Why Andrew Cuomo is losing a fight with an engineer named Mike

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Andrew Cuomo's administration forced the resignation of a state employee, a longtime engineer with the transportation department, who had spoken to the press, for a positive story in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, without first getting permission.

As it was, the episode, reported by the AP, played into the existing idea that Cuomo and his aides are obsessive, paranoid and unusually controlling when it comes to media coverage.

That AP story was picked up locally and nationally, in San Francisco, Houston, and in the Wall Street Journal.

Reacting to the coverage of the episode, the governor deployed a top political aide, state operations director Howard Glaser, to attack the now-former state employee by publicizing some of the employee's alleged workplace indiscretions.

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The ex-engineer, Mike Fayette, was collateral damage: the top aide had actually produced a rhetorical bill of indictment against the him (compiled, the aide was careful to point out, from public documents) as a means of beating back the bully-victim storyline and rebuking the press, which he accused of a "breathless" attempt to fit the forced resignation into a "tired" narrative in which ... Cuomo and his aides are obsessive and unusually controlling when it comes to media coverage.

Resulting headline in the Times: "Top Cuomo Aide Delivers Public Rebuke of State Worker Who Talked to the Press."

The Times described Glaser as "livid" during a radio appearance, reporting that he "read aloud Mr. Fayette’s disciplinary history, describing him as a troubled employee who had previously been penalized for having an improper relationship with a subordinate, misusing his work e-mail to send sexually explicit messages and using his state-assigned vehicle for personal errands."

That information had not been in the A.P. story. It was now out there. 

And so, in a really big way, was the story about the message-obsessed, and now vindictive-looking Cuomo administration. The Times story was linked on the Drudge Report, with a picture of Cuomo looking purposefully at something, or someone.

Cuomo, who tends to an unusual extent to keep his own counsel when it comes to press, if he's not taking advice from the aggressive-minded, virtually all-male circle of loyalists around him, had miscalculated badly.

"Their tendency is toward overkill," said one Democratic operative I spoke to, in hopes of getting a more useful explanation of what the governor might have been thinking. "The nuclear option is the first option."

Another operative I spoke to, also on background, compared Cuomo to former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who famously saw fit to go public with the sealed juvenile delinquency criminal record of an innocent black man who had just been killed by the police, in order to show that the victim was "no altar boy."

None of the operatives I spoke to mentioned the AP story, which had, by the time I spoke to them, been overtaken by the story of the administration's reaction to it.

A couple of Cuomo aides I spoke to insisted, on background, that they needed to get out there and correct the record, and to add information. They needed, they said, to prevent the original AP story about the pushed-out engineer, and the idea that he was victimized simply for talking to the press, from developing further.