OFF THE GRID

Cuomo and Carlyle: Who Wins?

May 15, 09 | 10:52 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The Great Recession was caused by, I believe we are all agreed, two or three decades of unleashed and unregulated ambition—that desire, on the part of a certain personality type, to get the most that could be gotten.

The curious question is what happens now to that sort of rapacious desire and to those kind of Sammy Glick personalities in this new, earnest, cautionary, and reform-minded, age.

The Carlyle Group, the Times reports, will pay $20 million “and make broad changes to its practices” to settle pay-to-play accusations by the New York attorney general. This presumably means that, not only will the Sammy Glick-types at Carlyle no longer bribe lesser Sammy Glick-types who might influence the direction of state-supervised pension funds, but that Carlyle will in some more profound sense, as the Times says, shift its ways.

It is hard to imagine what that shift might involve—lower rates of return? Upper-middle-class, rather than baronial, compensation packages? Shabby offices? Even a kind of throwing off of the monkey of ambition itself? Carlyle becomes a reticent, cautious, conservative, lackluster, little firm of unglamorous green-visor types? I think that might be close to the romantic view of the new reformers—repress the Id of ambition.

But the subduing of Carlyle offers a mixed message. Carlyle, among other private-equity groups who have gladly paid dubious middlemen for their influence, has been pursued and cornered by Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general in New York state. Cuomo, who I have known for some years and rather like, is himself a man of the most rapacious temperament and with, as much as anyone in politics (and this is saying something), a Sammy Glick personality.


(AP Photo)

His victory over Carlyle represents for Cuomo the triumph of his own virulent and unrelenting ambition. All but politically destroyed by an ill-advised and poorly organized, but high-profile, primary run for governor in 2002, followed by a tabloid break-up with his Kennedy wife (a marriage propelled by rapacious ambition), he claws back into the fray with the attorney general job in which he follows the publicity playbook of his rapacious and Glick-like predecessor, Eliot Spitzer. In furtherance of his own craven ambitions, he goes after the cravenly ambitious people on Wall Street.

And he has done this to good effect. Taking Carlyle down a peg or two is surely good for the nation—meanwhile he soars in the polls against the current, ineptly ambitious, New York governor, David Paterson.

But where does this leave us?

The hungry, the predatory, the cunning, and the indefatigable still make the rules and win the game.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.

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