The Rumble in the Jungle-Cuomo Style

Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

In this corner— an increasingly frustrated press corps.

And in the other corner— Andrew Cuomo. The in all-likelihood next governor of New York State himself.

The New York Times recently had an interesting piece on Cuomo titled: “Behind the Curtain, Cuomo Runs His Own P.R. Machine,” which focused on the fact that most—if not all of the interaction between Cuomo and members of the media are done by conference call.

This race is certainly his to lose…but Cuomo is about to face a major test.

There is no skirting the issue, no direct ducking or limiting possible damage via conference call—-Cuomo will have to do something he hasn’t done in well, four years….and that is face the media— face tough questions. To borrow my signature phrase I used 20 years ago in radio, he’s going to have to do it “live and direct.”

One of the first journalism lessons I learned especially for with politicians, “the devil is always in the details.” It’s one thing to be the huge front runner in the polls, to even these days look gubernatorial, and have the White House behind you, but Mr. Cuomo is now going to have to answer tough questions like:

Are you going to lay off workers?

How in the world are you going to close the budget gap—and what programs are going to be eliminated?

How will you deal with the unions? What will be your top priorities?

The Times story went on to directly mention an interview I did with Cuomo on television. It’s hard to believe it is the last time I interviewed him or even saw Cuomo on a television show—but it was back in 2006—and I pressed him on his highly public divorce from Kerry Kennedy and a Child support dispute he had with her. He responded:

“There was a misunderstanding; it was immediately reconciled,” He added that he did not feel the divorce would be an issue in his campaign for attorney general that year. “I can’t believe anyone would bring it up.”

Afterwards on the set, Andrew wasn’t happy about my question. But I do give him credit for this. He was never the type of elected official to act like he was pleased in front of my face, and then have his press person greatly complain once he walked out the room. A classic “good cop-bad cop scenario. Cuomo focused on it for a second, and then he was fine. Smiling and having an off the record conversation with me where we were joking with each other like we always did no matter how difficult the interview was.

Let me be very clear about something.

The political director at NY1 is Bob Hardt, a highly respected journalist. Bob is fair, and bends over backwards to be courteous with guests on the show. The public never sees these things, but Bob has been able to work magic—do the impossible, and negotiate such numerous high profile debates with the likes of Michael Bloomberg, and international debates with Hillary Clinton but even Bob Hardt has not been able to get Cuomo to come back on.

What makes this situation a bit odd, Andrew Cuomo has always known as a guy who is quick “on his feet” handling himself, quite the charismatic type. To his credit, over the last few years, Cuomo has shown enormous discipline which has contributed to his success as State Attorney General.

What Journalists want to know, how will he handle the natural give and take under a real news conference? Is he’s going to slip under pressure, how far might he go off-message? And of course will Cuomo flash that temper he has in the past? Mr. Cuomo, you of all people know when you want to be the top dog, there is little maneuvering around the media, especially in a campaign year.