Cuomo withdraws name as high court contender Clinton reportedly got word Thursday

April 07, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, believed to be President Clinton's top choice for the Supreme Court, has withdrawn his name from consideration, officials familiar with the situation said yesterday.

Mr. Cuomo told Mr. Clinton that he did not want the job in a phone conversation with the president Thursday evening, while Mr. Clinton was flying to Portland, Ore., on Air Force One, the sources told Newsday.

Mr. Cuomo did not return phone calls yesterday, and his office declined to comment on the subject.

"The governor has not discussed the Supreme Court [with reporters], and he's not going to start now," said Anne Crowley, the governor's press secretary.

Bruce Lindsey, director of White House personnel, also refused to comment, as did White House communications director George Stephanopoulos.

"The president doesn't talk about appointments until he's ready to make them," Mr. Lindsey said.

But several sources confirmed that Mr. Cuomo was out of the running for the seat to be vacated this summer by retiring Justice Byron R. White. They refused to discuss what reasons Mr. Cuomo gave the president for his withdrawal, and it was unclear why an announcement was not made immediately.

One source close to both Mr. Cuomo and the White House speculated that perhaps the governor wasn't ready to move into the isolated, out-of-the-limelight world of the Supreme Court.

"He still likes the give-and-take of politics -- the hustle and bustle of being governor," said the source. "He likes what he's doing."

But many questions remained yesterday. It was not clear if either Mr. Cuomo or the president had slammed the door on the possibility of Mr. Cuomo's filling some future Supreme Court vacancy. Nor was the exact nature of the conversations between the two men known -- such as whether Mr. Clinton ever actually offered Mr. Cuomo the nomination.

Mr. Cuomo's apparent decision to pull out of the running stunned insiders in Albany, N.Y., and Washington, who have speculated for weeks that Mr. Cuomo was eager to take the job if it were offered.

Throughout his career, Mr. Cuomo has talked about a desire to sit on the bench.

Mr. Cuomo has been considered a top contender for a Supreme Court appointment since June, when then-Governor Clinton called him a "legal scholar who also understands the impact of the law on real people's lives," and volunteered that Mr. Cuomo was the kind of person he would like to appoint as a Supreme Court justice.

Officials said yesterday that Mr. Cuomo's decision cuts two ways in the White House's efforts to select a nominee. "Before this, if Cuomo had not been chosen, we would have had to explain why not," said one top aide. "But now, with Cuomo withdrawing, it opens up the process to all of the interest groups who now will push their own candidates."

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