for mortgage loans to undercapitalized minority applicants who failed to meet traditional borrowing criteria. (Many of these were subprime loans, which ultimately helped trigger the housing-market crisis of 2008.) At a 1998 press conference, Cuomo bragged about having reached a multi-billion-dollar settlement with a major lender, even as he acknowledged that many of the mandated loans would never be paid back.
In 2002 Cuomo returned to New York and made an unsuccessful run for governor. The following year, his bitter separation from his wife, Kerry Kennedy, left Cuomo's political future in doubt.
As he geared up for a return to the world of politics, Cuomo in 2003 publicly laid bare his political values and vision. Lamenting “the widening gulf between the wealthy and everyone else,” he declared that “true Democrats” are “aggressive progressives” who pursue “social justice, economic justice, and racial justice” by contunuously “challeng[ing] the status quo, norms, and biases.” This approach, said Cuomo, was a prerequisite to the creation of “a purely just and compassionate society ... where no child sleeps in poverty, where there are no victims of discrimination, where everyone has clean, decent and affordable housing, where each child receives a high-quality public education, [and] where there is a safety net for people who require assistance.”
Also in 2003, Cuomo, viewing the United States as a nation rife with racism and inequity, said that “our housing stock remains largely segregated, as do our schools,” chiefly because of persistent discrimination.
When New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer ran for governor in 2006, Cuomo won Spitzer's vacated seat by defeating Republican Jeanine Pirro, former Westchester County district attorney. A key supporter of Cuomo's campaign was the Service Employees International Union Local 1199.
In 2010, Cuomo was elected governor of New York State, easily defeating Republican opponent Carl Paladino. While campaigning, Cuomo accepted the endorsement of the Working Families Party, an ACORN front group.
In 2011 Cuomo created a Minority- and Women-Owned Business Task Force, dedicated to doubling the number of state contracts awarded to nonwhite- and female-headed business enterprises. He also hailed the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, which, Cuomo said, would “gran[t] same-sex couples the freedom to marry under the law, and the hundreds of accompanying rights, benefits, and protections that have previously been limited to married couples of the opposite sex.”
In the aftermath of the December 14, 2012 shootings that killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Cuomo urged his state legislature to enact the strictest gun laws in the nation. Among the provisions Cuomo advocated were: “close the private sale loophole by requiring federal background checks”; “enact tougher penalties for illegal gun use”; and “create a state check on all ammunition purchases.”
Demanding also a “ban high-capacity magazines,” Cuomo sought to outlaw any magazines holding more than 7 rounds. “No one hunts with an assault rifle,” the governor shouted. “No one needs ten bullets to kill a deer! Too many innocent people have died already! End the madness now!” Cuomo's legislation subsequently had to be revised, however, when the governor learned that seven-round magazines did not exist; thus he consented to making ten-round magazines legal in New York. He stipulated, however, that gun owners would not be permitted to load more than seven rounds into those magazines. Magazines holding more than ten rounds would have to be modified, discarded, or sold to an out-of-state dealer by January 15, 2014.
Cuomo's Positions on Various Key Issues
By Cuomo's reckoning, “economic justice” requires that “anyone who works full-time should live above poverty.” Thus has the governor long decried “a system that is stacked in favor of the privileged few who have the wherewithal and access to put their narrow interests above the public's interest.” As a means of serving that interest, Cuomo in 2013 proposed raising the city's minimum wage from an “unlivable” $7.25 per hour to $8.75 per hour, because “it's the right thing to do, it's the fair thing to do, [and] it is long overdue.” Later that year, Cuomo called for a $9.00-per-hour minimum wage, coupled with a “minimum wage reimbursement credit” that would use public funds to cover more than three-fourths of the pay increase.
In 2013 Cuomo called for the passage of a Women's Equality Act which would “shatter the glass ceiling by passing a real equal pay law—treble damages for underpayment or discrimination”; “end family status discrimination”; and “protect a woman's freedom of choice.” That same year, the governor—who supports federal funding for abortion services—sought to pass a bill that would have: (a) radically expanded abortion-on-demand for reasons of “health”; (b) overturned a law barring abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life was at risk; and (c) authorized licensed healthcare practitioners, and not only physicians, to perform abortions. The bill died in the state senate.
Complaining that “stop-and-frisk” police policies routinely “stigmatize” and “criminalize” young, “predominately black and Hispanic males,” Cuomo maintains that the practice “must end now.” Calling for “newer and more effective [criminal-justice] methods” that place “a greater emphasis on prevention and on community-based alternatives to incarceration,” Cuomo in 2012 boasted that New York had “eliminated over 3,800 prison beds and 370 juvenile facility beds—because we finally accepted that prisons are not an economic development program.” “Incarcerating low- to medium-risk juveniles actually increases the likelihood of future offending,” he added.
Echoing the positions of the National Education Association and other pro-Democrat teachers unions, Cuomo favors universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. He also believes that private-school voucher programs—which permit parents to divert a portion of their tax liabilities away from the public-school system, and to use those funds instead to help cover the tuition costs for private schools to which they might prefer to send their children—“threaten to undermine our existing public schools” by siphoning money away from them.
On the business/environmental front, Cuomo believes that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity contribute to potentially catastrophic global warming. To address this issue, he advocates the implementation of a cap-and-trade system that would impose taxes on companies whose emissions are deemed excessive. Cuomo also champions the principles of “environmental justice”—i.e., the elimination of sources of pollution (such as large bus depots or hazardous-waste landfills) from neighborhoods where they “have a disproportionate impact” on “racial and ethnic minority and low-income populations.”
Cuomo favors “a system of public funding of elections” that would “set limits on campaign spending and increase participation by candidates who otherwise would lack the means or connections to raise campaign funds.”
He also supports a single-payer, government-run healthcare system, and emphasizes government's duty to “provide social safety net services, such as food and shelter, to those in need.” In 2012, for instance, Cuomo said: “We must increase participation in the food stamp program, remove barriers to participation, and eliminate the stigma associated with this program. And we must stop fingerprinting for food”—a reference to the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients as a means of preventing fraud.
The Moreland Commission Scandal
With New York's state government in Albany rocked by what The New York Times described as “a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests,” Governor Cuomo in July 2013 ceremoniously appointed a high-powered panel known as the Moreland Commission to root out corruption in state politics over the next 18 months. Cuomo pledged that the commission would be “totally independent” and unhindered in its investigation: “Anything they want to look at, they can look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”
But barely two months into their probe, the commission's investigators, while looking for possible violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to Buying Time, a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party. At the time, the commission members did not realize that Cuomo himself was a client of Buying Time, which had produced ads for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
When the governor's most senior aide, Lawrence Schwartz, learned of the subpoena soon after it had been issued, he called one of the Moreland Commission's three co-chairs, Syracuse district attorney William Fitzpatrick, and ordered him withdraw the subpoena. Fitzpatrick complied with Schwartz's demand, but others on the commission were outraged by what they perceived as an egregious level of interference with their work.
“The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission ... was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office,” said the Times. Indeed, a three-month investigation by the newspaper—wherein hundreds of emails, subpoenas and internal documents were reviewed, and dozens of commission members, employees, legislative staff members and other officials were interviewed—found that: “[T]he governor’s office [had] deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.... Mr. Cuomo’s aides repeatedly pressured the commission.”
On one occasion, said the Times, “Schwartz specifically told the commission’s co-chairs that the governor himself was off limits” to their investigation. And “never far from the action was Mr. Cuomo himself,” the paper emphasized, “making the most of the levers of power at his disposal and operating behind closed doors in ways that sometimes appeared at odds with his public statements.”
These intrusions into the commission's work caused a great deal of dissension and animosity among its members, some of whom were convinced that a Cuomo appointee was secretly monitoring their communications. Notably, few of the individuals interviewed by the Times agreed to be quoted by name, for fear of retribution by the governor or his aides.
Ultimately, Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission after just 9 months. “The thing that bothered me the most is we were created with all this fanfare and the governor was going to clean up Albany,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State and a special adviser to the commission. “And it became purely a vehicle for the governor to get legislation. Another notch for his re-election campaign. That was it.”
2014 and Beyond
In a January 17, 2014 radio interview, Cuomo stated that conservative Republicans were in the midst of a schism against moderate members of their own party. Said Cuomo:
"Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are."
On February 16, 2014, Cuomo announced the launch of a new statewide program to fund college-level courses at ten New York State prisons, giving inmates an opportunity to earn college degrees while serving their sentences. Said the governor in a press release:
“Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more. New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending up back behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results.”
As Cuomo prepared for his re-election bid in 2014, he aggressively pursued -- and received -- the endorsement of the politically influential Working Families Party. To achieve that result, Cuomo cut a deal with WFP in which, as The New York Times put it, the governor “promis[ed] to pursue a raft of progressive goals” that were important to WFP. In exchange for that pledge, WFP agreed to give its spot on the upcoming November ballot to Cuomo, rather than field another candidate of its own and thereby siphon many potential votes away from Cuomo.
 Anonymous posters declaring “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo”—a reference to Koch's suspected homosexuality—began appearing in many places around the city during the campaign. Some in the Koch camp, including the candidate himself, blamed Andrew Cuomo for authorizing—or at least countenancing—the smears, though Cuomo denied any involvement.