Andrew Cuomo loves his job as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), whether he's touring public housing, opening a new store front office, or giving a reporter a tour of the photo gallery outside his private office.
At 42, he is the youngest member of the Clinton cabinet. And when you hear him speak, it's no surprise that he's considered one of the Democratic Party's Great Young Hopes. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver reports.
Andrew Cuomo's name is being mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Al Gore, or as a contender for governor of New York or even, some day, as a presidential candidate.
Like Al Gore and George W. Bush, Andrew Cuomo also has a famous political father: former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. And here's his reaction to a questions about his son's prospects for vice president: "I think he'd make a better presidential candidate when the time comes. I think he's better as a No. 1 than as a No. 2, because he is a natural leader."
Andrew worked with his father for many years and served as his right-hand man (some would say hatchet man) during his time as governor.
"I think that deepened our relationship," says Andrew. "It wasn't just the father and son on a Sunday afternoon."
Did Mario really give his son the nickname of "The Big Mamoo?"
"Big Mamoo," Mario repeats with a laugh. "Well, I gave him a lot of nicknames. That might have been one of them. That one caught on very nicely. Somehow, the sound of it is appropriate. If you get to know Andrew, he is a 'Big Mamoo.' He is a big force ."
Andrew expresses equal admiration for his father: "There are many aspects of my father's personality, many lessons that I've learned from him, that I will try to emulate: his integrity, his belief in public service, his belief in what the process can do..."
He obviously listened hard when his father talked. Their politics and rhetoric can sound astonishingly similar. But there are some who argue that the son is too much like the father; that at a time when the battle is for the political center, Andrew should distance himself from his father's liberal politics.
"I don't have any desire to break free from his legacy and what he's done," says Andrew. "I'm proud of it."
Another powerful influence is Andrew Cuomo's wife. He has been married for 10 years to lawyer and human rights activist Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. She's the daughter of Ethel and the late Robert Kennedy. They met -- where else? -- at a Democratic dinner when he was running a project to help the homeless in New York.
What was their first date?
"He said, 'Do you want to come to this homeless facility that I built?' And I said, 'Sure.' And he said, 'Well, I'm going at 7:30 tomorrow morning.' So he came and picked me up on his Harley Davidson motorcycle," recalls Kerry. "And he ook me out to Brooklyn. And as we were driving along -- I had been living in Boston at the time - he said, 'We're going to a precinct which has more murders per year than the entire city of Boston.' And I said, 'Oh wow! He's just the man for me.'"
Some men might have been a little intimidated by the Kennedy mystique. Was Andrew?
"No," Kerry replies with a laugh. "I can't remember Andrew being intimidated by anything since I've met him."
At HUD, Cuomo has helped turn around a department with a reputation for inefficiency and even corruption.
He streamlined the staff, cracked down on slum landlords, forged agreements to tear down huge, dilapidated public housing projects like Chicago's notorious crime-plagued high-rises. And he began to build smaller, friendlier complexes. He also is the first HUD secretary to focus on gun control. It was Cuomo who negotiated the Clinton administration's landmark deal with Smith and Wesson, which included a promise to put child safety locks on all new guns.
But congressional critics charge that, in the meantime, he's neglected some nuts-and-bolts HUD programs. His eagerness to wage political battle and to grab headlines has earned him his share of political enemies, Democrats as well as Republicans.
Some of Andrew's critics say that he is arrogant, blindly ambitious, and/or unnecessarily confrontational. How does he respond to that?
"Some of these issues are not easy and merely raising them can draw people's ire," he says. "It may make you more popular with Congress people if you didn't give them a hard time. But I wouldn't be doing my job, and and if it takes battling with the Congress, I will do it. And if it's Republicans or Democrats, I will do it."
Andrew and Kerry have a special awareness of the risks that a lifetime of politics can bring for them and their three children. Her father was gunned down. His father suffered a humiliating defeat for re-election.
But, so far, Andrew Cuomo is staying in the public arena. If he's not tapped to run for vice president the heavy betting is that in 2002, he will run for his father's old job: New York State governor.
Andrew himself says, "It's something that I'm looking at very seriously."
Says father Mario, "The Big Mamoo doesn't need encouragement. Mamoo will do it if he wants to do it."
Andrew relays a message to his father through Braver: "Now Andrew said for me to tell you that he's a better politician than you are, and that you lost and he won't."
Mario's reaction: "This is Andrew testing me! This son of a gun! See, he's playful that way. He's a better politician than I?"
Well? Is Andrew a better politician than Mario?
"Yes, yes," says Mario. "But that's only because I was there before him, and he learned from my mistakes. And I'll tell you this: If it had been reversed, and he had gone first, and I was his son, I'd be better than he is now."
He continues, "And I'll tell you something else: He never once beat me in a one-on-one basketball game. He is, when it comes to basketball, a good rugby player."
So you can see where Andrew Cuomo gets his competitive edge.
When a member of the public says to him, "Hope to see you on the ticket. Hope to see you on the ticket," Andrew replies, "Oh, I'm gonna be on the ticket. I'm gonna be on the laundry ticket!"
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