Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said Tuesday the biggest task Bill Clinton faces is clearly defining himself to the nation in his acceptance speech so the Democratic Convention can serve as a successful springboard for the presidential election campaign.
"Generally, he wants to be sure the American people know him as his intimates know him, not as the press and his enemies try to portray him," Cuomo said. "You can say more about yourself just by the subjects you select, how you say them. I think defining himself is the most important thing he can do."
In an interview with The Times, Cuomo said he felt very comfortable nominating the Arkansas governor tonight. Cuomo, in an address that will have resounding echoes of his "Tale of Two Cities" speech that riveted the Democratic Convention in San Francisco eight years ago, will seek, trial lawyer-fashion, to present the Clinton case to the jury of American voters.
Noting that he spent more of his time as a lawyer than as a politician, Cuomo said he was not uncomfortable presenting Clinton's case.
"You present your client to the jury," he said, stressing he will be an enthusiastic advocate in Madison Square Garden.
Advisers to both Clinton and Cuomo said the New York governor's words will be his own, with no pre-editing by Clinton's top advisers. The New York governor said there have been discussions in recent days with Clinton's communications director, George Stephanopoulous, "about personal things. Does he mind me saying this or that, not to review the text."
Cuomo said that pre-editing "would compromise both of us."
When he was originally asked to deliver the nominating speech, Cuomo said he spoke with Clinton.
"When he first talked to me about doing it, I said, 'Bill, do you have an idea what you would like?' He said you know the issues well, you have to talk about change. I said I am not going to bother you about the speech. I asked for someone to check with to be sure. He gave me George Stephanopoulous. I spoke with him a couple of times."
Still, in the Clinton camp, more than a tinge of nervousness persists. Some Democrats remember Cuomo's remarks--though not delivered during a political convention--about another standard-bearer, Walter F. Mondale. New York's governor compared him to polenta--a mushy dish of Italian origin made with cornmeal.
On the opening day of the convention, delegates reading the New York Daily News were greeted by the front-page headline "With Pals Like This," a reference to Cuomo's repeated television interview show comments that Clinton would have to raise some taxes if he reaches the White House.
Clinton spent the next day in damage control, stressing he would tax the rich and U.S. corporations that take their operations outside the country, including Mexico.
Cuomo charged that the Daily News ignored all his hard work stumping for Clinton on the talk show circuit during the convention.
"The Daily News seeks to crucify me," he charged.
He pledged to campaign vigorously for the Clinton-Gore ticket in the general election.
"I never met anybody who can outwork me," he said.