Washington: As COVID-19 began sweeping across the United States a year ago, New York was ravaged like nowhere else in the country.
The city’s morgues overflowed with corpses. The US Open tennis complex in Flushing Meadows was turned into an emergency medical facility and a 1000-bed hospital ship was sent to the city to ease the burden on the health system.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received widespread praise last year for his coronavirus briefings. Credit:AP
New York state has recorded 47,000 pandemic deaths, the second-highest tally in the US in both absolute and per capita terms.
But for New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, the pandemic initially had a big political pay-off.
Cuomo’s daily coronavirus briefings, featuring PowerPoint slides packed with statistics and inspirational messages, propelled him into the national spotlight and attracted admirers across the country – indeed, across the world. The hashtag #PresidentCuomo took off on Twitter and American celebrities began referring to themselves as “Cuomosexuals”.
It helped that Cuomo’s briefings were a vivid contrast to then-president Donald Trump’s often chaotic and misleading afternoon press conferences.
“Cuomo’s March and April TV appearances were superb,” says Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at the City University of New York. “He was a master crisis communicator.”
Ron Kim, a Democratic legislator in the New York state assembly, says: “He provided good performative press conferences at a time we didn’t have much direction from Washington. Under President Trump people were confused, communities were being pitted against each other.”
Even after Cuomo’s daily briefings ended, accolades kept flowing. In August, Cuomo was granted a star speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention. In October, he published a book about his role leading New York through the pandemic. In November, he accepted an Emmy award recognising “his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world”.
But now Cuomo is mired in scandal and under attack on multiple fronts.
His political rivals have accused him of covering up COVID-19 nursing home deaths, as well as behaving like a bully and a wannabe dictator. He’s been accused, in some detail, of sexual harassment by a former aide.
Crucially, the attacks are coming not just from Republicans. Fellow Democrats are calling for Cuomo to be stripped of his emergency powers and even for him to be impeached. The FBI is reportedly circling his administration.
Muzzio says Cuomo is facing his biggest crisis since becoming governor in 2011: “He’s getting hammered. His stock has gone down considerably.”
Cuomo’s current woes can be traced back to a decision in March to send an estimated 9000 COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes. Cuomo has since blamed the protocol on Trump administration guidelines.
A month later Cuomo signed a law granting hospitals and nursing homes immunity from lawsuits and criminal prosecutions relating to care provided during the pandemic. Cuomo’s critics point out that the law followed intense lobbying from some of the state’s most prolific political donors.
“It was one of the biggest and deadliest mistakes in the history of the state,” Kim, the Democratic assemblyman, tells The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “It gave them a licence to kill.”
Kim, who is chair of the New York state assembly’s committee on ageing, says the issue is personal for him given he had an uncle who died in a nursing home during the pandemic, presumably from COVID-19.
Concerns over Cuomo’s nursing home policies bubbled away until January, when New York attorney-general Letitia James released a scathing report saying his administration had under-counted nursing home deaths by up to 50 per cent.
It was a devastating development for Cuomo – his allies had pointed to the state’s relatively low number of nursing home deaths to defend his controversial policy of returning COVID patients to long-term care facilities.
Richard Gottfried, the Democratic chairman of the state legislature’s health committee, said the report’s revelations were “shocking and unconscionable”.
Kim accuses Cuomo and his allies of engaging in a “co-ordinated cover-up” by under-counting nursing home deaths.
“If lawmakers had that information in real time we could have repealed those provisions and saved people’s lives,” he says.
After the report’s release, Cuomo’s secretary Melissa DeRosa told state legislators the administration had withheld the true death toll among nursing home residents because they feared it would be used against them by federal prosecutors.
The FBI and the US attorney in Brooklyn have reportedly begun a preliminary investigation into the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing home death data.
Kim publicly said it appeared that Cuomo was “trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence”, prompting a heated phone call from the Governor.
“He threatened my career, he said I would be ruined, that he would come out in public and say all these nasty things about me,” Kim says.
Indeed, Cuomo berated Kim at a press conference the next day and accused him of harbouring resentment over a previous dispute about the regulation of nail salons.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio – who has clashed spectacularly with Cuomo for many years – said such behaviour was “classic Andrew Cuomo” before adding: “The bullying is nothing new.”
“Andrew is Machiavellian,” Muzzio says. “He believes it is better to be feared than loved.”
The stoush triggered a series of unflattering articles about alleged bullying and other toxic behaviour by Cuomo and his office. The New York Times reported that Cuomo had threatened to compare a political foe to “a child rapist”. The New York Post ran a piece by journalist Morgan Pehme headlined “Cuomo’s office terrorised me for doing my job as a journalist”.
Former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan accused Cuomo of subjecting her to “pervasive harassment” when she worked with him, including kissing her on the lips, making inappropriate comments and asking her to play strip poker.
“I’m compelled to tell my story because no woman should feel forced to hide their experiences of workplace intimidation, harassment and humiliation — not by the Governor or anyone else,” Boylan wrote in an essay posted on the Medium website on Thursday (AEDT). Cuomo has denied the allegations.
Long-time Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who has worked for and against Cuomo, defends the governor’s style by saying: “He’s a tough guy and that’s part of the culture in New York. He is not acting any differently to long-term incumbent mayors, governors and senators in the past.”
Kim has called for the state legislature to peruse impeachment against Cuomo and has joined Democratic colleagues in calling for the Governor to be stripped of his emergency COVID-19 powers.
“He has engaged in criminal conduct and we need to hold him accountable,” Kim says. “We need to show that we don’t have a demagogue as governor who can do whatever he wants.”
For his part, Cuomo has acknowledged that he made mistakes but has stopped short of apologising.
“We should have provided more public information sooner,” he told reporters last week when asked about the nuring home death count.
“I understand the public had many questions and concerns … and I understand that they were not answered quickly enough.”
Cuomo, who is regarded as a moderate Democrat, has long been loathed by his party’s progressive wing.
In 2018 Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon ran against him in the Democratic primary, accusing him of being a “corrupt corporate Democrat”. Cuomo easily defeated Nixon by almost 30 percentage points in the primary and later crushed the Republican candidate for governor by 24 points.
Until recently, Cuomo seemed set to cruise to a fourth term in 2022 – eclipsing his father Mario, who lost re-election after three terms as New York governor.
A poll released by Siena College last week showed Cuomo’s approval ratings among New Yorkers had fallen from 77 per cent at the height of the pandemic last year to 56 per cent.
Sheinkopf says Cuomo remains “absolutely” favoured to win re-election given his skills as a fundraiser and his mastery of the local political machinery.
Muzzio says Cuomo should feel relieved that an outstanding challenger – either from the left of his own party or a Republican – has yet to emerge.
“The rule in politics is very simple: you can’t beat somebody with nobody,” he says.
“He will now face a serious primary challenge – more serious than he did the last time. Time will tell if he can win again but he’s certainly wounded.”
What in the World
A note direct from our foreign correspondents about what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for our weekly newsletter here.
Most Viewed in World
Source: Read Full Article
BBC Weather: Heatwave ends as ‘cool air’ sweeps across Europe – Thunderstorms forecast
Onlooker screams in horror as women dance on a shaking glass walkway
Officer charged with lying about arrest caught on video
German finance minister Scholz to run for SPD leadership
Conservative MP David Warburton suspended amid investigation into 'sexual harassment & drug use'