Could New York have ended up with Andrew Cuomo instead of Kirsten Gillibrand in the U.S. Senate?
Capital's Jimmy Vielkind has a fascinating story today about the decision by then-Gov. David Paterson to choose Gillibrand in January of 2009 over other better-known candidates, including Caroline Kennedy, Cuomo and even himself.
While Kennedy was considered the frontrunner for the job, her rollout was semi-disastrous with critics mocking her appearance in a NY1 interview for saying "ya know" more than 100 times. But besides Gillibrand and Kennedy, Paterson also reached out to then-State Attorney General Cuomo to gauge his interest in the job.
Acknowledging that he saw Cuomo as a potential political adversary for the governor's mansion, Paterson told Vielkind of his meeting: "The two of us left to just each other will go through every possible. Almost like sports fans—what if we trade so-and-so. We would go through those types of conversations and we always have. But at no point did he ever say, 'David, Look, I really want this, and if I don't get this I'm going to be pretty unhappy.' But he wasn't pushing it the way other candidates were. I'd say he was available.”
Cuomo also resisted filling out the formal application for the job – but ultimately did. Paterson's general counsel, Peter Kiernan, tells Capital: “I don't want to give you the impression that Andrew was pushing or not pushing it. Obviously, had the governor appointed him, he may have accepted.”
Paterson also considered Rep. Steve Israel (who flew to Iraq and Afghanistan with him), Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, teachers union president Randi Weingarten, and Congress members Brian Higgins, Carolyn Maloney, and Jerry Nadler.
But one moment in the interviewing process that made Gillibrand stand out over the others was showing sympathy to the governor after a "Saturday Night Live" skit made fun of his blindness, making Paterson look like a "Mister Magoo" blunderer. "I was very touched at how she made me feel as a human being," Paterson tells Vielkind.
Ultimately, it was more than a nice remark that helped the sophomore member of Congress. Paterson said that he liked Gillibrand's political pedigree, noting that she had managed to be elected twice in a Republican-leaning district from upstate – and that he also wanted to appoint a woman.
Still, it's fascinating to conceive of a world where Cuomo is wandering the halls of the U.S. Senate (and driving Chuck Schumer crazy) while David Paterson is still governor – instead of the host of a radio show. Somewhere this morning, Kirsten Gillibrand is smiling.