Competence is fascinating. You don’t have to tell viewers to hear Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s daily media reviews. Many were riveted through his clear talk in the face of a global pandemic.
Others are increasingly focusing on the woman who usually sits on his left: the one who, on Thursday, contradicted a reporter’s suggestion that New York pulled his heels in response to the spread of the coronavirus by assuring him in a tone like flint That it was Once it was clear that New York and not just the West Coast was an entry point for the virus: “We switched off completely, with literally zero instructions from the federal government.”
She is Melissa DeRosa, the trusted advisor and strategist to whom Mr. Cuomo routinely turns to get a reliable litany of facts and figures: often seen taking notes, checking her cell phone, and relevant documents under her boss’s nose pushes. Ms. DeRosa, 37, is constantly on the podium and has a longer moment of outburst.
As the governor’s secretary, she is the state’s most powerful appointed official, the first woman to hold this position, and one of the youngest. Their solid knowledge of facts and Arcana only indicates their rule.
“If you are a legislator in Albany and receive a call from Melissa DeRosa, you are essentially getting a call from the governor,” said Lis Smith, ex-Cuomo re-election spokeswoman and Pete Buttigieg senior communications advisor during his presidential election.
“In the midst of this crisis, she managed to work out her own role,” said Ms. Smith. A tactician to the bone: “She brings her own authoritative voice to these briefings.”
Ms. DeRosa was certainly tactical in a telephone interview at the end of April and rarely got off the topic when she cataloged the details of her job. Every day she prepares to address a variety of problems.
“Some days it says:” Are we closing schools? “She said.” On some days the question is, “Are we going to run an executive order so people can get married online?” On some days, the Bloomberg team is working to develop a contact tracking program. “
Armed with diagrams and documents, she made government decisions about voting by post and restaurant closings and set the agenda every day behind Mr. Cuomo’s public news.
“It’s not easy to get your confidence and sense of control during these briefings, but she does,” said Ms. Smith. “She is by no means a yes woman. And as you can imagine, he doesn’t like to hear no. But he trusts her and appreciates the fact that she is a straight shooter. “
Mr. Cuomo quickly repeated this assessment. “This crisis hit New York with a force we’ve never seen before,” he wrote in an email. “Our response requires an equal and opposite force, and that’s exactly what Melissa delivers.”
Ms. DeRosa is disciplined as a drill sergeant and usually wakes up between 3:45 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., often at 6 a.m. in the office. Your days sometimes last until midnight. “When the governor walks through the door, he expects us to be finished with ideas for what we have to tell the public for a day, a full briefing,” she said.
“He’s interrogating us,” she said. “If we tell him something, he won’t take it at face value. He’ll ask us a question in seven different ways, and you’d better be prepared to answer it.”
After that, “you spend the rest of the day with the unknown. You can wake up thinking that your day will go in one direction and this plan is out of the window at 7:30 a.m. depending on what unforeseen crisis is happening, what the president says, what hospital deficiency is happening. “
She leaves only a few details unattended and leaves almost nothing to chance and flashes her team of 79 state commissioners and all senior staff up with questions every morning. “I ask:” Where does the law state that you cannot simply vote by post and have to be absent? I want you to tell me the section of the state constitution. I want to see where it is written. “
“I want to make sure that what we say is right and can withstand public scrutiny,” said Ms. DeRosa.
The task requires agility and an Adamantine core. Ms. DeRosa is known to be adamant in supporting the governor. “You and I had a disagreement, just as much as my fault,” recalled Karen Hinton, a communications consultant who worked with Ms. DeRosa as press spokeswoman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015 and 2016.
“Melissa is incredibly smart, very knowledgeable and articulate, and sometimes people can be intimidated,” said Ms. Hinton.
“Politics can be tough,” she added. “You have to express your views and your positions. Melissa is good at that. “
Some properties, friends suggest, are in their DNA.
“Melissa has always been pretty competitive, she has always commanded the room,” said Rachel Berman, a nutritionist and close friend of Mrs. DeRosa, since they were 12 years old at Camp Wah-Nee, Connecticut. “From an early age she knew what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to be in the public service. She was very committed professionally.”
Her agenda was driven by her family relationships and temporarily hampered. Her father, Giorgio DeRosa, is a partner at Bolton-St. Johns, a very influential lobby company. Her sister Jessica and her brother Joseph also work in the company.
Her husband Matt Wing was Cuomo press spokesman in 2013 and 2014 and later became communications director for the governor’s re-election campaign. The couple met in 2013 when Ms. DeRosa was Governor Cuomo’s communications director. In 2015, Mr. Wing became senior communications officer at Uber and was one of the company’s lobbyists when Uber sought expansion in New York.
The appointment of Ms. DeRosa to the top position in Mr. Cuomo’s office in 2017 raised questions about possible conflicts arising from her father’s lobbying. Common Cause, an advocacy group for good government, issued a statement at the time, noting that Ms. DeRosa is withdrawing from any issues that affect her father or family.
No conflicts have been published since her appointment. Susan Lerner, general manager of Common Cause / NY, wrote in an email: “As the governor further strengthens power in this crisis, Common Cause / NY’s concerns about employee conflicts of interest have only increased. Who meets whom? Who gets contracts and who doesn’t? “
Ms. DeRosa dismissed this discomfort.
“I can’t decide what their jobs are for the family, and they can’t decide what my job is for me,” she said, adding briefly, “I’m doing my best to meet the highest ethical standards and be as transparent as possible and I think that’s all you can ask. “
“He looks at her”
At the age of 16, Ms. DeRosa began working as an intern for New York State political director A.F.L.-C.I.O., who was preparing to support Hillary Clinton before her offer to the Senate.
“I remember thinking when I stuffed the envelope and answered the call.” she told The Poughkeepsie Journal“One day I want to be the person who is sitting in this room, having these conversations, defining strategies and being part of it in a meaningful way.”
There were a few detours. After graduating from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Ms. DeRosa became a publicist for Theory, a fashion house in New York for a year, a time she now calls a brief rebellious phase.
“I think every 22 year old tries to keep his father busy,” she said with a laugh. “I did that back then.”
She joined Bolton-St. Johns, a lobbyist, completed a master’s degree in public administration at Cornell, and then led former President Barack Obama’s national political action organization for New York. She spent two more years as Deputy Chief of Staff for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, but at the time knew nothing about the allegations of sexual misconduct that would force him out of office.
Ms. DeRosa is no stranger to sexism herself. She told the Poughkeepsie Journal that a decade ago, when she was working as a lobbyist, she heard her boss tell a client she identified as a national figure in progressive politics that she would be leading a project. “Why doesn’t she take the lead to my hotel room,” came his answer.
The memory still ranks. “All I ever wanted to do was be seen and judged on my own performance, skills and merits,” she said.
She joined the New York State Administration in 2013 as communications director and was promoted to chief of staff two years later. She has had the governor’s ear for a long time, said Ms. Smith: “When they are together in a room, he looks at her to see how she reacts.”
Ms. DeRosa, with the blessing of Governor Cuomo, has helped control the nationwide guidelines, including the minimum wage of $ 15, paid family vacation, and extended insurance coverage for in vitro fertilization and egg freezing.
As chair of the New York State Council on Women and newly appointed head of the Covid-19 Task Force on Maternity, she was instrumental in the enforcement of a law that would include assistants in the delivery room, expand birth opportunities, and extend the period healthy partner could stay with a mother after childbirth.
The reproductive problems of women are close to her heart. After six months in her current job, which she knew would use up her waxing hours, Ms. DeRosa spoke to her doctor about freezing her eggs. “Being a woman in her mid-30s, dealing with decisions about children, the time of birth, and restrictions in insurance law and healthcare was something I was very, very involved in,” she said.
In order to take responsibility for her own reproductive future, she underwent the process “through many cycles,” she said. “I took hormone shots for many months.”
She’s looser about routine self-care, her days are fueled by an old-fashioned elixir. “It’s incredible,” she said, “what the combination of adrenaline and caffeine can do to get you through everything.”
A tired schedule didn’t dampen her longstanding interest in style. She was a determined girl, her friend Ms. Berman recalled. “When I was growing up, everything in the closet was pink, with pearls,” she said.
Two years ago, Ms. DeRosa appeared on a Times Square billboard wearing a $ 228 USD Rebecca Minkoff dress that was part of Ms. Minkoff’s advertising campaign. Jezebel, the feminist website, was quick to write an article entitled “If an official sells feminism, who is empowered?? “The article accused Ms. DeRosa of her role in commercializing women’s activism and questioned the ethics of this choice.
Ms. DeRosa has since become more secular, if not necessarily prudent. She generated feminist anger when, during Cynthia Nixon’s run for the New York governor in 2018, she described Ms. Nixon as “awkward” on her Twitter account.
Spectators often notice their sleeveless clothes. Does she want to give the job a dose of glamor? No chance, said Ms. DeRosa: “I’m in Albany with the clothes I showed up with. I didn’t think we would attend press conferences nationwide every day. “
She put personal vanity on hold, she said. “I would like to tell you that I can take long runs and give myself time and an appearance of work-life balance, but I don’t,” she said. “And I think at the moment it is the way it should be.”