What’s that adage about a leopard and its spots?
Last spring, Governor Andrew Cuomo became a national media darling through his daily COVID-19 briefings and primetime “interviews” with his CNN-anchor brother. It may be hard to believe now, but around this time last year, there was even speculation that Cuomo could replace then-candidate Biden on the 2020 ballot.
Then the bottom fell out, and Cuomo went from a hero of the pandemic to the target of multiple federal and state investigations. For those of us who know him, his fall from grace was no surprise.
First, there was the nursing-home scandal, in which Governor Cuomo deliberately undercounted the number of seniors who died due to his directive placing COVID-positive residents back into understaffed, underequipped nursing homes — and then misled New Yorkers and federal officials about it. Estimates suggest that as many as 15,000 New York seniors due to his actions. Worse yet, while covering up these deaths, he took a cool $5.1 million to write a book touting his COVID leadership and then allegedly used state staff and resources to produce this propaganda piece. One needn’t be a skeptic to link the timing of the deal to the cover-up of the scandal.
And that’s just one of the many fires engulfing the Cuomo administration. At this point, it’s hard to keep up with the litany of abuses perpetrated by Governor Cuomo and his staff. Despite anointing himself as a champion of women, Cuomo has been hit with more than ten accusations of sexual harassment since December. First, he said he’d investigate these allegations himself. When public pressure forced him to establish independent investigations of the charges, he stalled for time and declined to comment while the investigations played out. Now, with a Democratic state attorney general investigating the claims, the governor and his top aides have stonewalled, threatened, and gaslit witnesses and state officials, accusing them of playing political games.
There have also been reports that Cuomo’s friends, family, and donors received preferential access to COVID-19 tests and health information. There’s the matter of a $62 million COVID-related state contract being given to a medical network that donated $230,000 to the Cuomo campaign. There’s the claim by gaming interests that the governor’s team threatened them until they coughed up campaign money. And another investigation is centered around allegations that a top Cuomo aide linked vaccine access to political support of the governor.
In an attempt to silence these stories, the governor has responded with brute force. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is on the record as saying Governor Cuomo hurls invective at officials and the media to make them feel “belittled.” Democratic assemblyman Ron Kim — who lost a close family member to COVID in a New York nursing home — called for Cuomo to provide answers about the nursing-home tragedy. Cuomo personally phoned Kim and threatened to “destroy” him, before holding a press conference in which Kim was referred to as a “habitual liar.” Democratic state senator Alessandra Biaggi has released text messages showing threats she’s received from the Cuomo administration.
The behavior displayed by Governor Cuomo is appalling, but it’s nothing new. This is who he is, and who he has always been.
Cuomo once called then-right-hand man Joe Percoco “almost a third son” to his father Mario. After Percoco was convicted for soliciting $300,000 in bribes related to state contracts, Cuomo publicly disowned him. But in June, the New York Times reported that for years, the Cuomo family and some top Cuomo donors have been secretly and actively raising money for Percoco’s legal fund.
Cuomo responded to these revelations by pleading ignorance, claiming that he doesn’t keep himself apprised of the everyday happenings of his inner circle and top appointees. This might be the biggest whopper he’s ever told. If the governor is known for anything, it’s his hyper-meddling and intrusive approach to governing. A Google search of “Andrew Cuomo micromanager” turns up 42,200 results. A March 16, 2020, Times headline referred to him as a “control freak,” and an anonymous staffer in a March 4, 2021, Business Insider report is quoted as saying he’s “a micromanager to the 100th degree,” to the point that he even controls the thermostat at his events. It is simply impossible to believe that he wouldn’t know what people were up to on his behalf.
Cuomo’s efforts to avoid accountability are even more glaring when he actually pretends to hold others accountable. Early in his tenure, Cuomo established the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption to look into the outside income and political fundraising of legislative leaders and determine if there were conflicts with state business. He abruptly shut down the commission when it started looking into his own affairs, claiming hypocritically that it had no right to do so.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident and instead served as a harbinger of what was to come. In 2019, Governor Cuomo illegally received confidential information from a meeting of the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The governor then illegally reached out to the speaker of the state assembly to convey his displeasure with how the speaker’s nominees to the commission voted in a confidential executive session where they discussed investigating him. When this illegality came to light, Cuomo appointed his hand-picked inspector general to look into it. Calling the result an “investigation” would be a stretch, considering the IG’s office never interviewed the participants in the confidential session. Unsurprisingly, the probe found no evidence of any misconduct on the governor’s part.
The obvious lies, the ham-fisted cover-ups, the corruption — we’ve seen it all time and time again from this governor. When there’s even a hint of an investigation into wrongdoing that implicates him or his cabal, Cuomo cuts his losses and scorches the earth. This is who he is: a mean-spirited bully with a flagrant disregard for the rule of law, ruthless in defense of his own venal interests and public image.
The Cuomo administration has run the gamut of travesties and tragedies. Personal viciousness is the governor’s calling card, and criminal behavior his M.O. Even as they’re barraged with one scandal and outrageous revelation after another, he and his inner circle continue to operate as though it’s all business as usual. So why is Cuomo still the governor of New York? Democratic lawmakers — the very same ones who called on him to resign when the sexual-harassment claims first emerged — continue to stand with him and normalize his behavior more than seven months later, partially out of fear and partially out of a complete lack of interest in governing.
New Yorkers deserve better.