NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has been caught in a storm of his own making. Following his meteoric rise in popularity over the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people felt as though he was the only leader who was actually acknowledging the pandemic’s dangers, Cuomo’s downfall began over an equally short amount of time. The sheer bulk and variety of accusations don’t bode well for the current governor, who is yet to resign. This is in spite of calls from multiple sources, including New York State’s two democratic senators and 16 of its 19 democratic house members.
March of 2020 was the first true month of the pandemic in the US: hospitals were overwhelmed by patients, masks weren’t yet required, Trump’s leadership was nonexistent, and Cuomo was emerging as the patron saint of the pandemic. At the time, none of his actions were deeply questioned or criticized. This included his decision on March 25th, 2020 to require nursing homes to admit patients who tested positive for Covid-19. Although there was some concern amongst nursing homes that this order could endanger patients, hospitals were so full of patients suffering from Covid that it was expected that nursing homes would pick up the slack. In the following months, nursing homes were hard hit by Covid but the high death rates were primarily attributed to the vulnerability of nursing home residents due to their age.
Just one year later, in the beginning of March 2021, it was revealed that the state had misreported death rates for nursing homes. This report sparked outrage across the state because it was widely agreed that the high death rate was due to Cuomo’s nursing home requirement. Even with the incorrectly reported numbers, it was clear that nursing homes residents already had the highest death rates of any group in the state, and it was speculated as soon as Cuomo issued the order in 2020, that it would negatively affect nursing home residents.
Cuomo faced no calls to reign, despite the fact that the governor’s aides essentially lied to the NYS Justice Department by misreporting the death rates. He was criticized, and his administration is under investigation by the FBI, but the NYS population seemed unwilling to examine his mistakes too closely. This may be due to the fact that we are still very much living through a pandemic today, and it is difficult for us to closely criticize our responses to Covid-19. And, because the underreported deaths were in nursing homes specifically, where many of our parents and grandparents were housed, it likely still felt too painful for many to step out and take action against the NYS governor’s missteps. Criticizing Cuomo would take away from mourning the dead.
And, as became clear in the weeks following the nursing home scandal, the mishandling of Covid was only part of the problem. When sexual assault allegations emerged against Andrew Cuomo, they added detail to the emerging picture of a corrupt and power-hungry leader. Nine women so far have accused Cuomo of harassment and assault, beginning with former staffer Lindsey Boylan in December of 2020. However, she didn’t go into details until February 24, 2021, when she published the details of her time working for the governor. Following her story, Charlotte Bennett, (a former assistant) Anna Ruch, (who met Cuomo at a wedding) Anna Lisse, (a former aide) Karen Hinton, (a former press aide) Alyssa McGrath, (a current aide) Sherry Vill, (a NYC resident) and two other women who are remaining anonymous, have all come out with stories of Cuomo asking inappropriate questions, kissing them without consent, groping them, and generally engaging in violating behavior towards them.
Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, arguing that he was simply behaving in a regular and friendly way with no intent of causing discomfort. In a statement, Rita Glavin, one of Cuomo’s lawyers, refuted the claims:
The governor has greeted men and women with hugs and a kiss on the cheek, forehead, or hand. Yes, he has posed for photographs with his arm around them. Yes, he uses Italian phrases like ‘ciao bella…. None of this is remarkable, although it may be old-fashioned. He has made clear that he has never made inappropriate advances or inappropriately touched anyone.
But that is clearly not true. We live in a day and age where “old-fashioned” doesn’t cut it anymore, especially when you’re the governor of a state. The vast number of calls for Cuomo’s resignation are a testament to this. But Cuomo has still refused to resign. On March 11th, the NY State Assembly launched an investigation into Cuomo to determine if there are grounds of impeachment. And while that may be a possibility, there would need to be majority support in the State Senate to do so, which may not happen.
Additionally, Cuomo’s generally angelic status with regards to the pandemic began to further erode in light of reports that those close to Cuomo received special access to Covid tests when they were especially hard to find. This, in combination with rising criticism that Cuomo’s book (American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic released in October of 2020) capitalized upon New York’s struggles with the pandemic, meant that Cuomo was slowly being pulled down from his pandemic high. Both the report and the publishing of his book were seen as Cuomo using his power to exploit the pandemic. By publishing a book that blatantly disregarded the mistakes he made with nursing homes and solidified his role as a leader in the pandemic, Cuomo made a major mistake. The dissonance between writing a book and rewriting the nursing home report is hard to miss, and merely solidifies his role as a man who thinks too highly of himself, and not highly enough of his role as governor. This mindset becomes more clear when examining the Covid-19 tests his friends and family received. Clearly, for Cuomo, the role of governor is something which allows him to stand on a pedestal and disguise his internal corruption and flaws.
Cuomo is a self-defined far cry from Donald Trump. For one, he’s a Democrat that has been instrumental in pushing forward liberal policies in NY. He also instituted Covid policies when Trump did not, which clearly distinguishes him from the former president. And yet, the parallel between Cuomo and Trump is hard to ignore. A similar mindset exists between both men, and it is prevalent across the political spectrum. Cuomo thinks he’s the best. Cuomo thinks he’s in the right. Cuomo thinks he can do no wrong. Evident in all of his actions — the clear nepotism in getting his friends and family vaccines, the disregard of NY State law in removing information from the nursing home report, the utter disrespect towards women that he has displayed for the past years — is the ideology that Cuomo is above it all. He shouldn’t be held to the same standards as the rest of us because he is Andrew Cuomo. His refusal to resign and acknowledge his wrongdoings in any department makes it clear that he is holding to that belief. He is either unwilling or unable to see his wrongdoing. It’s a scary trait to have in our Governor, and what is equally terrifying is that he might get away with it all.
Already, the allegations around Cuomo are dying down. Although there are three concurrent investigations into his conduct, the buzz about Cuomo has decreased. His term runs until 2022, giving New Yorkers a full year to forget about his misconduct, in a nation that is skilled at forgetting. It’s likely that other scandals will arise in that time, and that our focus will move to new allegations, new misconduct, and new protests. Cuomo, because of his stubbornness, will remain. And his stubbornness will prevent him from resigning, from seeing his wrong, and may give him what he wants: unchecked power.