“This is exactly what we were trying to avoid.”
That’s what one of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s staff members angrily told the Ken-Ton school district’s public relations director Tuesday as reporters and cameramen cornered Cuomo to ask him about a possible run for governor.
Cuomo came to town to tout the successes of his crackdown on sex offenders using social networking sites geared toward teenagers and younger children, but reporters had other questions they wanted answered. And while Cuomo fielded the inquiries with ease, his staff was perturbed by the fact that he had to field them at all.
The production has become routine in recent months. The press is informed of a visit only a few hours in advance, hastily assembling into a small room with a preselected audience. On Tuesday, it was Kenmore East’s library with high school seniors, honors students and staff.
The routine has become commonplace around the Empire State in recent months. Cuomo plans a stop to talk about a crime-fighting initiative in what many see as thinly disguised campaigning aimed at reminding voters of his accomplishments.
This particular stop at Kenmore East High School, was to talk about Cuomo’s efforts to root out sex offenders using social networking Web sites popular among children and teenagers. The audience, a preselected group of seniors and honors students listens attentatively. Then, after a round of on-topic questions, Cuomo wraps up quickly and makes a beeline for the door. He rarely escapes a public appearance these days without being asked whether he will run for the state’s top post, and Tuesday was no exception.
Reporters wanted to know what Cuomo thought about Republican candidate Rick Lazio’s recent comments to the Conservative Party Political Action Conference, saying the attorney general “locked himself inside his office and watched as Albany burned.” They asked whether he would set a timeline for his decision to run or bow out. To these questions and others, Cuomo said there will be a time for politics in the future.
“Right now, I’m focusing on my job as attorney general. There’s a lot to keep me busy,” Cuomo said with a smile.
His staff wasn’t smiling. As they maintained an opening on Cuomo’s flank for escape after the requisite questions had been asked several different ways, one of Cuomo’s handlers broke ranks for just a moment to criticize Stefan Mychajliw, the district’s PR man, for allowing the media ambush to happen.
After an angry comment and quick shove to the shoulder, the Cuomo staffer left Mychajliw and helped usher Cuomo away from the press. Mychajliw said he didn’t want to comment on the exchange afterward, but the display showcased how increasing scrutiny is making it more important than ever for Cuomo to control his image and message.
The undeclaired candidate is drawing criticism for shoring up support for a campaign while standing on the sidelines as the state’s problems continue to mount. Each opportunity the press gets to reconfirm Cuomo’s non-committal stance lends support to those claims, leading staff to work dilligently to limit them. Tuesday morning, they didn’t succeed.
Attorney general’s staff angry over media ambush after school event
“This is exactly what we were trying to avoid.”
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