New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held 111 daily press conferences at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, winning fawning coverage from celebrities, politicians, and the media, with calls from some corners he should replace an underwhelming Joe Biden on the Democratic presidential ticket.
By June last year, Cuomo declared victory over COVID-19, saying, “Love does conquer all. That no matter how dark the day, love brings the light. That is what I will take from the past 111 days. It inspires me and energizes me and excites me. If we could accomplish together what we did here, this impossible task of beating back this deadly virus, then there is nothing we can't do.”
Fast forward a year, and the “Love Gov's” moment in the spotlight has come crashing down spectacularly, his reputation left in tatters.
Tuesday's abrupt resignation came a week after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report finding Cuomo “sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees.”
Somewhat lost amid the focus on the sexual harassment is his questionable decision-making during the early days of the pandemic, specifically his March 2020 order requiring nursing homes to accept coronavirus-infected patients, along with evidence his administration attempted to cover up the death toll from that decision.
After his victory lap last June, thousands more New Yorkers died during a fall and winter surge in late 2020 and early 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 617,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, with 64,811 in California, 53,936 in Texas, and 53,360 in New York. New York continues to be near the top in terms of deaths per 100,000 people, second only to New Jersey.
Eighteen months ago, it was different, with the rock star governor even appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Maureen Dowd penned a New York Times op-ed in March 2020, saying Cuomo had become “a sort of national shrink” and wrote: “The governor of New York evokes the feeling of a big Italian family dinner table … Often in the past, when people called Cuomo patriarchal, it was not meant as a compliment. It was a way to describe his maniacally controlling behavior, his dark zeal to muscle past people and obstacles to get his way … But now, the darker the zeal, the better, if it secures you a mask or ventilator.”
MSNBC’s Joy Reid tweeted in the same month: “Hire your political leaders wisely, America. Be like New York.”
During a March 26, 2020, podcast episode, Joe Rogan criticized Biden's speaking ability, arguing, “Governor Cuomo … That’s the answer.”
Talk show host Bill Maher tweeted in late March 2020 that “Biden should step aside and let @NYGovCuomo be the nominee!”
During a May 7, 2020, episode of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, actor Robert De Niro said: “Though I’m for Biden, and I want everything to go well with Biden, but at least we have a person who is a very capable backup … He’s doing what any president should do.”
Colbert replied, “And what New York deserves. What the world deserves.”
Colbert joked about the “obsession” over Cuomo during an early April 2020 episode, saying, “Many Americans experience moments of being at least Andrew-curious, if not fully Cuomosexual.”
In an April 2020 Daily Show commercial, Trevor Noah said of Cuomo, “My Tinder profile now lists me as a Cuomosexual.”
On the Ellen DeGeneres Show that month, Noah claimed, “Everyone should be a Cuomosexual in that way. You should love a leader that engages the people.”
DeGeneres replied, “I feel like I’m a Cuomosexual too … He’s exceptional.” DeGeneres asked Cuomo about the term when he appeared on her show that month, and he seemed to embrace it, saying, “Yeah, I think that’s a good thing.”
Pete Souza, the White House photographer for President Barack Obama, shared a picture of Obama and Cuomo with the caption: “A former President with the current acting President.” It garnered over 250,000 likes on Instagram.
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin tweeted in late March 2020, “Watching Andrew Cuomo is inspiring, uplifting, fascinating. He weaves details and humor and math and common sense all together. He is magnificent.”
Actress Rosie Perez and comedian Chris Rock appeared at a Cuomo press conference in May 2020, where Perez said, “Our governor is a rock star, and he makes me proud to be from New York.” Rock gushed, “Thank you. I watch you every single day. You bring me calm. You bring me joy every single day … I hope to God that when this is over, you’re still a part of the government.”
Cuomo replied, “I hope so too.”
Arguably the most sycophantic praise came from his own brother, Chris Cuomo, who also came into the spotlight in recent weeks after it emerged he gave his brother advice on how to handle the sexual harassment scandal.
The governor appeared on Chris Cuomo's CNN show at least 10 times between March and May 2020 as the cable news host praised his leadership. During a March 30 appearance, Chris Cuomo repeatedly asked his brother if he planned to run for president, saying, “With all of this adulation that you're getting for doing your job, are you thinking about running for president?”
Andrew Cuomo repeatedly said, “No.”
During an April 8 appearance, Chris Cuomo said, “I’ve seen you referred to a little bit recently as the ‘Love Gov.’ And I'm wondering if that's bleeding into your demeanor at all.”
Andrew Cuomo replied, “I’ve always been a soft guy. I am the Love Gov.” Since the worm turned on the governor, Chris Cuomo has declined to follow the story on his show, citing a conflict of interest.
A poll from the right-leaning Club for Growth in early April 2020 contended 56% of Democrats preferred Andrew Cuomo as the nominee, compared to 44% who picked Biden. A poll from Rasmussen around the same time found 46% of likely Democratic voters preferred Biden, while 45% opted for Cuomo. It never went anywhere.
Even former President Donald Trump stoked the Cuomo presidential buzz, telling Fox & Friends in March 2020: “I wouldn’t mind running against Andrew. I’ve known Andrew for a long time. I wouldn’t mind that, but I’ll be honest, I think he’d be a better candidate than Sleepy Joe.”
Although he didn't capitalize on the newfound fame and adulation to run for president, Cuomo did cash in. He was given a $5.12 million book deal for his memoir, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic, published in October.
He was also awarded the Emmy Founders Award in November 2020 “in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.” A celebrity video montage featured praise from Spike Lee, Robert De Niro, Rosie Perez, and Ben Stiller, who called him a “national sex symbol.”
In December, Cuomo also won the “Award for Inspired Leadership” from the Ted Kennedy Institute, with board president Victoria Reggie Kennedy saying, “We decided to recognize people with the qualities that reflect Teddy’s legacy.”
Cuomo was given a prime-time slot at the Democratic National Convention in August 2020. Democratic National Convention moderator and Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria introduced Cuomo as a “responsible leader” who guided his state through the crisis of COVID-19 with “memorable PowerPoints” and “clear direction.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci also praised Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, telling PBS in July 2020: “We know that, when you do it properly, you bring down those cases … We have done it in New York. New York got hit worse than any place in the world. And they did it correctly.”
Fauci also appeared on video with Cuomo in December 2020, in which the New York governor said the two should do a pro-vaccine ad together: “We’re like the modern day De Niro and [Al] Pacino … Fauci and Cuomo.”
Biden also repeatedly praised Cuomo in 2020, telling MSNBC in March: “I think he is doing a hell of a job. I think he has been the lead horse here.”
On Tuesday, after Cuomo announced his resignation, upon reflecting on his decadelong tenure as governor, Biden replied: “I thought he's done a hell of a job. And I mean, both on, everything from access to voting to infrastructure, a whole range of things. That's why it's so sad.”
The wheels started to come off earlier this year, however. In February, it was revealed the FBI and the Brooklyn federal prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes and related death data. The Trump Justice Department first pressed Cuomo’s administration for nursing home data in August 2020 and again in October 2020. The Biden DOJ said it ended the civil rights investigation.
The controversial New York State Department of Health order from March 25, 2020, said: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” It was rescinded on May 10, 2020.
James issued a late January report that concluded, “Nursing home implementation of some guidance may have led to an increased risk of fatalities in some facilities and may have obscured data reported by nursing homes.” She said that “4,000 nursing home deaths occurred after the issuance of the March 25 guidance.”
It was reported by the Associated Press in February that “the new number of 9,056 recovering patients sent to hundreds of nursing homes is more than 40% higher than what the state health department previously released.”
In the end, it was James's second report, this time on sexual harassment after several women had come forward, that delivered the final blow to Cuomo's career.
On Tuesday, he abruptly said he would resign in two weeks, admitting he had become a “distraction” — but called the report “false.”
“Government operations and wasting energy on distraction is the last thing government should be. I cannot be the cause. New York tough means New York loving,” Cuomo said. “And I love New York, and I love you. Everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love, and I would never want to be unhelpful in any way.”
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