Richard Bamberger: The man who has what it takes to be Andrew Cuomo's communications director
Richard Bamberger may be Governor Andrew Cuomo’s communications director, the titular nexus of a media-obsessed administration’s tentacular approach to the press, but that doesn’t necessarily say much about him.
In the classic model for press-shop management, the communications director oversees the dissemination of the principal's message, which entails at least some regular contact with the press. He also oversees the press secretary and attendant deputies in press office. The superior to whom the communications director formally reports depends on the administration.
Bamberger, who had a successful career in TV news before becoming a press aide, is barely known to Albany reporters, who say they have little to no interaction with him on a regular basis. Instead, they deal with Bamberger’s subordinate, deputy communications director Josh Vlasto, with one of the governor's other close advisers, like counselor Andrew Zambelli, or with the governor directly.
If, on the face of it, Bamberger is the opposite of what one might expect in a communications director, his understated, behind-the-scenes style seems perfectly suited for the administration in which he serves. Governor Cuomo has a known predilection for aides whose personalities do not compete with his own, who show little appetite for public exposure, and who allow him to act on the belief that his way is really the only way to do business.
Bamberger is perhaps best known among the members of the press who cover Cuomo for his ability to survive more than two years as Cuomo’s communications director, and, to the extent they have gotten to know him directly, for his unusual kindliness.
“He’s the only one who’s actually nice,” one reporter said.
Niceness is not a trait often associated with the Cuomo administration. And, it’s almost certainly not the reason why Bamberger was picked for a job known for its grueling hours and heart-palpitating level of stress.
“A lot of people you speak with will say Rich is a really nice guy,” said a former coworker in the attorney general's office. “And everybody’s right. The guy's nice. But you need to understand that behind his big goofy grin is an extremely shrewd and loyal political aide.”
Bamberger’s appeal to the governor appears to be two-fold. First, he had meaningful experience in TV news production prior to joining Cuomo’s attorney general press office, an important attribute for a governor known to be fond of television and eager to further expand his public profile.
“Andrew’s a big name and comes from a great legacy, but as soon as Bamberger came in the door, all of a sudden, we were on a national platform,” said the former coworker in the attorney general's office. “He gave a lot of the issues we were dealing with a national platform, making them household issues."
Second, he now has a proven track record of getting along with Cuomo, having lasted two years as a press aide for a client who is arguably the most demanding in the business, a micromanager who is known to have an enormous regard for his own media savvy.
“Andrew runs the shop through Drew Zambelli,” said a political consultant, referring to the governor's decades-old friend and counselor. “Andrew feels that he knows the press well.”
RICHARD BAMBERGER, 40, GREW UP IN A HOUSE FULL of lawyers, his mother a Bronx judge, his father an attorney. His older brother now works as an assistant law professor at Berkeley.
Bamberger, who declined to comment for this article, went to Riverdale Country School and then Skidmore College, where he majored in English. He kept an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite on his dorm-room wall, and spent his free hours driving through upstate New York equipped with an Olympus camera. Occasionally he would stumble upon news, like a horse barn fire in Schuylerville, and submit photos to the local paper. In his spare time, he edited his college newspaper, the Skidmore News.
Attracted to a career in media, he interned at Albany’s CBS affiliate his last semester in college. When he graduated in 1992, he scored a job there as a script ripper and teleprompter operator.
“In college years, he had a very bad stutter,” recalled Peter Brancato, the news operation manager at CBS 6 in Albany who hired Bamberger. “So when he called to be an intern, and I talked to him, I thought, this kid’s going to have a tough time with this business.”