In 2020, Andrew Cuomo was a political powerhouse – but in 2021, New York’s scandal-ridden governor finds himself in hot water.
During the earlier stages of the pandemic, Cuomo was perceived by many New Yorkers as a beacon of leadership amidst the chaos of Covid. His Emmy-winning daily press conferences served as modern fireside chats, a voice of reason in stark contrast to a jumbled federal response. In May, Governor Cuomo made national headlines for taking a Covid test on live TV to demonstrate its safety and simplicity. His centralized executive authority and strict lockdown regulations made his approach to Covid the national flagship of Democratic pandemic policy. Andrew Cuomo was seemingly on top of the world; however, he was as reviled as he was revered across New York State.
Although the Cuomo administration’s handling of the pandemic was generally effective and well-received, its policies concerning nursing homes were rife with controversy. In March of 2020, the governor issued an order directing nursing homes to re-admit residents regardless of whether they were infected with Covid. The order prompted outrage from Cuomo’s opponents, enough for the administration to rescind it in May. After the order was rescinded, the Associated Press published a report estimating that more than four thousand individuals known to be recovering from Covid were re-admitted into nursing homes under the policy. In June, the state Department of Health released another report blaming asymptomatic spread from non-residents for nursing home deaths. In press conferences, Governor Cuomo disparaged criticism of the policy and dismissed attempts to link the order with nursing home deaths as “ugly politics.”
The new year was nothing but bad news for the governor, with the scandal re-ignited when New York’s Attorney General Letitia James published a report claiming that Cuomo’s administration willingly withheld information about nursing home deaths due to Covid. The Attorney General’s investigation found that the Department of Health failed to publish significant portions of data concerning nursing home deaths, undercounting by as much as 50%. In the following weeks after the report’s release, more evidence as to the administration’s motives came to light. In February, the New York Post released leaked statements from senior administration official Melissa DeRosa admitting to intentionally keeping data from legislators for fear of bad optics, trying to avoid giving President Trump political leverage over Democrats in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Another report from the New York Times highlighted internal conflicts between Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health, finding that DeRosa and several others rewrote official nursing home death numbers and omitted nearly 10,000 deaths. The whirlwind of reports drew bipartisan criticism for Governor Cuomo and his administration, with many characterizing the ordeal as a cover-up.
Governor Cuomo’s reckoning did not end there: a flurry of sexual harassment allegations from several women flooded the media beginning with the new year. Aides, advisors, journalists, and others accused Cuomo of patterns of inappropriate and sexist behavior in professional settings. Attorney General James was tasked with investigating Governor Cuomo once again in February. The governor denied the claims, calling them “cancel culture,” and urged lawmakers to await the findings of the Attorney General’s investigation. He apologized for some of his workplace banter, but maintained that he never engaged in any physically inappropriate behavior. As the investigation continued, with the nursing home scandal still hot off the presses, voices denouncing Governor Cuomo grew louder.
Hundreds of New York public officials called for the governor’s resignation, including majorities of the state’s Senate, Assembly, and congressional delegation and influential politicians like Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. On March 11, the State Assembly announced it would be authorizing an impeachment inquiry into the governor. President Joe Biden came out in support of the independent investigation, awaiting the outcome before deciding on his stance. Meanwhile, state lawmakers agreed to strip Cuomo of his gubernatorial emergency powers, which gave him executive authority during the pandemic. Governor Cuomo has few allies left in Albany or Washington, with many in his own party turning on him seemingly overnight.
As it stands in late March, Andrew Cuomo has no intention of fulfilling the countless calls to resign from all angles. In fact, he’s running for re-election for a fourth term as governor of New York in 2022. However, it’s unclear as to whether New Yorkers will deliver for him at the ballot box like years past after this wave of scandals. Cuomo has never been a stranger to criticism, but this sort of mass mobilization against an official by members of his own party is almost unheard of. The governor has taken a beating in polls, with his May 2020 peak approval rating of 72% reduced to a measly 45% in March. Many eyes have turned toward Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native and former congresswoman, who would succeed him if he left office. She has been identified as a viable challenger in 2022, of which there will inevitably be many. With several ongoing investigations and two hostile parties in Albany, the floundering governor’s future looks bleak.
The days of pandemic popularity for the governor are over. In 2021, New Yorkers have witnessed Andrew Cuomo’s rapid and ruinous fall from grace – and it’s uncertain whether the governor will ever recover.