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On Photo Opportunities

February 26, 2015

I need a photo opportunity; I want a shot at redemption – Paul Simon

Let us consider the staple of modern communications – the photo opportunity/availability with the media. Let us do it not from the perspective of the lead player, but the supporting cast. That’s a twist. As a political junkie, dear reader, you are used to assessing the performance of a politician at these events. You say to yourself: He or she was smooth, forceful, convincing … or not.

But did you ever look at the others who are part of the event? Did you ever try to read their facial expressions, body language and positioning?

For example, when cops are part of any news conference, you can see how uncomfortable they are. Their military training takes over and inevitably adopt a modified attention stance with their hands crossed in front of them. It looks like they are protecting their private parts.

When an “ordinary person” is part of a news conference, you can see them waiting nervously for their moment at the podium. The first thing they do is grab the podium for dear life, take a big breath and say: “I’m no public speaker, but here goes…”

Consider the Assembly Speaker’s news conferences: The members position themselves around the Speaker (whoever it is) in a way that’s reminiscent of a class photo. Tall kids in the back; short kids in front.  They don’t need to be arranged. They just do it. Denny knows his spot. So does Rhoda.

The Senate is different. Proximity to the leader is based on relevance. Libous will be at Skelos side. So will other senior members in concentric circles of importance. Again, nobody arranges it; it just happens by a kind of unspoken accord.

There are, in fact, many almost endearing quirks to the news conference scene in Albany. And then there are Cuomo events.

Yesterday’s news conference by the Governor and his cabinet was analyzed smartly by the LCA today. Reporters noted that nothing about the news conference was new. All of the initiatives had already been discussed before and so the natural question was: “Why, exactly, are we here?” There was even the question: “Are you trying to mess with Mayor DeBlasio by holding this event while he’s offering budget testimony?” Given the circumstances, that was a perfectly legitimate thing for the LCAers to ask.

Our take on the event was a little different. We couldn’t take our eyes off of the supporting cast. There was Bill Mulrow, who is still settling into his position. He was sitting next to the Governor, and he did the unusual thing of actually looking at the Governor as he spoke. He made occasional facial gestures that appeared quite natural – a eye brow raise, a frown, a nod. It spoke to a kind of thoughtful attentiveness on his part and also to the fact that he’s still an outsider.

On the other side of the Governor was Kathy Hochul. Not to be catty or mean, but she has what can only be described as a put-on smile. All the time. She smiles when she talks, and at times, it appears to impair the pronunciation of some of her words.  In this regard, try grinning broadly and saying: “Thank you, Governor Cuomo.” If you hold the grin while you’re saying the words, you get: “Tank yew, Guv-ner Ko-moh,” which is pretty close to the way she says it.

At this particular event, Jim Malatras was far off to the left at the corner of the U-shaped table arrangement. Kremlinologists, in the old days, would infer something negative in that, but we didn’t. That said, Malatras, after only a short time in the key role, has acquired what Vietnam vets would call the 1,000-yard stare. The look in his eyes, combined with the beard he sports, makes him look like he’s in Special Forces and has just returned from a long tour of duty in the mountains of Afghanistan.

And then there was the cabinet. Again, not to be mean-spirited, but they all had expressions of confusion, uncertainty and nervousness. When they spoke it was hesitatingly and cautiously as if seeking approval for each word they uttered. They don’t even talk amongst themselves. They just sit there awaiting their moment. If they were in orange jumpsuits, you’d think they were ISIS hostages.

Now the purpose of this news conference, since it had no particular news value, must have been to reassure everyone that the administration – despite a bad run lately and the continuing cloud of a federal investigation – is functioning just fine, thank you. But the obvious, incredible tightness of the supporting cast sent the opposite message.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 28, 2015 8:49 PM

    This would make a great LCA skit!

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