By Alan S. Chartock
Did you see The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth? I loved that movie, which told the story of how King George VI, the present Queen Elizabeth’s father, overcame a stutter by going to an eccentric speech pathologist.
I understand there may be a sequel in the offing called The New York Governor’s Speech.
We all know that Andrew Cuomo is one of the shrewdest and most ambitious politicians in the country. Cuomo holds grudges, big time, but he doesn’t take things personally. If he makes a peace offering to anyone who stands in his way and if that offer is accepted, past unhappiness will be forgotten.
If Cuomo sees an opportunity to change something that stands in his way, he will do what he must. And when a move to Pennsylvania Avenue is in the offing, that’s where the king’s (or governor’s) speech comes in.
Many of us don’t know what we sound like. Cuomo has a distinct Queens accent. Lots of folks tell me that he sounds exactly like his father. I have always maintained that he doesn’t, and that his style of speaking comes more from his lovely mother, Matilda.
In the case of Cuomo’s speech, the governor has a defined liability. In New York, his speech is, well, acceptable. I was recently talking to Rex Smith, the brilliant editor who originally hails from South Dakota. He told me that George McGovern was so conscious of his accent that he took speech lessons. I believe Cuomo’s accent will be a turn-off for most of this country. In fact, I suspect McGovern’s speech problems would have been far less insulting to the ears of Manhattan dwellers than Cuomo’s thick Queens brogue would be to the folks in South Dakota.
This is where Cuomo’s self-knowledge becomes so important. Clearly, he has enough insight to get it. I have been listening to Cuomo’s public utterances and he is beginning to sound more and more like King George. I suspect, but cannot prove, that he is getting speech coaching. He’s still dropping consonants at the end of words, but his words are coming out softer.
Of course, we don’t know who is helping Cuomo with his speech. He may be practicing in front of a mirror. Maybe his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, is helping him—or it could be his brother, Chris, the TV news guy. Maybe it’s one of the actors or directors with whom the Cuomos hobnob at the 21 Club.
We’ll just have to wait for the movie release to find out. This could be the start of something big. I wonder if Shelly Silver will be next? I hope not; I love his accent.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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