By DUNYA SIMÕES
Andrew Cuomo was once described as America’s rising Democratic star. Following in his father’s footsteps, the Democratic protégé was elected in 2011 as New York’s 56th governor. He has been commended for the several policies enacted during his terms such as introducing same-sex marriage in 2011 and signing the NY SAFE Act of 2013 to enable one of the strictest gun control laws in the USA. Despite these achievements, the governor only emerged as a household name in March 2020, receiving acclaim for his response to the coronavirus crisis and even awarded the International Emmy Founders Award for his briefings. Fast forward a year from the start of the pandemic and Cuomo is now a household name for very different reasons. A simple Google search reveals that the politician finds himself under heavy criticism and facing the possibility of impeachment. How does one go from almost certainly winning a fourth term in the next election to being under siege by his own party?
Throughout the year, there seemed to be no doubt that Governor Cuomo was going to great efforts to lessen the impact of COVID-19 in the state of New York. Six days after its first confirmed case, Cuomo declared a state of emergency and implemented a phased state-wide lockdown. On 6 March 2020, he accused the Trump administration’s initial response to coronavirus as “absurd and nonsensical” and of “bad government and planning”. Numerous epidemiologists praised him for his impressive handling of the situation. Cuomo’s award for his daily coronavirus briefings was awarded by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in November 2020 while the internet founded the term ‘Cuomosexual’ to express admiration for his leadership during the pandemic, which was adopted by several pop culture figures like Ellen Degeneres. Was the state of New York being as well managed as Governor Cuomo claimed, however?
The New York COVID-19 nursing home scandal came to public light on 11 February 2021. An investigation led by Letitia James, Attorney General of New York (OAG), in January 2021 found that Cuomo’s government had understated the death toll of coronavirus-related deaths in state nursing homes by as much as 50%. Several of Cuomo’s aides had re-written a report from state health officials to exclude approximately 9,250 deaths. James’ report stated that the “data obtained by OAG suggests that many nursing home residents died from COVID-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in [New York State Department of Health] published total nursing home death data."
The New York Post leaked an audio from Melissa DeRosa, Governor Cuomo’s secretary, admitting to New York’s Democratic leaders that they had purposefully withheld the release of the data of COVID-19 deaths in state nursing homes in August 2020. She argued that the administration did so in fear that the data would be a catalyst for a federal investigation which would disadvantage them against their Republican political opponents in the 2020 election. DeRosa feared then-President Trump would "turn this into a giant political football”.
Needless to say, this was the start of Governor Cuomo’s downfall. Internet users began to shy away from comically using the term ‘Cuomosexual’ and social media was riddled with attacks against the Governor. Actor Alec Baldwin, for example, was calling for his resignation. After the public release of James’ report, numerous New York lawmakers advocated to have his Emmy award revoked. Cuomo’s denial of the cover-up on 15 February, acknowledging that he should have released the information earlier but defending that he did not omit the data, came to no avail as criticism intensified. On 17 February, it was reported that a federal investigation was launched into the government’s handling of nursing home deaths. The New York legislature voted 43-20 in the Senate and 107-43 in the Assembly on 5 March to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers. Days later, an impeachment inquiry against Cuomo was motioned. But this was not only down to his nursing home deaths scandal.
As if ‘America’s rising Democratic star’ had not jeopardised his career enough, the governor has been subject to sexual harassment allegations since the end of last year. An independent investigation led by Attorney General Letitia James is examining these allegations – so far, six women have publicly come forward accusing Cuomo of sexual misconduct including Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, two of his former aides. On 3 March, Cuomo made a televised appearance apologising for workplace remarks which may have hurt women and urging that it was not intentional to make these women uncomfortable or inappropriately touch his female peers. Amongst the turbulent wave of allegations, endless prominent Democrats have advocated for the governor to resign, including Bill de Blasio, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Nevertheless, Cuomo has persistently refused, arguing "I never harassed anyone, I never abused anyone, I never assaulted anyone, and I never would” on a conference call with reporters on 12 March. While Cuomo has agreed to “fully cooperate”, it is unclear as to how long the investigation can last though impeachment is a possible outcome.
Andrew Cuomo began as a promising leader. The pandemic saw his popularity soar as he bathed in widespread praise. As time progressed, it was clear that he was prepared to engage in political malpractice and his character was not as gracious as fans believed. Perhaps the rise and fall of Governor Cuomo can be viewed as a testimony to the phrase “only time will tell”.
IMAGE - Flickr (Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)