What a difference a year makes.
This time a year ago Andrew Cuomo was holding daily press conferences that captivated millions. His PowerPoint presentations and a calm, empathetic father figure persona that were oddly reassuring. It wasn’t exactly The West Wing, but for liberals sweating out the plague at home and still rueing their 2016 defeat, it was good enough.
Cuomo had mastered the aesthetics of authority and millions applauded a man who seemed to be the opposite of Donald Trump in every way. Some of his most ardent fans proclaimed themselves “Cuomosexuals” and cried out on social media — “Govern me big daddy!”
Only Cuomo’s staunchest critics noted that New York was enduring one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates of any country or state in the world and that dead bodies were stacking up like firewood in its nursing homes. For his 111 consecutive daily press conferences, Cuomo received an Emmy Award.
You wouldn’t have guessed Cuomo was an Emmy winner when he showed up for his March 3 press conference. He had vanished from public view for a week after being hit with a string of sexual harassment allegations from young women who had worked for him or had the misfortune to cross his path at social events. Now, he had reemerged to issue a non-apology apology to any woman who had misunderstood his light-hearted banter and his affectionate gestures. He stumbled over his words, became emotional. And he insisted he had never touched any woman inappropriately even though there were published photos from days before of him holding a woman’s face in his hands just before he tried to force a kiss on her.
Albany has been corrupt forever, but this governor has gone to the next level with creating a pay-to-play paradise for the wealthy and the well-connected.
Was Cuomo’s cringe-worthy performance an attempt to make us feel sorry for him? Or, was this what happens to a lifelong bully who suddenly finds himself at the mercy of events? Mass death in the nursing homes and a subsequent coverup had merged with a steady drip of sexual harassment charges to become one big mega-scandal that was mutating too quickly for him to vaccinate himself against. For once, America’s most autocratic governor was not in charge.
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How did we get here? And what will be the end game?
For starters, Cuomo is an overhyped product of New York City’s civic and media culture — just like Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani before him. It’s a culture that elevates attitude over aptitude, style over substance; that substitutes the ability to posture over real achievement; that turns a failed businessman-turned-grifter into a once-of-a-kind tycoon, a petty tyrant into “America’s Mayor” and the failson of a former governor into a model of rational, super-competent leadership even when the evidence suggests otherwise.
New York is a city of strivers who pride themselves on shrugging off adversity and pushing forward. The likes of Cuomo, Giuliani and Trump seek to flatter us when they adopt a “New York Tough” persona. But we pay a high price for welcoming such flattery.
Like Trump, Cuomo is damaged goods. They are both heirs to family dynasties, one in business and the other in politics. Their fathers were workaholics — powerful, emotionally distant men from mid-20th-century America whose approval they are forever seeking and whom they are forever seeking to surpass. Like Trump, Cuomo must control everything and everyone in his world. Like Trump, Cuomo always knows best and drives away experts who tell him what he doesn’t want to hear. Like Trump, Cuomo’s mistakes are always someone else’s fault. Like Trump, Cuomo revels in being a vindictive bully no one wants to cross. And like Trump, he appears to have a penchant for sexually harassing women.
Unlike Trump, Cuomo is hard-working and highly intelligent. But his inability to listen to others often leads to bad outcomes. We saw this with the nursing homes, which he ordered to accept COVID-infected patients at the height of the pandemic with predictably devastating consequences.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of New Yorkers who voted for Cuomo because of his “experience” and ability to “get things done” who are now dead due to his negligence. Think about that.
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Cuomo, 63, has spent the majority of his adult life at the pinnacle of state power in New York. Three terms at the side of his father Mario Cuomo, a term as attorney general and three more terms as governor on his own. Ultimately, the biggest problem with Cuomo isn’t psychological. It’s his allegiance to the billionaire class and to the economics of austerity for everyone else, even during a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Cuomo has perfected the art of his own political self-preservation.
If he hasn’t been so great at actually preserving the lives of his constituents, Cuomo has perfected the art of his own political self-preservation. Albany
has been corrupt forever, but this governor has gone to the next level with creating a pay-to-play paradise for the wealthy and the well-connected. Cuomo has kept spending and taxes down for his well-heeled patrons while the choicest governmental favors always seem to go to large campaign donors. For example, before sending COVID-19 patients back to nursing homes to ignite a mass die-off of the old, Cuomo gave full legal immunity to hospitals and nursing home companies and executives. The Greater New York Hospital Association and the nursing home industry have donated millions of dollars to Cuomo over the course of his career.
These kinds of arrangements allowed Cuomo to raise $36 million when he ran for re-election in 2018. Imagine a man barricaded in his office behind a wall of cash, determined to never leave.
Cuomo’s good fortune appears to have run out. His chances of winning a fourth term now seem remote. And his chances of completing his third term are shaky at best, with his fate now in the hands of Attorney General Letitia James. She is investigating sexual harassment charges leveled at him by six women as the Indypendent goes to press. If he’s forced out, little-known Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would serve out the remainder of his term.
Imagine a man barricaded in his office behind a wall of cash, determined to never leave.
The younger, more progressive state Senate led by Andrea Stewart-Cousins would make quick work of Cuomo if they could. But in New York impeachment has to be initiated by the State Assembly, a bastion of old-guard machine Democrats that so far has stuck with Cuomo pending James’ report. A best-case scenario: In the three-people-in-a-room budget negotiations later this month, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie plays the good cop to Stewart-Cousins’ bad cop and extorts a king’s ransom of concessions from a desperate Cuomo on taxing and spending and other progressive legislation — and then casts him aside.
If you would like to see Cuomo removed from office, this would be a good time to give your local Assembly member a call or an email. Many of them are wavering. However the end game works out with Cuomo, let’s keep one thing in mind. He was never indispensable to start with. We never needed his toxic masculinity, his neoliberal ideology, his systematic corruption or his blundering incompetence. We can do better. We deserve better. If we act on that insight in 2022, a new and better day is possible in New York State.
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