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The Rise and Fall of Cuomo

By Kevin Martin

Just over a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic struck America. The state of New York was hardest hit in the initial viral wave. The crisis propelled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to the national spotlight. Through his daily press conferences he appeared to give a stern and honest account of the crisis that the state and country faced. Many in the media hailed him as a hero. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said that Cuomo was “everything Trump isn’t: honest, direct, brave.” MSNBC's Rachel Maddow hailed him as a “national leader.” And, of course, CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked his brother if he was thinking of running for the U.S. presidency. Governor Cuomo seemed to be thriving on the national stage.

In July, the severity of the pandemic seemed to have lessened in New York, and the governor began to celebrate his state’s apparent victory over the virus. A poster depicting New Yorkers’ “victory” began to be sold on the governor’s website for a mere $11.50. Many things can be seen in the poster, including a plane of Europeans coming to New York, Mask Mandates, subway disinfectant policies, and, to top it all off, a rainbow crowned with a banner that reads, “LOVE WINS.” In October, Cuomo even released a book titled, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” in which he told the story of his leading role during the crisis.

At the time this seemed a bit arrogant to me, but Cuomo remained popular in the state. The pandemic was far from over, and the second wave, which was well known to be a certainty, had yet to come. Even more striking was the fact that Andrew Cuomo's actions during the pandemic had been seriously mistaken. The biggest example of this was his executive order compelling nursing homes across New York to accept recovering COVID-19-positive patients. That order resulted in the spread of COVID-19 among thousands in New York's most vulnerable population. Ultimately, this policy decision caused thousands of deaths in nursing homes, deaths that very well could have been avoided had sounder judgment prevailed. Yet the people of New York overwhelmingly supported him, according to a NBC/Marist poll.

Then, in January of this year, New York Attorney General Letitia James, a democrat, released a report that estimated that the nursing home death toll in New York had been undercounted by about 40%—nearly 4,000 deaths. These deaths had previously been attributed to hospitals. The truth of the matter is that these people had been transferred to those hospitals from nursing homes—nursing homes that had been granted civil and criminal immunity by the Emergency Disaster Treatment Protection Act. The bill, alleged Democratic Assembly Member Ron Kim, had been aggressively pushed by Cuomo. Pairing this information with a report from The Guardian showing a last-minute donation from the Greater New York Hospital Association to Cuomo’s campaign during a challenging 2018 primary, one might see this situation as morally conflicted or possibly even corrupt. Nonetheless, Cuomo’s political prowess in New York seemed to be only slightly hindered. That is, until allegations of sexual harassment came to light.

In December of 2020, Lindsey Boylan, a former economic advisor, accused the governor of sexual harassment on Twitter. However, it wasn't until Feb. 24 that her accusations were published on Medium and the pressure on Cuomo began to mount. That same month, Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to the governor, accused him of inappropriate behavior. On March 1, Anna Ruch accused Cuomo of touching her cheeks and trying to kiss her during a wedding reception that took place in 2019. On March 6, another former aide accused the governor of inappropriate behavior similar to the previous accusations. And finally, on March 8, a fourth female aide accused the governor of touching her inappropriately. The governor has denied all four of these allegations as either never taking place or being a misunderstanding. In response to these allegations, the New York Assembly has begun an investigation into Cuomo's actions. New York's federal senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), called for Cuomo to resign due to his “sexual harassment and misconduct allegations.” This joint statement did not mention the nursing home scandal as a reason for him to resign. To their credit, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) released a joint statement calling for his resignation due to both his misconduct and mishandling of New York nursing homes. But overwhelmingly, the calls from his party for the governor to resign have been focused upon the allegations of misconduct as opposed to his handling of the pandemic.

Why might this be the case? Perhaps, in this post-MeToo era, allegations of sexual harassment are more politically devastating than the likes of the nursing home scandal. If this were the case, it would be a tragedy. It is difficult to contend that these accusations, though extremely serious and worthy of causing Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment, are more important than the unnecessary death of thousands of New York’s most vulnerable. Another reason may be that these allegations were simply the last straw for Cuomo’s political allies. Goodwill only goes so far in politics, and after a point, it was likely easier and politically expedient to turn on Cuomo than to continue to defend him every time a crisis occurred. Or perhaps it is because New York was not the only state that forced nursing homes to take in COVID-19-positive patients. New Jersey, California, Michigan and Pennsylvania all had similar rules in place during the early days of the pandemic. I do not mean to claim any of these state governments or governors have manipulated the data on nursing home deaths. My only contention is that these states have elevated nursing home deaths due to their public policy decisions and, critically, they are run by Democratic governors. This may be, in my opinion, the reason behind why most Democrats are calling for Cuomo’s resignation after the sexual harassment allegations as opposed to the mishandling of the New York nursing homes.

Andrew Cuomo should resign, and if he fails to do so, I hope that the New York legislators impeach him for his heinous actions. The primary motivator for this impeachment ought to be the thousands of unnecessary nursing home deaths that his administration later partially hid. Sexual harassment allegations are serious and are themselves sufficient to warrant impeachment, and I am glad that the governor’s own party has begun to hold him accountable. But I hope it is now abundantly clear that Cuomo's actions warranted impeachment even before these allegations came to light.

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