Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton apologized to New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo on Tuesday for private remarks he made implying that Cuomo acts like a Mafioso.
The remarks became public Monday when Gennifer Flowers, who claims to have had a 12-year affair with Clinton, held a news conference and played tapes that she says were of phone conversations between her and Clinton. Flowers held the news conference along with the Star, a supermarket tabloid, which paid her for her story and published it.
Clinton has strongly denied that he had an affair with Flowers but has acknowledged talking with her by telephone after she called him to express concern about being romantically linked to him. On Tuesday, Clinton’s aides confirmed that he made the remarks about Cuomo.
Clinton himself, in response to questions from the press, said Monday night in Houston that he had not listened to the tapes, but “with everybody now publishing” reports that he made the remarks, he wanted Cuomo “to know if anything was said, I didn’t mean any offense by it.”
During one portion of the tape, apparently made before Cuomo announced he would not be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Flowers and Clinton discuss Cuomo and his high name recognition.
Flowers says she doesn’t care for Cuomo’s “demeanor.”
Clinton responds: “Boy, he is so aggressive.”
Flowers says she wouldn’t be surprised if Cuomo “didn’t have some Mafioso major connections.”
“Well, he acts like one,” Clinton says.
In his apology, Clinton said: “If the remarks on the tape left anyone with the impression that I was disrespectful to either Gov. Cuomo or Italian-Americans, then I deeply regret it.
“At the time the conversation was held, there had been some political give and take between myself and the governor and I meant simply to imply that Gov. Cuomo is a tough, worthy competitor.”
At first Cuomo dismissed Clinton’s explanation.
“What do you mean if?” Cuomo said, referring to the Arkansas governor’s statement. “If you are not capable of understanding what was said, then don’t try apologizing.”
“This is part of an ugly syndrome that strikes Italian-Americans, Jewish people, blacks, women, all the ethnic groups,” Cuomo said when questioned by reporters in Albany, N. Y.
Cuomo later urged putting the controversy aside and “getting back to the issues.”
Clinton, when pressed by reporters about his apology to Cuomo, became more visibly angry than he has since Flowers’ allegations surfaced. “What I wonder is, with all the American people we got that are unemployed, with all the people who can’t get any health care, with all the problems we have in this country . . . the first three questions from the press would be about something that doesn’t have a thing to do with the future of this country.”
Referring to the press, Clinton added: “The American people are sick and tired with your obsessive preoccupation with a failed setup and I have nothing else to say about it.”
Times staff writer Ronald Brownstein from Houston contributed to this story.