When Rick Lazio Loved Andy Cuomo


By Scott Greenberg

Speaking earlier this month about Andrew Cuomo’s 1997-2000 tenure at HUD, gubernatorial rival Rick Lazio blasted him: “He was the head of an agency that was the worst-rated agency in the federal government, which is really saying something.”

That’s the exact opposite of what Lazio was saying about Cuomo at the time. As a House member, Lazio often made nice with Cuomo, according to documents the Voice unearthed in Lazio’s archives.

The two had to work pretty closely: Lazio chaired the Housing and Community Opportunity subcommittee, which wielded substantial power over Cuomo’s HUD.

“Our work together over the past few weeks is a shining example of what can be accomplished through such partnership when an issue of such critical importance confronts us,” said Lazio in a ’97 press release regarding the Senior Homeowner Reverse Mortgage Protection Act.

That same year, Lazio told the Times, “He’s doing what the president should have been doing for the last five years, talking about cities and public housing. A higher profile for housing, whether it’s from me, a Republican, or him, a Democrat, is good for policy over all.”

Even after their stints in Washington were over, they acted chummy in public. The Observer‘s Azi Paybarah recently dug up an August 2004 radio show that the two guest-hosted at New Rochelle’s WVOX. “I am honored to be here with Andrew Cuomo, who I had the privilege to work with during my years in Congress,” Lazio crooned. Cuomo responded in kind: Asked by a caller when America will have an Italian-American president, Cuomo replied, “Soon as Rick runs.” (Audio here.)

Lazio seemed fond of Cuomo’s work even when Cuomo attempted to move HUD’s Enforcement Division to the Big Apple in 1997. He only addressed the conflict with Cuomo when a senior trial attorney at HUD, Eddie Eitches, cried foul and Republicans threw a fit.

“The only reason [the move] is being done is for Cuomo to contract out to his friends and prepare for future political ambitions,” said Eitches, according to an August ’97 e-mail written by subcommittee assistant Shanie Geddes. “The most disturbing fact, however, is that Cuomo told the union the reason it is in NY is because Lazio dictated it had to be there because he has future political ambitions,” continues the e-mail. Eitches was the chair of Local 476, a HUD union in DC that wanted to keep jobs in the capital.

But instead of condemning Cuomo, Lazio’s files reveal, the congressman appeared to take a conciliatory approach, writing to the HUD chief, “I am afraid there has been miscommunication somewhere. Nonetheless, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you at your earliest convenience so that we can clear up any confusion.”

Lazio was publicly gracious about Cuomo right from the start. “I am confident Mr. Cuomo has the expertise and initiative to be a strong leader at HUD,” said Lazio in ’96. A speech outline prepared for Lazio that year noted, “Cuomo v. Cisneros — Be Nice to Cuomo.” (Henry Cisneros was Cuomo’s HUD predecessor).

While in Congress and when he ran for Senate in 2000, Lazio bragged on his own experience in working with HUD. Now that the housing bubble has pumped, it’s a different tune.

“Andrew Cuomo ought to be held accountable for his role in pushing these entities to aggressively expand lending to those who couldn’t afford it,” Lazio said in a recent diatribe against Fannie Mae earlier this month. “His fingerprints are all over the housing meltdown and now the taxpayers are on the hook for what is nearly 150 billion dollars worth of his liberal and wrong-headed policies.”

But Lazio praised those policies at the time. His own promo materials from those days take particular pride in saying that Lazio “introduced the American Homeownership Opportunity Act, common-sense legislation to expand homeownership opportunities for all Americans into the 21st century.”