Maggie Haberman covered New York politics for over a decade at the New York Post, with a three-and-a-half-year stint at the rival Daily News. In that time she’s earned the fear of the state’s politicians and the respect of her peers—the Daily News’s Liz Benjamin told The New York Observer, “Maggie’s like fucking changing a diaper with one hand, holding a BlackBerry in the other, and breaking stories, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’” Five months ago, Haberman took her multitasking skills to Politico just in time for a midterm election that sees Governor Paterson stepping down, Chuck Schumer holding strong, and Charles Rangel at the center of a national storm. Haberman spoke with CJR assistant editor Joel Meares in the run-up to the September 14 New York primary. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Why the interest in politics?
I was sent to cover City Hall by the Post in 1999, when I was twenty-four, and I knew absolutely nothing. But it was a lot of fun and City Hall then was an incredibly interesting place to be because of Rudy Giuliani. It had a certain allure as a new reporter. From then I was hooked.
Are you still excited by it?
New York politics is so driven by New York City and by the governor’s office. And I think you’ve had, over the last two years, an incredibly interesting story both at the city level, with what Mayor Bloomberg did with term limits, which was very controversial, and the wild ride that has been the capital. Between Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, and Hillary Clinton leaving, there’s been so much going on that it’s been hard for reporters to catch our breaths. And we had a very strange scenario of two New Yorkers as prestige frontrunners for presidential nominations for a while.
What have been the differences between reporting for the Post and reporting for Politico?
It’s very different working for a website, that’s the biggest difference. I have no off button now. If I don’t have the fixed end point of a daily deadline, it’s a little harder for me to turn my brain off. And, also, having a blog is a little different than filing once a day—with a blog you’re constantly filing. On the other hand, with a blog you have a real voice, which is a nice thing.
The Post is obviously a little different. It’s a tabloid, among other things. And in New York politics, the Post is completely dominant and it sets the agenda. It’s sort of apples and oranges, though Politico is also very dominant and it sets the agenda in Washington. It’s been about adapting a New York flavor to a broader audience.
Has anything surprised you less than when Andrew Cuomo announced his candidacy for governor in May?
No, but Hillary announcing she was running for president might have been equally as unsurprising. The only surprise in the governor’s race has been how little of a race there has actually been, even though I don’t think any of us was expecting a huge battle. I think Andrew Cuomo himself has been pretty surprised at how late he was able to declare and how little outside pressure there has been on him to do certain things, in terms of discussing plans and intentions.
How has the press dealt with that inevitability?
There has been a lot of discussion about whether this will be like 2006, where the press coronated Eliot Spitzer and then obviously regretted the lack of deeper analysis of him. I think the difference this time is that many members of the press actually liked Eliot Spitzer quite a bit; I don’t think most members of the press are particularly enamored of Andrew Cuomo. There is a difference, but the end product is the same: I don’t think either man, during their campaigns, got a ton of scrutiny.
Why are people less enamored with Cuomo than they are with Spitzer?
I just think it’s stylistic—tonally if you look at the coverage of Eliot Spitzer in 2006 compared to the coverage of Andrew Cuomo, on balance it’s harsher on Cuomo.
What did you think when Spitzer landed his upcoming gig on CNN?
America is all about second chances.
No one has even bothered challenging Cuomo. Why is that?