Monday, April 12, 2010

"Cuomo's Staff Stays Largely Intact and in Shadow" - Gov. Mario M. Cuomo News Archives

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo News Archives - Published: January 22, 1991

"" ALBANY, Jan. 21— Perhaps the surest measure of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's concern about the state's fiscal condition is that he has allowed so little turnover in his staff at the beginning of his third term.

While campaigning for re-election last fall, Mr. Cuomo predicted that there would be many fresh faces in his administration and suggested that a new term would provide a natural transition point.

"There are people who I couldn't ask to do another four years," he said in September, stressing the financial and physical sacrifices of his staff.

But with the state facing the most severe budget crisis of Mr. Cuomo's tenure, the Governor has chosen to make only minor alterations in a team that he values for its experience. Budget Battle Delays Departures

He has persuaded some aides, including Gerald C. Crotty, his chief of staff, to stay at least until the end of this spring's grueling budget battle. Several commissioners who were rumored to be job-hunting have yet to leave and only two top aides from the Governor's central staff have left.

The aides who have departed -- Evan A. Davis, the Governor's legal counsel, and Gary G. Fryer, who held the titles of press secretary and counselor -- have been replaced with loyal insiders who did not require on-the-job training while the state's budget gap was expanding.

Mr. Davis was succeeded by Elizabeth D. Moore, who had directed Mr. Cuomo's Office of Employee Relations. She is the first black adviser in the upper echelon of Mr. Cuomo's staff.

Mr. Fryer's responsibilities were divided between Andrew J. Zambelli, who was promoted from senior deputy secretary to counselor and director of communications, and Anne W. Crowley, who became press secretary after serving as Mr. Fryer's deputy. Originally Thought Middleweight

Mr. Cuomo's central staff was much maligned when he first took office eight years ago. Reviewers dismissed it as decidedly middleweight -- lacking in big names, overly dominated by white men, and top-heavy with holdovers from the administration of Mr. Cuomo's predecessor, Gov. Hugh L. Carey.

Although some of those traits persist, the staff is credited for fitting well with Mr. Cuomo's hands-on management and for running an efficient, if not always inspired, operation. And Ms. Moore's appointment has alleviated what Lieut. Gov. Stan Lundine said was "concern that we would sit down at the table and it would just be white males."

Assembly Speaker Mel Miller said his opinion of the Cuomo staff had improved. "With the Governor, who is incredibly hands-on, the staff gets less prominence," he said. "But it doesn't mean the staff is dumber or less capable. Someone who needs more prominence isn't going to last."

Mr. Cuomo argues that his decision to not disrupt his staff at such a sensitive time will keep his administration focused on the state's budget problems. Critics Cite Lack of Vision

But some lobbyists and legislative aides, while praising the staff's competence and dedication, warn that the dearth of new blood could worsen what they see as the administration's major shortcoming -- its lack of inventiveness.

Several cited Mr. Cuomo's State of the State speech, which they complained lacked priorities and focus, as a recent sign of staleness.

"I give them high marks for access," said one lobbyist. "I give them high marks for attentiveness. I give them high marks for good intentions.

I don't know whether I'd always give them high marks for vision."

If conservatism sometimes prevents Mr. Cuomo from realizing his full political potential, his aides think it has protected the Governor from rash decisions and poorly considered strategy.

In his early days as Governor, Mr. Cuomo was fond of comparing his staff's organizational chart to "the spokes of a wheel."

The Governor regularly reaches out to a central staff of 14 people, while frequently consulting with lower-ranking aides, the directors of state agencies and a broad array of informal advisers outside Albany. The Hub of the Wheel

With Mr. Crotty, whose title is secretary to the Governor, the central staff comprises Mr. Lundine; Henrik N. Dullea, the director of state operations; Ms. Moore; Mr. Zambelli; Ms. Crowley; Vincent Tese, the director of economic development; Fabian G. Palomino, the special counsel; Dall W. Forsythe, the budget director; Mary Ann Crotty, the deputy director of state operations; Michael J. Dowling, the deputy secretary for human services; Francis J. Murray Jr., the deputy secretary for energy and environmental affairs; John J. Poklemba, the director of criminal justice, and Brad C. Johnson, the director of the state's Washington office.

Their salaries range from $98,399 for Mr. Crotty to $76,444 for Ms. Crowley.

Mr. Palomino has drawn no salary as special counsel since last week, when he was named president of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where his salary is $125,000.

The "spokes of the wheel" system contrasted with the more detached style of Mr. Carey, whose chief of staff, Robert J. Morgado, served as a strict gatekeeper to the Governor's office.

Because Mr. Cuomo reclaimed many of Mr. Morgado's responsibilities, and because the Governor does much of his own talking, Mr. Crotty and his colleagues rarely break into public view. Underrated Chief of Staff

That low visibility has made Mr. Crotty an underrated chief of staff, legislative negotiators and lobbyists say.

By designating Mr. Crotty as his top trouble-shooter, Mr. Cuomo has placed increasing confidence in him, and Mr. Crotty's subordinates universally praise his calmness under pressure and his reasoned, nonideological approach to problem-solving.

But legislative leaders also point out that Mr. Crotty and his colleagues have not always had the authority that others have had in previous administrations.

Mr. Cuomo's desire to do much of his own negotiating sometimes slows the wheels of government, they say.

"You don't always know if the staff sign-off is the real sign-off," said Mr. Miller, the Assembly Speaker. "And when a principal digs in and his position becomes public, it takes months to dig out."

If there has been a key to the staying power of the Cuomo staff, it has been the Governor's ability to minimize infighting by extending his reach past a small inner circle. Access and Morale High

"Because they are all so integrated into the process, there is less reason for their being suspicious of one another," Mr. Cuomo said. "You only get backbiting when you have fiefdoms and individuals who are isolated."

And by granting so much access to so many staff members, Mr. Cuomo has kept morale high. "There's no question that I work 20 hours a week more because of it," said Gene B. Sperling, a speechwriter and political aide who joined the staff last February.

Like Mr. Cuomo, whose only "vacation" in eight years was spent reading at the Executive Mansion, the Governor's staff works torturous hours.

The average day often begins with a phone call from Mr. Cuomo at 6:30 A.M. and ends with one after midnight.

"The Governor has a tendency to overwhelm and overshadow everything around him," said Felix G. Rohatyn, the chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation and a frequent Cuomo adviser. "His staff suffers a bit because they're in the shadow of this very powerful light.

But they have neither the desire nor the ability to compete with him."

Photos: New York State's budget crisis is keeping turnover in the staff of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo to a minimum. Conferring yesterday in Albany at a budget meeting were, from left, Dall W. Forsythe, budget director; Henrik N. Dullea, director of state operations and policy management; Elizabeth D. Moore, legal counsel, and Andrew J. Zambelli, counselor to the Governor and director of communications. (Alan Solomon for The New York Times); Mr. Forsythe was joined by Anne W. Crowley, Mr. Cuomo's press secretary, at another meeting on the budget yesterday. (Steve Jacobs for The New York Times) "

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