A quarter-century ago, historian Robert S. McElvaine set out to write a biography of Gov. Mario Cuomo. The book, published in 1988, could hardly be viewed as a hit job; some reviewers would later term it laudatory.
McElvaine remembers the reluctance of his subject. "He didn't really want to cooperate at all to begin with. But then he realized I, or anyone, could write without his cooperation so, basically, he told family members and people around him it was okay to talk to me," McElvaine said.
But McElvaine, a professor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., said he was unable to get an interview with son and adviser Andrew Cuomo, "who would have had important things to say."
All that is now water under the Whitestone. This week comes word that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to write a book of his own, with a co-author to be hired. Two other books about him already are planned by different authors.
"There will be a point where I'd like to do a book on government, on philosophy, on what we're doing here, why we're doing what we're doing, what else should be done," Cuomo said. "We're not at that point."
One question: Why write it?
Publication would be planned for mid-to-late 2014, Cuomo aides have said. Oh. That would fall right in the season of his run for re-election.
Back in 2003, after losing his first bid for governor, Cuomo edited a collection of essays called "Crossroads: The Future of American Politics." But how would he have time to do a book while governor?
"His first priority is being governor -- which is why we're looking to find a co-author who will take the laboring oar," a close Cuomo ally who asked not to be identified assured us. The project would also "deploy people familiar with the governor's thinking and experiences."
If we know anything of the Executive Mansion's current occupant, it is that he seeks to respond to what others write about him before and after they write it. Cuomo's ally said: "If you're not willing to pick up the pen yourself, others will fill in the details."
Unlike the 1982-83 diaries of Mario M. Cuomo, published in the second year of the elder's term, Andrew Cuomo & Co. say this will be neither a memoir nor an autobiography. (Still, maybe he could draw on his younger years -- for instance title it "Douglaston Diaries: Jump-starting New York like a '75 Malibu.")
Another question: Can't such a published work prove perishable and risky?
Mario Cuomo's pre-inaugural diaries were published in 1984, the same year second-term New York City Mayor Ed Koch published his book, "Mayor." Comparing the two, the late Murray Kempton observed: "To the governor of New York, language is a device for making oneself look better than one probably is. To the mayor of New York, language is a device for making oneself look worse than one could possibly be."
The current Governor Cuomo will wish to avoid the eventually cruel irony of still other works by power players. Presidential candidate John Edwards published "Four Trials" long before going on trial himself. Purple-Heart winner and Rep. Charles Rangel wrote "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since" before facing his worst political days. NYC Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik published "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice" before being pursued by the Justice Department.
"If this is done the right way," said the Cuomo friend, "there will be no risk . . . The only risk will be that it would not be widely read."