New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011, but the brash Queens native became a household name in 2020 during his daily press conferences at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. His displays of calm and steady leadership were in stark contrast to President Trump’s, and a new political media star was born. His press conference became must-see television for political junkies, and the fawning public reached critical cringe mass when the term “Cuomosexual” was born. Cuomo’s publicized combative relationship with Trump made him more of a media darling among liberals who saw him as the tough counterpuncher the party needed against the sitting president who routinely threw proverbial haymakers at his perceived enemies.
“He better have an army if he thinks he’s gonna walk down the street in New York. New Yorkers don’t want to have anything to do with him,” Cuomo said (via The New York Post). And after Trump criticized Cuomo’s younger brother, CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the Empire State’s governor went full gloves off. “If I wasn’t governor of New York, I would have decked him. Period,” Cuomo said of Trump on an episode of The Howard Stern Show (via New York Daily News). “I mean he was attacking me, he was attacking my family, he was anti-Italian. Every nasty thing.”
However, much like with most politicians, things aren’t always what they appear. Let’s take a deep dive into the shady side of Andrew Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment
On Dec. 13, 2020, former Cuomo administration aide Lindsey Boylan accused Andrew Cuomo of workplace sexual harassment. “Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched,” she wrote on Twitter. “I could never anticipate what to expect: would I be grilled on my work (which was very good) or harassed about my looks. Or would it be both in the same conversation? This was the way for years.”
In the same Twitter thread, Boylan alleged “no one would do a d**n thing” when they saw the harassment happening and suggested that she wasn’t the only woman in Cuomo’s office to suffer abuse. In another thread, Boylan called working for Cuomo and “beyond toxic” and “endlessly dispiriting” if you weren’t part of his inner circle. As the AP reported, Cuomo denied the allegations two days later at a press conference, telling reporters, “I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has, but it’s just not true.”
According to The New York Times, Cuomo had a testy exchange in 2017 with reporter Karen DeWitt who asked him about the sexual harassment allegations against his former senior aide Sam Hoyt and how he could stop this from happening in state government. “You do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you’re a woman,” he said. “It’s not government, it’s society.” Yikes.
Andrew Cuomo cut hospital budgets and Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic
One would assume slashing hospital budgets and Medicaid during a raging pandemic in a state that has the most populous city in America wouldn’t be the best move. However, that’s what an Andrew Cuomo-led panel decided to do, according to a March 2020 report in The New York Times. Instead of taxing the millionaires and billionaires who live in New York, the panel came up with a plan to address the state’s $6.1 billion budget deficit by cutting Medicaid by $2.5 billion and slashing hospital budgets by $400 million.
“It’s a shot in the gut,” Dr. Perlstein, the CEO of St. Barnabas Hospital said in The New York Times. “During a time I need to commit all the energy I have to really save lives and expand access and not skimp on resources, now I have to worry about how we’re going to continue to pay our bills.” Cuomo countered that argument by claiming that the proposed federal stimulus package would provide $150 billion to hospitals and said they were “doing better than anyone else.” Several New York lawmakers wrote an open letter to Cuomo calling the budget cuts “cruel, inhumane and unacceptable” and “catastrophic during a pandemic.”
In Nov. 2020, the New York Post reported that New York’s state Senate and Assembly denied raises to all government officials, citing the deficit. Cuomo was set to receive a $25,000 salary increase regardless, but as the New York Post noted, he turned it down.
Andrew Cuomo and the 'New York State Open for Business' campaign
According to a May 2013 report in The New York Times, Andrew Cuomo and his administration tapped $140 million to create “New York State Open for Business,” an ad campaign to lure (and to keep) big business investing in the state of New York. “With this campaign, we will help build a stronger economy and foster greater private investment throughout New York State,” Cuomo said on the official Governor of New York’s website.
Citing states with similar investments, state operations director Howard Glaser said in the aforementioned The New York Times report, “We have to compete.” The commercials, which aired heavily on cable news channels such as CNN and MSNBC, featured the talents of superstars like Robert De Niro and Jay-Z. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer called the ad campaigns “fluff” and “a waste of taxpayer money.” The spots caught some flak.
According to records obtained by The New York Times, the campaign was partially financed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority with funds that were meant to help lower electric bills for New Yorkers. “These authorities should be lowering electric rates, building dormitories and otherwise doing what they were created to do, rather than being raided,” former assemblyman Richard Brodsky told The New York Times. The outlet also reported that Cuomo used $40 million from federal aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Andrew Cuomo 'reinterpreted' an executive order on donations
The New York Times noted that when Andrew Cuomo became governor, he renewed the executive order signed by Eliot Spitzer that “[barred] most appointees from donating to or soliciting donations for the governor who made the appointment.” However, a 2018 report by The New York Times showed that Cuomo accepted donations anyway. According to the report, two Cuomo appointees, Steven J. Weiss and Kenneth A. Manning, donated in excess of $100,000 to Cuomo’s campaign.
The investigation found that Cuomo received “$890,000 from two dozen of his appointees” and “$1.3 million from the spouses, children and businesses of appointees.” When asked about the donations, the Cuomo administration and his legal counsel told The New York Times that the executive order “does not apply to every single person who serves in government.”
However, Spitzer claimed the interpretation was incorrect. “The executive order was intended, and did, in fact, apply to all gubernatorial appointees, regardless of the need for Senate confirmation, or any term applicable to their service,” he said in the aforementioned The New York Times story. Another report by The New York Times found that Cuomo “reinterpreted” the executive order on his campaign website and would effectively allow donations from state appointees. The change was blasted by Susan Lerner of the advocacy group Common Cause New York. “Within the context of all the corruption trials,” she said, “expanding the number of people who can contribute to the governor’s campaign funds is not the reform that’s needed.”
The impact of Andrew Cuomo's nursing home order
When the novel coronavirus was first raging through New York in the spring of 2020, Andrew Cuomo was harshly criticized over requiring nursing homes to accept patients even if they were COVID-19 positive. The policy created massive outbreaks and deaths to the most vulnerable of the state’s population. As the AP reported, an estimated 4,500 infected patients were sent to nursing homes across the state. According to ProPublica, the virus ended up “killing more than 6,000 people” in nursing homes throughout New York in the weeks after the order went into effect.
In a report by The Guardian, Cuomo signed a bill that “gave immunity to nursing home executives” after the Greater New York Hospital Association infused Cuomo’s campaign with over $2.3 million in donations. Democratic assemblyman Ron Kim told the outlet that the bill “was drafted, submitted, and negotiated into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo and his staff” for the specific purpose of protecting nursing home CEOs from lawsuits.
Cuomo pushed back on these claims. “We never needed nursing home beds because we always had hospital beds,” Cuomo said (via CNN). “So it just never happened in New York where we needed to say to a nursing home, ‘We need you to take this person even though they’re Covid-positive.’ It never happened.” CNN fact-checked Cuomo’s statement and determined it to be false.
As cases spiked, Andrew Cuomo released a book about defeating COVID-19
In October 2020, Andrew Cuomo decided to take a premature victory lap by releasing the memoir, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, detailing how he took charge during the pandemic. “We have seen how the virus is confronted and defeated,” he wrote in an excerpt obtained by AP. “New York didn’t do everything right. But there are lessons we can learn that will lead to victory.”
However, immediately after the book was published, COVID-19 cases massively spiked in New York, and as of Jan. 12, 2021, the state was averaging 16,612 cases per day (via The New York Times). Cuomo didn’t really address the rampant nursing home deaths in his book, but New York government officials were quick to point that out. “The governor has time, in the middle of a pandemic, to write a book on the COVID-19 crisis, but after months of delay he has not delivered on his word to provide the legislature with the accurate numbers of nursing home deaths,” Democratic state legislator Ron Kim said in ProPublica.
Also speaking with ProPublica, Bill Hammond of the Empire Center for Public Policy called the book “self-justifying spin” instead of an “honest analysis” of what happened. “It’s unfortunate that Gov. Cuomo continues using skewed facts and disingenuous arguments in a book that purports to draw lessons from the pandemic,” he said.
Andrew Cuomo's controversial approach to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout
During the midst of a raging pandemic, the logical solution would be to provide vaccinations and tell everyone who wants one when and where to get one. However, critics of Andrew Cuomo claim New York’s vaccination rollout has been bogged down with unnecessary red tape. On Jan. 7, 2021, Bloomberg reported that Cuomo adamantly pushed back on expanding the list of people who were eligible to receive the vaccine and causing less that half of the 900,000 doses being used.
Mitchell Katz, chief executive officer of NYC Health and Hospitals, said in a briefing (via Bloomberg) that they have thousands of doses “without arms to give injections to,” and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We could be reaching folks this minute who are vulnerable.” After imposing these strict and complex rules on who can receive the vaccine, Cuomo threatened health care providers with $1 million fines if they didn’t follow them. According to a report in The New York Times, public pressure caused Cuomo to expand vaccine eligibility requirements to include people over 75 after “stories of doses sitting in freezers for weeks or being discarded have emerged.”
“There is no reason that states need to complete, say, vaccinating all health care providers before opening up vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations,” Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters (via The New York Times).
Andrew Cuomo's cancelation of the state's 2020 Democratic primary drew criticism
The point of democracy is one person, one vote, right? Well, Andrew Cuomo didn’t seem to agree with that premise when he canceled the state’s 2020 Democratic primary after then-candidate Bernie Sanders ended his campaign. According to HuffPost, New York’s Board of Elections removed Sanders from the ballot “thanks to an obscure provision in the state budget law enacted by” Cuomo earlier that month.
“We think this is a power play on the part of the governor who wants to control the entire delegation,” retired labor union official George Albro told HuffPost. “If they cancel, this is going to be horrific. Trump will use this against Biden.” It seems Albro was very prescient. Other activists on the ground claimed this was politically motivated, but Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, pushed back on those claims. “We’re fighting a pandemic and have no time for conspiracy theories,” he said.
Sanders’ senior advisor Jeff Weaver harshly criticized the move. “While we understood that we did not have the votes to win the Democratic nomination our campaign was suspended, not ended, because people in every state should have the right to express their preference,” he said (via CNBC). “What the Board of Elections is ignoring is that the primary process not only leads to a nominee but also the selection of delegates which helps determine the platform and rules of the Democratic Party.”
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