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The New Cuomo Team

November 4, 2010

After they were elected attorney general, Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer both did smart things. They spent most of their transition time persuading outstanding legal talent to come work for them. To both men’s credit, they avoided hiring friends and cronies. Instead, they found qualified outsiders, real lawyer’s lawyers.

This approach served them well. The underpinning of their success as attorneys general was solid legal work.

Four years ago, however, as Spitzer was moving into the governor’s office, he surrounded himself with virtually the same people he had in the AG’s office. This group of former prosecutors took a long time to settle in. Their tools had been subpoenas and legal briefs, but suddenly they had to do policy analysis, administer agencies and negotiate with lawmakers. It wasn’t a good fit. And when things got tough, they really didn’t serve him or the state very well.

Fast forward to today. Is Cuomo going to repeat Spitzer’s mistake? Is he going to transplant senior staff from the AG’s office into the governor’s office? Will former prosecutors again be running the government?

Or will he do what he did four years ago and reach outside his comfort zone for people who are actually qualified to serve in the new positions?

If Cuomo is smart and really wants to succeed, that’s exactly what he’ll do. He’ll resist the temptation to surround himself with familiar people who tell him what he wants to hear. He’ll create a brand new team composed of people with specific expertise in program areas.

We’ve noted before how Spitzer raised expectations with his promise that on day one, everything would change. One of the reasons that never was going to happen was that on day one and the subsequent 364, too many of Spitzer’s people were just learning their jobs.

Cuomo can’t wait a year for his people to get up to speed. He needs his office to be functioning at a high level right away.

To do so, he must find creative policy experts, seasoned administrators and skilled negotiators.  He must find people who know New York. He must find people who know how to work with lawmakers.

If he doesn’t, he’ll fail, too.


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