Andrew Cuomo didn’t intend to make anyone “feel uncomfortable?” Cuomo’s words would be hilariously funny if the subject weren’t so serious.
As John Oliver says, Cuomo is “famously unpleasant.” While Americans thrilled to the Democratic governor’s heartwarming performance as a caring person in his nationally televised covid-19 news conferences last year, New York political insiders knew better. Much of his political power rests on his ability to keep people on edge and make them scared of crossing him.
Cuomo governs in a take-no-prisoners, control-freak style. For the past decade, the governor has bullied and threatened Democrats and Republicans alike, not to mention political appointees. When a political commission studying state corruption appeared to come too close to Cuomo’s inner circle, he shut it down. He threatened to put the progressive Working Families Party out of business if they ran a candidate against him in 2018. He denied it when called out on it in public, but that didn’t stop him from trying it.
Cuomo’s feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is a Punch and Judy show, with Cuomo doing the vast amount of punching, undercutting the semi-hapless New York mayor at any opportunity. He repeatedly publicly humiliated well-loved New York City Transit President Andy Byford until he quit. “The job had become somewhat intolerable,” Byford told CBS News.
Hubris, in recent years, often overwhelmed Cuomo’s instinctive political smarts. His comments could border on the offensive and then some. He once told a group of legislators including State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that they only understood the concerns of New York City voters. Stewart-Cousins is Black — and represents suburban Westchester County. “You see my Black skin and a woman, but you don’t realize I am a suburban legislator,” she replied. And last year, he blamed people who came down with covid-19 for — well, getting covid-19. “If you socially distanced and you wore a mask and you were smart, none of this would be a problem. It’s all self-imposed. If you didn’t eat the cheesecake, you wouldn’t have a weight problem.”
In fact, Cuomo’s covid-19 news conferences were television-news-enabled fraud. While the governor played the role of a tough-talking paterfamilias successfully combating a dread disease, the state actually suffered the second-highest per capita death rate from covid-19 in the United States.
People fell for it not only because Americans have a weakness for performative bullies (See: Trump, Donald), and in part because the Trump administration couldn’t even fake a competent response to the pandemic, but also because the Cuomo administration cooked the books, seemingly to hide the state’s incompetent performance.
In late March of last year, Cuomo’s health department ordered nursing homes to take in patients recovering from the disease, something that is now thought to have contributed to the state’s high death toll. New York continued to count nursing home patients who died at a hospital as hospital patients, something most other states did not.
Eventually the truth came out, as it usually does. A top Cuomo aide tried to claim the administration hid the numbers because they believed Trump would use them for political gain. But when Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim — whose uncle died of covid-19 in a nursing home — went on the offensive, Cuomo accused him of “pay to play” corruption at a news conference and, according to Kim, called him up and said he could “destroy” him. No doubt he thought Kim would fall in line, as so many have in the past. Instead, Kim went public.
And then the sexual harassment charges emerged or — I should say, they came back. Former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan, now running for Manhattan borough president, made her first allegations last year, and was mostly ignored. But she stepped forward last week with more details. Then a second former staffer, Charlotte Bennett, accused him last weekend. Then on Monday evening, the New York Times published an account by a third woman, Anna Ruch, who alleged inappropriate behavior by Cuomo toward her at a 2019 wedding reception they both attended.
Both New Yorkers and national political junkies are now collectively holding their breath, waiting for what comes next. Here’s a prediction: Whatever it is, it will likely come soon.
The knives are out. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) called on him to resign Monday evening. Longtime nemesis de Blasio on Monday said he saw Cuomo be verbally “abusive” toward his staff, while calling the harassment charges “disgusting” and “creepy.” Everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for an investigation into the women’s allegations. So is the Biden administration. As Cuomo is now discovering, bullies have few real friends but many enemies. Once someone successfully challenges them, it can all come apart.