Interviews & Profiles

DeRosa: ‘Hochul’s a sideshow’

The Cuomo administration was so desperate to get then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul off the ticket that they tried to find positions for her at Planned Parenthood and in the federal government, according to the former governor’s top aide.

From left at DeRosa’s book party: Senior Eric Adams Adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Melissa DeRosa and Andrew Cuomo.

From left at DeRosa’s book party: Senior Eric Adams Adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Melissa DeRosa and Andrew Cuomo. Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

In her new book, “What’s Left Unsaid: My Life at the Center of Power, Politics and Crisis” Melissa DeRosa writes: “It’s true. I am not made of candy glass. Politics ain’t beanbag, and if people believe they can push you around, they will.” In other words, it’s better to be feared than loved. A notorious enforcer for her former boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, DeRosa saw the pinnacle and nadir of her career compressed into a yearlong span in 2020 and 2021, a whirlwind she recounts in detail in her very pissed off memoir. 

DeRosa has many enemies, and none are spared her ire, but she doesn’t hold back her disdain for Gov. Kathy Hochul. The book gives details on DeRosa’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering to try to dump Hochul as lieutenant governor – twice. In 2014, DeRosa said, the team preferred Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, but Brown didn’t clear the vetting process due to being too close to a federal investigation – though he was never charged. In 2018, DeRosa writes, the Cuomo team attempted to dump Hochul, trying to land her a position as president of Planned Parenthood, but ultimately gave in to an upstate “shadow campaign in the press” to keep her on. As they geared up for 2022, they tried to separate again, appealing to the Biden team to give Hochul a position in the administration, DeRosa writes. When allegations of sexual harassment (which he disputes) and assault (which he denies) against Andrew Cuomo started to surface, those talks stopped, according to DeRosa. 

Why target the current governor? DeRosa denies her book is paving the way for a Cuomo 2026 run – and she said she wouldn’t work for him again if he did decide to take the leap. But she didn’t rule out running for office herself. After being briefed about DeRosa’s criticisms, Hochul spokesperson Anthony Hogrebe responded: “The State of New York has moved on, and we hope she is able to find a way to move on as well.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your book is getting quite a bit of buzz.

I'm glad to hear that. 

To what extent was Andrew Cuomo aware of everything you were saying? I'm just curious to what extent he's signed off.

So the governor didn't receive a copy of the book until actually about two days ago. I decided that if I was doing this, it was my book. It wasn't his book. I couldn't put myself in a situation where he was telling me to move commas or I got this wrong, or I got that wrong. It was my story to tell. At the same time, you know, I do recount a tremendous amount of dialogue throughout the book. A lot of that was based on notes I took in real time, but I would say about 80% of the dialogue I recount I did go back and fact check with the people who I was in the conversations with and say, “Does this match your recollection? These were the notes that I took. Is this how you believe that it happened as well?” And so there were certainly points during which I went to him and said, “This is my recollection. This is how I recounted it. Is it consistent with what you think?” And you know, when people disagreed, I took that into account in how I recorded it, but it was my book.

How often do you talk to him these days?

You know, I still talk to him a few times a week. I still talk to (fellow Cuomo aide Rich) Azzopardi all the time. … I mean, it was a very intense thing that we all lived through. And I think when you go through something like that, you forge a bond, where you remain close with those people. 

This book is being characterized by a lot of people, and I think with good reason, as part of a rehabilitation of his image in order to have future or political opportunities for you or for Cuomo. Do you think that's fair? 

Well, that's the one thing that I find really offensive. I mean, I, you know, take no qualms with my Vanity Fair interview, except that the way that it was framed where it said, “she's not done defending Cuomo.” This isn't about defending Cuomo. This isn't his story. … Of course, Andrew Cuomo is a character in the book, I wouldn't have been in the position I was in had he not been governor. But this book isn't about him. It's not about his rehabilitation. It's not about settling his scores. This is my story as I lived it, and I couldn't live with myself if I allowed the first draft of history, which was so distorted and so just completely wrong on every level, to be what was ultimately set in stone. And so whatever this paves the way for in the future for me, for anyone else in my administration, for anyone else who played a role in this big or small, I think it just sort of is what it is, but that wasn't the intent.

Aside from this book, do you see a future for Cuomo politically?

I think that's a question for him. You know, if he decides to do it, God bless him. I think that there is a tremendous leadership void in this city, in this state, in this country. I think that there were a lot of people who were thrilled to see him go because they felt he had amassed too much power for too long. … I think that time has allowed people to appreciate his ability to be a strong, tough, effective leader and I think also for people to realize the importance of having a strong, tough, effective leader. Should he decide to run again for something, of course I will always support him, but I think it's time for me to go in my own direction, and I don't see myself working for him again.

Oh, interesting. OK, do you see yourself running for office or staying in public service?

Absolutely staying in public service in some form in some fashion. Whether or not I’ll run, never say never. I mean, you've seen me I'm sure in the last year and a half, I have had plenty of critical things to say about the current administration, about other elected officials, and at a certain point sort of put up or shut up. 

Gov. Hochul: You really do have a lot of criticism for her, and I think this is the first time we're learning about the background conversations of how you guys tried to dump her as LG. So can you say more about that?

It was never a secret within the administration that I was not a Hochul fan. … In 2018, I lobbied very hard for the governor to remove her from the ticket. And so he let me go off and sort of do a little bit of fact finding and interviewing of people and see what other options we came up with. And I recount that meeting at 633 Third Avenue where we're all sitting around a table and you know, 30 minutes go by and we're all dancing around the obvious and I finally just said, “You're out Kathy, we're picking someone else for the ticket.” And she heard us, but then she turned around and deployed people like (Erie County Executive) Mark Poloncarz and (Erie County Democratic Committee Chair) Jeremy Zellner, and others in Erie County, in upstate New York to say, “You can't throw her off the ticket. We need an upstater.” And immediately it became a headache in the press and the governor said to me, “Forget it, it's not worth this. You know, if you need to dump $5 million into her campaign to just get her to beat Jumaane Williams, fine, but I don't want the political headache.” So we ultimately abandoned that very quickly. She barely beat Jumaane Williams. 

And then you know, you fast forward four years later and we were preparing to remove her from the ticket for the second time. And she really wanted to be ambassador to Canada, and I made a number of overtures to senior people in the White House to say, “Can you please give her ambassador to Canada?” And I was basically like, laughed off the phone. And they were like, “Who? We've never heard of this woman.” And I'm like, “She was a congressperson. She's close to, you know, Nancy Pelosi.” And they said, “These are important positions, you know, we'll find something for her, but it's not going to be that.” And then they offered us Deputy Secretary of Commerce, and she was ready to take it. We were going to remove her from the ticket in the winter of 2021, and then choose who we wanted our running mate to be for 2022. And then, bam, the allegations start unfurling and everything goes on pause. Accidental governor indeed. 

Why do you think she was ill-equipped?

Being governor, being mayor, being president: These are executive positions, where you're overseeing massive governments where you have countless employees and agencies and very complex issues that you're dealing with. The Legislature is a third of it. The rest of it is making the government run and dealing with snow storms and hurricanes and building bridges and rebuilding LaGuardia and Penn Station. I mean, it's been two years. What has she done? Literally, what has she done? I mean, every infrastructure project we brought to the finish line essentially ended up being late. Half of them were totally derailed. You got a situation where the press and the public have sort of reoriented in such a short period of time, in their own minds, what it means to be governor. 

The governor doesn't matter anymore. There's a massive migrant crisis in New York City, Kathy Hochul’s a sideshow. She's nowhere to be found. It's Eric Adams on his own. There's a massive snow emergency in Western New York. And she's not there. She's not holding press conferences. She's not closing roads. She's not pre-deploying equipment. She was in Albany, you know, dealing with the pay raise for the Legislature, and then turning around and getting smacked for the Court of Appeals judge. She just, she gets rolled at every turn, and it's like she wants to be. The day LaSalle’s vote went down, which was a historic moment. No governor has ever lost a Court of Appeals chief judge nominee, she was sitting in the front row of the Michael Kors fashion show with Anna Wintour. Literally fiddling while Rome burns. It's not a job for someone who wants a tiara or for someone who wants to fly around on a plane or for someone who wants to be at the front while they cut a ribbon, or for someone who wants to be nice and make friends.