Lifestyle Icon Sandra Lee and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Split After 14 Years
“Over the recent past, we have realized that our lives have gone in different directions and our romantic relationship has turned into a deep friendship,” the couple said in a joint statement on Wednesday, first reported by Zack Fink. “We will always be family and are fully supportive of each other and dedicated to the girls. Our personal lives remain personal and there will be no further comment.”
In May, Lee, 53, swatted away reports that she and Cuomo, 61, had ended things, writing on Facebook, “Andrew and I are still very much together. … We keep our lives as private as possible.”
A source who knows them both told PEOPLE at the time that the home sale was part of a larger “downsizing,” with Lee’s focus elsewhere — on new TV projects and ailing family members.
(Lee purchased Lily Pond herself, though she and Cuomo reportedly shared the expenses. They also spent time in Albany, the state capital, where Cuomo lives in the governor’s mansion.)
Through much of their coupling, though they are nationally known, Lee and Cuomo chose not to mix the personal and the professional. She rose to fame as a do-it-yourself tastemaker in cooking, decorating, gardening, crafting and hosting, with 27 books and two Emmy wins for her multiple TV shows; while he, the son of a previous New York governor, has become a leading Democrat against President Donald Trump.
“I have a partner who feels the exact same way as I do about protecting our personal relationship,” Lee told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, six years after they started dating.
During a tour of their home last November, a New York Times reporter described much of the space as “off-the-record, if not off-limits.”
Still, when Lee spoke of her relationship with Cuomo, it was with obvious tenderness — as he did of her. And there were times when they let the world in, a bit, such as in the early days of his governorship and after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.
In a Times profile last fall, those close to the couple described how she matched with him.
“It’s a high-stress job and not everyone will have his best interest in mind. She does. And that’s a precious gift,” Cuomo’s sister Margaret told the Times, calling Lee her “de facto sister.”
“We just have a good time together,” Lee told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, describing her life with Cuomo and his girls. “If a song comes on in the grocery store — we love this song called ‘Fireflies’; it’s just an enchanting, sweet song — we dance around with the cart.”
Lee, who playfully described herself as New York’s “first girlfriend,” first met Cuomo at a summer party in the Hamptons in 2005, introduced there by Alexandra Stanton, one of Lee‘s best friends and a former aide to Cuomo.
He was with his daughters, Michaela and twins Cara and Mariah, and she has reportedly described her first impression of him as a “huge, musclebound man.” (A similar image would pop up in Lee’s first fiction book, about a Wisconsin native’s romance with a “muscular” teacher and volunteer firefighter, receiving some knowing coverage.)
“I remember her being — I don’t want to say infatuated, because it sounds too schoolgirlish — but she was taken with him,” Lee’s friend Colleen Schmidt told the Times in 2010.
In 2005, Cuomo had not too long ago finalized an acrimonious divorce with Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy.
Lee, too, had been married once before — to Los Angeles businessman Bruce Karatz. She filed for divorce in 2005, according to the Times, after rumors circulated of his infidelity. Karatz was later convicted of mail fraud and making a false statement in connection with backdating stock options.
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Lee’s relationship with Cuomo made more headlines as he successfully ran for New York’s governor in 2010 (he is now in his third term), even as Lee largely avoided the spotlight of the campaign trail.
“I do food and home and garden and leave politics to my honey — he’s wonderful at that,” she said in 2010.
She did, however, greet guests to the governor’s mansion when he took office in 2011. And, in the spirit of other first ladies — a title she may have only held unofficially — Lee had her own causes. She is a founding member of the L.A. chapter of UNICEF and has supported efforts to end childhood hunger, supported God’s Love We Deliver and Project Angel Food as well as many HIV/AIDS organizations, including Elton John’s AIDS foundation.
Although Lee shied away from the political world, she lobbied Cuomo on passing marriage equality in New York in 2011, which made it one of the first states to do so.
Beginning in 2015, Lee took on the role of cancer detection advocate after she learned she had breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. This required her to pull back from her career and work obligations to focus on treatment and recovery.
In 2018 she released an intimate documentary about her cancer journey, which played at both the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals.
The film received a Gotham Award from Cuomo’s Democratic rival Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City. (Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep are previous recipients.)
Neither Cuomo nor de Blasio attended the ceremony.
Lee was often known as a peacemaker and someone who enjoyed bringing people together.
“I think that the older that you get and the more thoughtful that you get and the more educated that you get about the well-being of the next generation to come, you have to be focused,” she told the Times last year. “If you’re not spending your days making the planet a better place, what are you doing?”