Nasal Juggernaut: The Andrew Cuomo Listening Experience

Avi Zenilman | October 29th, 2010

Andrew Cuomo

An embarassing admission: I had never really heard Andrew Cuomo’s voice until earlier this week. I had seen some speeches, caught some campaign ads, but my knowledge of him is second-hand—it comes from press reports, transcripts, official interviews with other New York politicos. The picture drawn is familiar: the prince of darkness, a master political operator, gruff and ruthless if thin-skinned, willing to be as pragmatic as necessary and not prone to his father’s neurotic intellectualism or Eliot Spitzer’s Ivy smugness.

His low profile let people’s imagination filled in the blanks, and the tales of him badgering reporters that I heard confirmed my bias. Even his critics, who considered his crusades as Attorney General too blunt and populist, made him seem like what the former Governor Spitzer would call a “f**king steamroller.”

The rare interview he gave to the Times that was published on Sunday night fit the stereotype. His eyes in the picture looked heavy-lidded, his jaw drooped with craggly intent, and he seemed intent on driving home the theme that he would get tough on the unions (“Cuomo Vows Offensive Against Labor Unions.”) Then I heard his voice — the Times had put the audio of the wide-ranging interview online. Go to the article and listen to it.  “If you’re looking for an abberation over the past ten ye-ahs, it is the increasing power and influence of the special interests, which has increased exponentially. If you go to an old-timah like me…” His voice was nasal, it had a hint of neurotic annoyance, with the Shecky Greene precision of a old-school CUNY (Queens, maybe Baruch?) professor.

It made sense, of course — he’s not a classic politician of the wards, so much as he is a political staffer, an operator, who became an office-holder. A trivial confession: He may defeat Paladino with ease, but just listening for two minutes to his voice oscillate and riff like a friend of my grandfather’s sanded off his aura of invincibility for me. Andrew Cuomo can work the press, it seems, because he can speak like us.