The untold truth of Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was already a prominent, nationally-known politician before the novel coronavirus pandemic thrust him into a white-hot spotlight. A challenge like that can really test a leader’s mettle, and Cuomo’s pragmatic, empathetic leadership during the uncertain earned high marks from residents of his beloved hometown, New York City, and beyond. As the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the city that never sleeps transformed into near-empty streets as a result of the social distancing requirements enacted to slow the spread of the virus.

Americans appreciate Cuomo’s no-nonsense response to the crisis, including his delivery of information about how to best mitigate damage to our local and global communities. The lessons learned from the response of local, state, and national governments to the coronavirus outbreak in this major metropolitan area will help other localities manage COVID-19 when it hits closer to home. With so many people glued to Cuomo’s daily briefings, we thought we’d dish on some of the lesser-known the details of his life — both public and private.

Government and politics have defined Andrew Cuomo's life

While he is best known for having served as governor of the state of New York since 2011, Andrew Cuomo is no stranger to leadership on many levels. Prior to his gubernatorial election, Cuomo served as New York’s Attorney General from 2007 to 2010. According to Biography, these executive-branch roles in the state of New York follow a career in public service ranging from local neighborhood advocacy to serving in the cabinet of a United States president.

Cuomo’s career in politics began while working for his father, former New York governor Mario Cuomo’s political campaign. He soon developed political aspirations of his own. After serving as an assistant New York City district attorney, he developed a passion for creating affordable housing, which then became the focus of his career. He served as chair of the New York City Commission on the Homeless prior to being selected for a prominent role in the Clinton Administration. Cuomo helped shape national community development and affordable housing policy as an assistant secretary for community planning and development from 1993 to 1997, after which he was appointed U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Andrew Cuomo's father, Mario Cuomo, was a three-term governor of New York

Sometimes, the family business is running a grocery store. Other times, it’s running an entire state. Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo (above left), served as Governor of New York from 1983 to 1994, and was a rising star in national politics. The keynote speaker at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Mario was known for delivering eloquent, passionate speeches, according to the Daily News.

Andrew’s first job in politics was as campaign manager for Mario’s gubernatorial campaign, and it is clear he was bitten by the same bug that bit his father! In a freakishly odd coincidence, Mario first gained notoriety by representing a group of homeowners from the Corona neighborhood of Queens who sought help against the city of New York’s plan to displace them by building a new high school.

Mario was on a short list (and favored) for an appointment to the United States Supreme Court in 1993, but he asked to be removed from consideration before President Clinton decided whom to appoint to replace Justice Byron White. The seat was ultimately filled by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

The Cuomo family had a hardscrabble start

Running a grocery store was the Cuomo family business before Mario Cuomo (above right) — a first-generation American — entered politics. Mario’s parents, Andrea and Immaculata Cuomo, were Italian immigrants who arrived in New York City one year apart, though they were married before leaving Italy. They owned and operated a small grocery store in South Jamaica, Queens for more than thirty years, after “a nice Jewish man by the name of Kessler gave [them] a store virtually free” during The Great Depression of the 1930’s. Sharing his parents’ story with Christian Science Monitor in 1990, Mario added, “My father was ignorant and illiterate in both Italian and English. He had never gone to school a day in Italy. He was a laborer on my mother’s father’s land. And my mother never went to school.” 

In his first inaugural speech as governor of New York on January 1, 1983, Mario described his parents as “the magnificent immigrant couple who came here with nothing but aspirations and a willingness to work hard.” Andrea passed away in 1981, followed by Immaculata in 1995. Mario passed in 2015, just five hours after Andrew, was sworn in for his second term as Governor of New York.

In his inaugural speech that morning, Andrew said of his father (via 4 NBC New York), “He’s in the heart and mind of every person who is here. His inspiration and his legacy and his spirit is what has brought this day to this point.”

Andrew Cuomo has worked to end homeless throughout his entire career

For over 30 years, Andrew Cuomo has paid special attention to the plight of homelessness in the United States. Affordable housing has been one of Cuomo’s key issues throughout his political career. In 1986, he founded Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged (HELP USA), which, as of this writing, has aided more than 500,000 people dogged by poverty to help find shelter.

Cuomo’s passion for ending homelessness led him to serve as chair of the New York City Commission on the Homeless, starting in 1991. That led to his work in the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), starting in 1993, where he was eventually appointed the cabinet-level position of U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1997. 

As New York’s Attorney General from 2007 to 2010, Cuomo routed out corruption in a homeless services charity, United Homeless Organization. The charity was ultimately shut down in 2010 due to the misappropriation of funds earmarked for homeless services that were diverted for the founders’ personal use. Cuomo continued to make homelessness a priority as governor of New York. In 2016, he signed an executive order requiring additional measures to be taken to offer shelter to people experiencing homelessness during inclement weather.

Chris and Andrew Cuomo are tight

Andrew Cuomo has five siblings, the most well-known being Emmy-winning CNN Anchor and Host of Cuomo Prime Time, Chris Cuomo. Biography reveals Andrew, who is thirteen years older than Chris, played a paternal role in his brother’s life due to their father’s immensely busy schedule.

Before CNN, Chris worked for ABC News as chief law and justice correspondent, news anchor of Good Morning America, and co-anchor of 20/20. In early 2020, the brothers’ camaraderie was on display thanks to their banter during Andrew’s appearances on Chris’ nightly show, and Chris’ appearance during Andrew’s daily briefing, to discuss developments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

These siblings will apparently seize any opportunity for lighthearted ribbing, like when Chris was named among Peoples “Most Beautiful People” in 1997, and Andrew appeared on their “Sexiest Men Alive” list (via Daily News) in 2010 and 2013. When talking to The New York Times about his 2010 nod, Andrew mentioned his brother’s previous honor, joking that Chris had used it as the family’s Christmas card that year. When asked for comment about his brother’s inclusion on the lists, Chris said, “I am happy for my brother, the governor-elect, and his so-called sexiness. It must be comforting for him to receive kudos from someone other than our mother, who favors him.”

And, it turns out the family patriarch paved more than one path for his sons; Mario was listed among Playgirl’s (via AP News) Top 10 Sexiest Men in 1985.

'Cuomolot' wasn't all it was cracked up to be

For 15 years, Andrew Cuomo was married to Kerry Kennedy (above), the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethyl Skakel. They married in June 1990, and their union was dubbed “Cuomolot,” referencing the convergence of two political dynasties, the Kennedys and the Cuomos. The couple had three daughters, Cara, Mariah, and Michaela Kennedy Cuomo.

On paper, it seemed like a good match. His political career focused on ending homelessness. She was a human rights advocate who played a lead role in establishing the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. But these two do-gooders had immensely different upbringings. The Kennedys lived a privileged, genteel life, whereas the Cuomos grew up with the grit and gumption of the New York City streets. Still, both of them knew what a life of public service would offer, and they stepped into their roles willingly.

According to The Contender by Michael Shnayerson, Cuomo had little interest in hobnobbing with the Kennedys, which put a strain on the marriage. The Kennedys viewed Cuomo as “a spoilsport” so focused on his political career that “he didn’t get fun.” The two divorced in 2005 amid rumors (published by New York Post and others) of Kennedy’s infidelity with polo player Bruce Colley. The split was acrimonious (and remains so, according to the Daily Mail), but they didn’t let their differences get in the way of bringing positive social change or raising the three daughters they welcomed into “Cuomolot” while it lasted.

Is Andrew Cuomo secretly a wild hog?

While he has been accused of being all work and no play, Andrew Cuomo clearly loves riding his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. He participated in the September 11th motorcycle ride in 2019 to honor the first responders of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. More than 700 motorcyclists traveled from various points around the state of New York, joined together as a unit in New York City, and rode together through the city, ultimately arriving at the World Trade Center site that was once referred to as “ground zero.” Cuomo also participated in the Catskill Challenge Motorcycle Ride in July 2019, which promoted tourism in the upstate mountain range with a ride from the Newburgh’s Motorcyclepedia Museum to Bethel’s Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

In 2013, Cuomo’s Harley was given an aesthetic upgrade by Paul Teutul, Jr. (who was featured on the reality show American Chopper), prior to being displayed in an exhibit of New York State motor vehicles in the Empire State Plaza. The makeover included a new paint job that features the words “Fifty Six” and the Governor’s flag, a nod to Cuomo’s role as the 56th governor of New York.

Andrew Cuomo is a tried-and-true progressive…

Andrew Cuomo has championed progressive causes throughout his career, especially as they relate to low-income individuals, and his progressive ideals are deeply embedded in legislation he has enacted on a wide variety of issues. As of this writing, he is phasing a $15 living wage into New York City, prioritizing access to affordable healthcare and paid family leave, and he recognized the immediate need for an expanded leave policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuomo also champions LGBTQ rights and has increased gun safety measures during his tenure as governor. His Excelsior Scholarship, which makes college tuition at New York’s public 2-year and 4-year universities free to middle-class students who earn (or whose family earns) less than $125,000 per year, is the first of its kind in the nation.

Believing environmental conservation is of paramount importance to the fight against climate change, Cuomo also banned fracking and has encouraging the accelerated development of renewable energy sources in New York. His commitment to protecting the environment is also demonstrated by his role in creating the United States Climate Alliance, a group of state leaders vowing to follow the terms of the Paris Accord with aggressive action against climate change, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement as a nation.

… but is he progressive enough for the far Left?

While Andrew Cuomo’s legislative record is geared toward social justice, a leftward shift in the Democratic Party’s base has brought about a host of primary challenges to the party’s popular political figures. Cuomo was challenged by Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon in New York’s 2018 gubernatorial race. Nixon didn’t deny the progress Cuomo made on many progressive issues, but she felt he ignored the legalization of recreational marijuana. She also pushed him on making much-needed improvements to New York’s mass transit system, especially the New York City subway system, and the more controversial topic of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Nixon was also concerned about corruption within Cuomo’s administration, citing the conviction of Cuomo’s executive deputy secretary and longtime close advisor, Joseph Percoco, who “was convicted of soliciting and accepting more than $300,000 in bribes from executives working for two companies with state business,” per The New York Times. Nixon campaigned with another far-left 2018 primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination in the race for New York Attorney General. Teachout, who lost to Cuomo in New York’s 2014 gubernatorial primary, also lost the 2018 primary to the candidate Cuomo had supported, Letitia James. 

Whether the primary results were due to policy positions, personal preference, or simply the electorate’s familiarity with Cuomo, the challenges from the left fostered a public discussion about issues that might not otherwise have gained attention in the public sphere.

Andrew Cuomo dated Food Network host Sandra Lee

Following his divorce, Andrew Cuomo had a 14-year relationship with Food Network host Sandra Lee, the details of which they strived to keep very private. In 2011, Lee told Harper’s Bazaar, “I have a partner who feels the exact same way as I do about protecting our personal relationship.” Despite the nonstop rumor mill surrounding celebrity relationships, they were able to do just that until things began to unravel.

In May 2019, rumors of a breakup erupted, and both partners denied a separation. Asked about the purported split by Page Six, Lee said she was simply selling her home as a part of downsizing. She lamented the publication of the Page Six story on her Facebook page, noting she and Cuomo had both confirmed they were still together prior to publication. Four months later, the couple announced their split. People shared the couple’s joint statement: “Over the recent past, we have realized that our lives have gone in different directions and our romantic relationship has turned into a deep friendship. We will always be family and are fully supportive of each other and dedicated to the girls. Our personal lives remain personal and there will be no further comment.”

Although they never married, Cuomo and Lee remain close and continue to consider each other, and Cuomo’s three daughters with Kennedy, family.

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