I’ve lived in New York for 13 years, which makes this an eerily appropriate time to experience a plague. Some days, I hide from the news entirely; on others I watch the mounting infection rate with rising panic (it’s over 23,000 in the city now, 37,000 in the state, and likely higher by the time this is published). On Sunday morning, I woke up at dawn to hit the grocery store in my Queens neighborhood just after it opened. This turned out to be a good idea; there were only a handful of other shoppers and they were all sensibly masked. I wasn’t masked, because I didn’t buy any protective gear, because by the time I thought about it two weeks ago, all the stores were already sold out everywhere. At one point, in the vegetable aisle, I thoughtlessly touched my face. This gave me a sort of low-level, rolling panic attack for the rest of the day. I won’t be going outside again for a while.
Ah, but at least I live in New York, where our governor knows what he’s doing! Stranger than the emergence of the novel coronavirus is the sudden flowering of praise for Andrew Cuomo, even as the state of New York experiences the largest outbreak anywhere in the country. In Jezebel, Rebecca Fishbein wrote “Help I Think I’m In Love With Andrew Cuomo?”, a joke/personal essay that should probably have remained an r/relationships fakepost. Fishbein begins by describing her (relatably) “lonely and scared and anxious” state as the coronavirus rages everywhere. Then, she realizes she’s grown to rely on Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings for comfort and reassurance. The tone of the piece is funny and confessional, in typical Jezebel style. Fishbein acknowledges many of Cuomo’s bad past policies, admits she probably has Stockholm Syndrome, and concludes:
As I sit alone in my apartment on the couch one of my roommates left behind, wondering when I can escape, if I’m already sick, if anyone will ever hug me again, if my 74-year-old father will survive this, only one thing is certain. Andrew Cuomo, Dear Leader, will take care of me. He loves me. He is the only one who is here for me. He will help me get through this.
And when I finally do, I will need an endless amount of anti-brainwash therapy so I can rightfully yell at him for using prison labor to make hand sanitizer.
This is cute, and the terror that informs her feelings is perfectly understandable given the circumstances, but it also fucking sucks. Imagine saying in 1943 that when the war is over, you plan to “rightfully yell” at FDR for his Japanese internment camps. I’m not making the comparison lightly: Our prisons are a horror and a crime against humanity. Many prisoners are locked up for crimes they didn’t commit, and/or for minor offenses they were plea-bargained into rather than face longer sentences. These prisoners are disproportionately Black, because Black people are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. To make New York State’s hand sanitizer, prisoners earn a thrilling 64 cents an hour, a penny less than the purported New York prison average of 65 cents an hour. Prisoners are not permitted to possess the hand sanitizer themselves because of its alcohol content. This measure has been condemned as slave labor, which it is, since the 13th Amendment bans slavery with the notable exception of convicted felons.
And it sounds a lot like slavery if you ask the prisoners themselves. Katie Way of VICE spoke to a prisoner pseudonymously referred to as “Michael,” who claimed that the hand sanitizer operation runs 24 hours a day, in three eight hour shifts, though some people work double shifts for more money. “‘Getting 64 cents is actually really good,’ [Michael] said. ‘I never got paid that much before doing any type of job like this.’” According to Michael, the work is exhausting. “‘We’re completely overworked…They treat us like shit…We don’t really have too much time to do anything…No time at all. We literally… our complete day is booked all the way.’”
On top of that, THEY AREN’T EVEN MAKING HAND SANITIZER AT ALL. The prisoners are working, all right, and being paid 64 cents an hour… to take existing hand sanitizer made by an unknown outside contractor, bottle it, and slap a NYS CLEAN logo on it. As Katie Way reports, “neither NYSDOCCS [the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision] nor the governor’s office would respond to repeated questions about why the state would need to use prison labor to bottle hand sanitizer.” Cuomo has insisted that his NYS Clean hand sanitizer is much cheaper to produce. He’s never said why, but we all know why; slave labor is cheap. But the hand sanitizer ISN’T even made by the prisoners, just bottled and labeled by them in what sounds like an unnecessarily elaborate operation. According to VICE, “the governor’s office [didn’t] respond to questions about Cuomo’s pitch that this was a cheaper, more effective option than buying bottled hand sanitizer outright.”
Cuomo read Fishbein’s piece, and called her; you might have expected that she took the opportunity to rightfully yell at him for exploiting slave labor just so he can pretend to make cost-effective hand sanitizer in the middle of a pandemic, not to mention how he’s kept the prisons open in the first place as coronavirus spikes through them. Alas, Fishbein was too overwhelmed. “I did not ask a single substantive policy question,” she writes. “I did not ask about the hand sanitizer. I did not ask him to go on a FaceTime date with me. Somewhere in there, I thanked him for his leadership. I may have blacked out.” Help, I think I hate Rebecca Fishbein??? I’m sure that’s unfair. She’s probably a lovely person who is struggling at this terrible moment, as we all are.
I am at a loss, at times, for how to convince people that the world is real, that prisoners like Michael are not abstractions but human beings, that a public official is not your daddy in any sense of the word no matter how cutely you couch it. Fishbein is hardly the only culprit here. In Vogue, Molly Jong-Fast bravely answers the question few outside the media were asking: “Why We Are Crushing on Andrew Cuomo.” She begins, as Fishbein does, by acknowledging a few of Cuomo’s notoriously shitty actions as governor (I will have a lot more to say about this in a bit), but her criticisms are primarily aesthetic. She doesn’t mention the prisoners and the hand sanitizer at all; her problem with Cuomo is mostly that “[he] just didn’t speak to me, or rather, he spoke to me in a gruff, gravelly, overly emphatic and slightly obnoxious way about obscure bureaucratic infighting. He felt joyless, not exciting. I liked him, but I didn’t like him like him. He was no Sherrod Brown, no Chris Murphy, no Val Deming, no Tammy Duckworth.” (Oh, for the sizzling sex appeal of…Sherrod Brown?) But rather than thinking about what it means to like a politician and why that matters, Jong-Fast admits that thanks to the coronavirus crisis, she’s fallen for our governor. She gushes, “Andrew Cuomo may be imperfect, but he’s still the closest thing we have to an FDR for our time.” (Again, when it comes to the internment camps, this may actually be a fair comparison.) Jong-Fast also admits her jealousy for Fishbein, who actually got to talk to Cuomo, on the phone. “He was MY competent governor/imaginary boyfriend,” she whines. In case you were beginning to wonder, yes, both Fishbein and Jong-Fast are adult women.
Listen, I’m as stupidly horny as the next idiot, and totally agree that sexual attraction is subjective, even random. This pandemic is a living nightmare, and a certain amount of silly eroticism is necessary and even expected when faced with invisible death particles that could kill us at any moment. But no amount of manufactured sexual consent will ever get me to agree that Andrew Cuomo is either physically attractive or worthy of respect. As my friend Jason Adam Katzenstein puts it, Cuomo has the vibe of a “featured extra on Entourage who looked directly into the Ark of the Covenant.” Looks are rarely indicative of character, but Cuomo happens to be both ugly and mean, and in his case he’s ugly because his face contorts into mean expressions, and he makes mean expressions because he’s a mean person. Jong-Fast was right to label him “joyless” and “obnoxious,” but she missed the reasons why she used to feel this way; it’s because Andrew Cuomo is a jerk, and he sucks.
Andrew Cuomo is a Garbage Person
Some New Yorkers remember this, some don’t. Some have happily put their intelligence aside because our brains are full of the gibbering specter of death right now and it’s a lot easier to think with our collective junk. As Bronx-based comedian Desus Nice tweeted with uncharacteristic irritation: “cuomo is trash and u ppl are gonna get a hard on from these pressers and make him president one day bc you’re all stupid.” Governor Cuomo has long harbored presidential ambitions, and last year he threatened to run for president if “close ally” Joe Biden didn’t. Given Biden’s likely victory and manifest unfitness for the presidency, there is some hope and speculation that Cuomo, among others, might be proffered by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Biden’s place. (Weirder things have happened, and with a global pandemic hitting during an election year we are officially in Chaos Mode.) To Rebecca Fishbein’s credit, she has taken ownership of her role in Cuomo’s recent popularization, and has said, “I feel like I have helped create a monster, but Cuomo should not run for president, and I spent like 99 percent of my professional career writing about how much he sucks.” But why is Andrew Cuomo such trash? Why shouldn’t he run for president? What has he done that our thirsty, shameless, pants-off press is so quick to forget?
A short list:
- Andrew Cuomo is a liar and effectively a Republican. When Cuomo was first inaugurated in 2011, he was supposedly stymied by a difficult, intractable Republican state Senate. Technically, the New York Senate was majority Democratic, but a group of conservative Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) broke away to caucus with the Republicans, essentially becoming Republicans in all but name. (So basically, they acted like conservative Democrats everywhere, only this time they were super obvious about it.) You may be familiar with one of the IDC’s chief strategists: Lis Smith, top advisor for the failed Buttigieg campaign. For his part, Cuomo claims he had nothing to do with the IDC. This is a lie. According to sources cited in a Politico report, “[Cuomo] and his staff were active in ‘nudging’ [the IDC] along behind the scenes.” The sources also claimed that Cuomo wanted to “ensur[e] that Republicans had control over the agenda in the Senate, so that he wouldn’t be handing over power to New York City Democrats.” As Edward-Isaac Dovere writes in a mostly flattering Atlantic profile: “[Cuomo] maneuvered to support that breakaway group of Democrats in the state Senate so that he wouldn’t get boxed in to a more liberal agenda that he didn’t want (which Cuomo denied in words while acting in ways that helped them directly and indirectly).” When asked about the IDC, Cuomo still pretends he had nothing to do with them. He defines himself as a progressive, and specifically as “an effective progressive. A competent progressive, an accomplished progressive. Progressive not just in words, progressive in actions.” Now, “progressive” is a slippery term with many meanings, but I don’t think “letting Republicans do whatever they want while pretending you WOULD pass legislation that would save people’s lives, if only you COULD” is any kind of progress.
- Andrew Cuomo doesn’t give a shit about gay people. In one of his often-touted accomplishments, Andrew Cuomo legalized gay marriage in New York State in 2011. As per the Atlantic profile, the bill had long been sponsored by openly gay congressman Danny O’Donnell, but Cuomo wanted it to be sponsored by “his team” instead. According to O’Donnell, Cuomo’s chief of staff threatened him over O’Donnell’s unwillingness to give up the bill. “You’ll never work again,” the chief of staff is reported to have said. “I’ll make it my mission in life to destroy you.” In the end, O’Donnell surrendered the marriage equality bill he’d been fighting to pass for over a decade, while Cuomo signed it and was acclaimed an LGBTQ rights champion. O’Donnell told Dovere: “It’s only about getting [Cuomo] credit. He only cares about credit.” The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), among other LGBTQ organizations, endorsed Cuomo’s gubernatorial re-election campaigns, and the HRC made him a speaker at their 2019 New York gala. (The organization has a talent for supporting powerful people over the interests of actual LGBTQ people: see here and here.) Pramila Jayapal, a left-leaning congresswoman from Washington and the sponsor of the Medicare for All bill in the House, says that “most of Cuomo’s progressive accomplishments, such as gay marriage, are what [New York’s] big donors want anyway.” It’s pretty obvious that you’re not “progressive” if you’re bullying gay politicians into letting you take credit for their work, and only doing the work in the first place because the local rich people said you could.
- Andrew Cuomo doesn’t give a shit about women or reproductive justice. With the help of the IDC, the Republican-controlled state Senate shot down critical reproductive health initiatives for years. To be fair to the IDC, their members sometimes claimed to support critical legislation, such as the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, but the bills “stalled because of opposition from the Republicans who control the chamber through an alliance with the IDC.” Politics! What can you do? This, by the way, didn’t stop the IDC from stealing reproductive justice valor in 2017, when they issued mailers claiming that Planned Parenthood endorsed several IDC candidates. This was a lie, and Planned Parenthood had to tell them to stop. Shortly after the IDC’s defeat in the 2018 midterms, Cuomo signed both reproductive health bills into law and—you guessed it—proudly took credit, while simultaneously reassuring conservatives that the RHA “does little more than codify Roe v. Wade into state law.” At the signing ceremony for the RHA, Cuomo wore a pink tie and gave an award to Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued the Roe case before the Supreme Court. Politico quotes her as saying, with irony, “The governor’s tie indicates the depth of his sincerity.”
- But wait, there’s more. Andrew Cuomo really, really does not give a fuck about women. Cuomo was supported in his gubernatorial re-election campaigns—the first against attorney and activist Zephyr Teachout in 2014, the second against actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in 2018—by the Women’s Equality Party. “Wow!” you might think. “The Women’s Equality Party supported Andrew Cuomo against two women candidates? He must be great on women’s issues.” You would be wrong. The Women’s Equality Party (W.E.P.) supports Cuomo because he founded them in 2014 when he was running against Zephyr Teachout. As Ginia Bellafante reports in a blistering New York Times article, the Women’s Equality Party is something like “a political shell company,” that has a history of endorsing more conservative male candidates over left-leaning female candidates. “During the 2014 election,” Bellafante tells us, “Mr. Cuomo drove around the state in a bus called the Women’s Equality Express, which had a pink stripe adorning its side. Some found the entire enterprise craven and patronizing—and an obvious effort to peel off votes from the WFP [Working Families Party], which had been fighting for paid sick leave and other causes vital to women’s lives for many years. Others found it duplicitous, given the rampant culture of sexual harassment that had been permitted to fester for so long in the state capital.” The pink stripe on the bus indicates the depth of Cuomo’s sincerity.
- Andrew Cuomo doesn’t care about the people of Queens. When Amazon flirted with headquartering itself in Queens, Cuomo bowed and scraped in order to get their business. He even jokingly offered to change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” in exchange for the new headquarters. While Amazon promised the creation of 25,000 new jobs, they would pretty much all have been white-collar jobs, offered mainly to educated out-of-staters and not the immigrant, working-class residents of most of Queens. The mega-corporation would also have been granted an obscene $3 billion in tax breaks just for deigning to destroy the borough. Thankfully, local activists in alliance with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other New York Democrats tanked the Amazon deal and saved Queens. In typical Cuomo fashion, he loudly blamed the “small group [of] politicians [who] put their own narrow political interests above their community,” and then got sneaky, contacting Jeff Bezos directly to beg Amazon to reconsider. When it comes to kinks, to each their own, but personally I can’t imagine anything less sexually appealing than a public official who once begged the richest man on earth for table scraps. A few months ago, Amazon decided it would move into Manhattan’s ritzy Hudson Yards neighborhood anyway without needing to be bribed by tax breaks first, just as AOC predicted would happen. Queens is safe, and the most annoying neighborhood in Manhattan is getting another corporate headquarters, all despite Andrew Cuomo’s best efforts.
- Andrew Cuomo doesn’t take leftist ideas seriously, and he doesn’t like to do things that might be hard. If you’re looking for Cuomo’s other accomplishments, they might seem somewhat impressive…on the surface. He worked with Bernie Sanders to help bring a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave to New York, along with (means-tested) free public college. As Cuomo boasts, “Bernie Sanders [wants] free college tuition. Did it! fifteen dollar minimum wage. Did it! I did almost everything they’re talking about doing. Think about it. What are they talking about as a progressive ideal that we haven’t done? More infrastructure and development than anyone? Did it.” The problem is that Cuomo’s progressive commitments are minimal at best. He favors policies that he believes are doable, but not the ones he’s already decided can’t be done. As Politico reports, “Cuomo has rejected several fashionable progressive ideas that have come up in the primary as unrealistic and unworkable for the state overall. He has resisted further income tax hikes, in part because the rich are already leaving the state. Medicare for All wouldn’t be possible on a state level, he argues. There are single-payer health care proposals in the state Legislature, but the governor and state lawmakers haven’t seriously considered the costs and upheaval that would follow.” Cuomo received a “hero’s welcome” for the $15 minimum wage bill, but he isn’t willing to stick his neck out on anything difficult or really meaningful, especially not if it scares off rich people. He blames his blinkered imagination and lack of political courage on voters themselves. As Dovere writes, “Democrats, Cuomo says, still don’t get it: Voters across America don’t want bold policy proposals; they want money in their pockets and worries off their plates.” This is factually incorrect: Polls show that a majority of voters actually favor bold policy proposals such as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, and public opinion may shift even further given the twin realities of the pandemic and subsequent economic collapse. But in praising Joe Biden, who opposes both Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Cuomo mocks leftist ideas: “[Biden] knows what he’s talking about, he’s experienced, he is relatable, he knows how to get things done, he wants to get things done, he’s not blowing smoke, he’s not a blue-sky puffer…He’s not, ‘Health care for all, Social Security for all! Everything for all!’” Ah yes, that impossible pie-in-the-sky ambition of everyone having Social Security.
- Andrew Cuomo is a constant thief of progressive valor. In fact, Cuomo is only willing to undertake bold policy as long as someone else does the difficult work of popularizing it first. Jayapal describes Cuomo as “a politician’s politician. He is not a movement politician; he’s not the person who comes up with the bold ideas first and does the work to push it forward…You can be a politician’s politician and tough to move on an issue until you see a public out there that’s clamoring. You still deserve credit for getting it done, but where were you when an issue was not popular?” We can see the proof of this in Cuomo’s reaction to Cynthia Nixon, his 2018 leftist primary challenger. During the primary, Cuomo moved left to fend off Nixon’s candidacy. Once he won, many of her policies made their way into his new “Justice Agenda,” including legalizing marijuana, the above mentioned Reproductive Health Act, a Green New Deal for New York State, a middle-class tax cut, and banning corporate campaign contributions. When Cuomo released the proposals in December 2018, he “compared himself to FDR, and said ‘Now is the time to lead.’” Nixon has noted with amusement that she successfully pushed Cuomo left, but he’s failed to acknowledge her influence on his agenda. In fact, in a recent press conference, he took an unnecessary shot at her, laughing at the very idea of her—a former actress who starred in a show about S-E-X!!!—as governor of New York during the coronavirus crisis. Andrew Cuomo is a cynic who stole a woman candidate’s work and took the credit for it. If you were mad about Bernie offering further left versions of Warren’s plans (though the analogy doesn’t quite hold, given that Cuomo would never have adopted left policies without Nixon pressuring him; the comparison here should really be to Sanders pressuring Clinton in 2016), then Cuomo is the guy you should really hate.
- Andrew Cuomo believes in nothing except his own legacy and making sure rich people keep their money. If you ask Cuomo, however, he’ll insist on his progressive credentials. When his record is criticized, he blames “the professional left” whom he describes as members of “‘the greatest scam in history. What does it mean, ‘professional left’? Basically, a sham set of groups that are fronts for labor unions…They were all with Cynthia Nixon, the professional left.’” When he isn’t calling labor unions and leftists scammers, he’s accusing them of being contrarians who lack the necessary pragmatism. Quoted in New York Magazine, the governor said, “‘Mario [Cuomo] was never liberal enough, Koch was never liberal enough—Obama wasn’t liberal enough! ‘Shoulda been single payer, he’s a sellout,” Cuomo says sarcastically. “There is an institutional far left who’s always contrary-left. You’re going to have to beat [Trump] with an authentic, reality-based alternative who says, We can do this.’” In a similar vein, pollster and Albany insider Steve Greenberg described Cuomo’s appeal to Politico as “a progressive who gets things done.” But what does it really mean to “get things done?” Are progressive policies, as Cuomo has claimed on multiple occasions, really at risk of driving a significant number of rich people out of the state? There is some evidence that rich people are leaving New York, but even Forbes admits that the problem is as much “costly living expenses [and] crumbling infrastructure” as the tax rate. The real obstacle to progressive policies in New York, according to Bill Lipton, executive director of the Working Families Party, is Andrew Cuomo. “I tried to work with the guy for eight years, because we’re the WFP—we’re not the Green Party. We’re trying to actually get stuff done…The truth is Cuomo has no policy or values base at all. What he cares about is keeping taxes low on his donors.” In a 2015 New Yorker profile of Andrew Cuomo, the WFP’s national director said, “Cuomo is not some kind of progressive. He rejects the view that the middle class in America was built by unions pushing up and the progressive income tax pushing down. His attitude is we have to keep rich people happy. It’s trickle-down economics.”
- Andrew Cuomo is beholden to rich people. The source of Cuomo’s petty feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is not, as most people think, the New York City subway. The badly-needed subway upgrades were definitely a source of tension: “Cuomo argued that the city owned the subway and that Mayor Bill de Blasio needed to pay for half of the repairs. De Blasio pinned the blame on the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a state agency controlled, for all practical purposes, by Cuomo.” But the battle may also have been over de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten plan, which is paid for by a “millionaire’s tax” on the richest residents in the state. Cuomo, according to a former adviser quoted in New York Magazine, was furious about the tax. “He told the mayor, ‘We’re going to give you pre-K. It may take a while. We may have to bang you around a little bit. But you’re getting pre-K. Now, understand my politics, Bill. I just fought off this millionaire’s tax. I need the business community right now because I’ve got to get an on-time budget.’” De Blasio partly agrees with that interpretation of events, saying, “I was struck by [Cuomo’s] unwillingness to tax the wealthy, and I felt he was not willing to challenge some powerful interests in this state.” However, de Blasio added that the deeper issue was Cuomo’s support for the IDC and the Republicans, saying Cuomo broke “the promise he made to help us win a Democratic State Senate and over the years, he aided and abetted the IDC and the Republicans, and that to me was a real breaking point.” Now, don’t get me wrong: Bill de Blasio sucks and has generally been a disappointing and ineffective mayor. But Cuomo is, by his own team’s admission, at least partly responsible for the feud, since he was reluctant to tax his wealthy donors. Also, when New York Magazine reporter Chris Smith asked Cuomo “if maybe he would be better off not punching at the mayor, Cuomo snap[ped] forward in his chair. ‘He started with me first!’” Andrew Cuomo is not only beholden to rich people, but is also possibly a literal child.
- In fact Andrew Cuomo isn’t just beholden to rich people; he’s outright been bought. The matter of LLCs came up a lot during the primary against Nixon—in New York State, LLCs are a method that corporate entities use to launder their campaign contributions, somewhat like Super PACs. New York Magazine states that “Cuomo rakes in money from corporate, hedge fund, and real estate interests,” and quotes a “Cuomo insider,” who said, “‘Why raise $31 million—and, by the way, at a real cost in terms of time and energy, and at a political cost because it makes you king of the LLC?… The governor is acutely aware that it’s not just about the dollars to spend. It’s the perception. ‘You want to run against me? You better be prepared.’ And it says to the world, ‘I have access to really deep pockets.’’” During the primary, Cynthia Nixon refused to raise money from LLCs, and lost the election to her better-funded opponent. Andrew Cuomo takes money from rich people, sneers at principled rivals, says taxes on rich people aren’t politically possible, and then implements left policies only if he can get rich people to approve them first. What a progressive hero.
- Andrew Cuomo is a craven showman. Let’s talk about the bridge, because it’s my favorite Cuomo story, just like the murdered groundhog is my favorite de Blasio story. Shortly before the 2018 primary election, the old Tappan Zee Bridge (which had been falling apart for years) was replaced with an updated bridge built very close by. Andrew Cuomo wanted to name the new edifice the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge after his famous governor father. But voters objected, and the bridge ended up being dual-named, clumsily, the Mario M. Cuomo-Tappan Zee Bridge. (I’ve never heard anybody call it anything other than the Tappan Zee, or maybe the new Tappan Zee). Chris Cuomo, Andrew’s brother and a CNN anchor, said that their modest father “would have liked the bridge but would not have liked having it named after him.” Andrew agreed, but kept the name. He bragged about the accomplishment: “They’ve been talking about doing these things for so long, since when I was a kid… And it was always, ‘Everything’s complicated.’ The Tappan Zee Bridge: ‘Wellll, the federal government, wellll, the local, wellll, the state …’ We’re actually doing it!’” However, there were allegations of faulty bolts on the new bridge, as well as a potential cover-up of its danger and unreadiness. The new bridge was supposed to be completed on August 24th, and a report states that “the Cuomo administration offered sweeteners to Tappan Zee Constructors to complete the bridge” in time. Finally, in early September, the new bridge was finally—allegedly—ready. Cuomo hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 7th, a mere week before the New York primary on September 13th. Almost immediately after the ceremony, however, parts of the new bridge had to be shut down due to fears that the old Tappan Zee would collapse on top of it. Instead of being safely and gradually disassembled, the old bridge was blown up to protect the new one. Cuomo’s spokespeople “denied that the opening had been rushed in order to happen before Election Day.” Cynthia Nixon remarked, “a ribbon-cutting ceremony should not have been held if the bridge span was not yet safe.” Cuomo’s press secretary responded to this criticism and others with the following statement: “The Mario M. Cuomo bridge is complete and ready for traffic and the action taken by TPZ Construction, given the potential issue on the old structure, was out of an abundance of caution and about public safety, not politics. Anyone trying to score political points off of it only underscores why they are unfit to serve.” The bridge incident was definitely not a stunt, and there’s nothing to see here, folks!
- Andrew Cuomo isn’t governor of New York because he earned it in some fair meritocratic contest; he’s governor of New York because Mario Cuomo was his father. The matter of Andrew’s relationship to his father’s legacy comes up a lot. Mario M. Cuomo was a mostly beloved governor himself and, in many respects, an actual progressive. Andrew often decries “the psychodrama that gets read into every mention of his father.” In the 2018 primary, Dovere writes, “[Andrew] Cuomo won more votes, as he and his staff eagerly point out and then point out again, than anyone else in the history of New York. He will note that anyone else in this case includes both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mario Cuomo, his father and role model and constant reference point.” As the New Yorker reports, “[Cuomo] often uses the same phrase to dismiss comparisons between him and his father. As he put it in his eulogy for Mario, ‘Over the years, the press would love to give their dime-store psychoanalysis of our quote-unquote ‘complex’ father-and-son relationship, which was all a lot of hooey.’” I don’t know about “hooey,” but at the risk of “reading in psychodrama,” Andrew Cuomo’s “I’m not locked in a life-long Oedipal struggle with my dead father’s legacy” t-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by his shirt. Andrew and his brother Chris recently had a contentious exchange about their parents on CNN, which Jong-Fast called “relatable” and “delightfully normal”—I still can’t tell if it was scripted or not, but either way it just felt tense. Regardless, Andrew Cuomo has a job in politics—and his brother a job at CNN—because their dad was Mario Cuomo, and for little other reason. (You might argue that Andrew did work for Mario for years, gaining appropriate experience. That’s nice: if only we all had governor daddies to work for!)
- Andrew Cuomo is an asshole. Here is a list of things people have said about Andrew Cuomo in profile pieces ranging from the sympathetic to the fawning to the respectfully critical at worst:
- “What comes up most in talking about Cuomo is how people hate him.” The Atlantic
- “The differences between the Cuomos are huge: Mario would blow up in a rage, while Andrew tends to bide his time for revenge…” The Atlantic
- “Even when there is good news, Cuomo’s scheming breeds suspicion from reporters, activists, and other politicians.” The Atlantic
- “‘Is he a son of a bitch at times? Yeah.’” New York Magazine (2014 profile)
- “And when he’s criticized, his first reaction—often deployed through surrogates or staffers—is to belittle or intimidate.” New York Magazine
- “‘Andrew is vindictive,’ a Democratic strategist says. ‘He wants to punish people. And he gets joy out of that.’” New York Magazine
- “…a hands-on manager who prefers vise-grip control…” Politico
- “One Northeast-based political consultant, a longtime fixture at the National Governors Association event, says he remembers meetings in previous years when Cuomo entered and exited sessions without a word to anyone. When Cuomo does publicly interact with other governors, the events are often carefully timed and monitored on his own home turf.” Politico
- “…a governor who finds it distasteful to interact with the unpredictable masses and his fellow politicians…” Politico
- “It’s sometimes said of certain politicians that they love humanity but hate people; Andrew Cuomo does not appear especially fond of either. He is the uncommon elected official with a streak of misanthropy. Cuomo rarely sees ordinary people, and they rarely see him, except in television commercials. ‘Andrew doesn’t like meeting with voters,’ someone who is familiar with his campaigns told me. ‘He’ll do parades, but that’s about it.’” The New Yorker
But What About Coronavirus???
Ok fine, so Cuomo’s record is often bad. So he’s a preening, self-aggrandizing, untrustworthy, unlikeable, vindictive valor-thief in the pocket of well-heeled donors. But what about the current crisis? Aren’t the times so extraordinary that they require our memories to be shorter than even the usual goldfish span required of the Democratic rank-and-file? Isn’t Andrew Cuomo handling this particular crisis well?
Let’s take a look.
I’ve already brought up the whole slaves-pretending-to-make-hand-sanitizer issue. But on top of that, only about 300 people have been released from New York’s overcrowded jails and prisons, even as coronavirus rips through Riker’s Island and other city jails. As of the time of this writing, over 100 people in the New York City prison system—both prisoners and guards—have been diagnosed, but the numbers are likely higher. As the Associated Press reports, “New York officials have consistently downplayed the number of infections in its prisons and jails.” Rather than release prisoners into safer environments (de Blasio has already released the 300 mentioned above, and may release more, but not enough), Cuomo has preferred to go ahead with his plan to reverse New York’s recent bail reform measures. (Editors’ note: on the afternoon of 3/27, Cuomo finally decided to release 1,100 people locked up in New York state prisons for minor parole violations.) And at Cuomo’s Monday presser, he glommed onto the conservative meme of “human lives versus wealth creation, gotta hear both sides” with a graphic that balanced “Protect Lives” with “Economic Viability.” If you’re swooning over Cuomo’s short-sleeved outfits while he’s openly weighing the costs of killing workers, you might need therapy.
“But,” you might say, “that’s not the Cuomo I love. I love the Cuomo who went on TV and yelled at Trump, the Cuomo who wrote an op-ed in the New York Times demanding more hospital beds and medical supplies from the federal government. That was great. That’s what leadership looks like.” Well, if you’re curious why New York will soon run out of hospital beds, it’s not solely because of the huge number of COVID-19 victims. It’s also because Cuomo has been closing down hospital space for years via his Berger Commission, which has sought efficiency in the name of “budget cuts and insurance overhauls.” This Cuomo-appointed panel just decided to cut Medicaid even further, including specific cuts to city hospitals. They didn’t arrive at this decision pre-crisis, but literally last Thursday. It would have been evil at any time, but now, as a highly contagious virus cripples the city, it’s unconscionable.
Cuomo is “probably the single most important person in terms of the drive to close down hospital beds in this state over the last 20 years,” said Sean Petty of the New York State Nurses Association in a terrific interview with Democracy Now. Petty continued, “Specifically because of policies that Governor Cuomo has pursued, we are now 20,000 beds behind where we need to be in terms of trying to scale up our capacity.’” A flattering U.S. News article titled “How Coronavirus made Andrew Cuomo America’s Governor” (an obvious reference to the way Rudy Giuliani was called “America’s Mayor” after 9/11) points out that in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the governor has “us[ed] New York’s resources to buy personal protective equipment and expand hospital bed space.” But does that actually mean anything, given that Cuomo trimmed the budget—much like the quarantine buzzcuts everybody’s been doing—way too close in the first place?
The fact is that Cuomo’s past and currently suggested Medicaid cuts have put New York hospitals in a horrible position. “Governor Cuomo is currently trying to reduce Medicaid spending in the state by almost $2.5 billion dollars during this pandemic,” Petty said. “And this will absolutely result in a decrease in healthcare capacity and keep the state from getting matching federal dollars for Medicaid spending.” That $2.5 billion figure is over several years; Cuomo aims to cut Medicaid by $400 million alone in 2020, in the middle of the worst pandemic the world has faced in 100 years.
New York’s ventilator shortage also seems to be, in many ways, the governor’s fault. A 2015 report from his administration predicted that when faced with a “severe” influenza or influenza-like pandemic (such as, say, the one that’s upon us right now), New York would fall 15,783 ventilators short of the necessary amount. Cuomo’s plan, according to documents dug up by journalist John Riley, was to “allocate” ventilators rather than just buy more to have in readiness. While the federal government has obviously done a poor job of supplying ventilators, medical supplies, and hospital beds to the most afflicted states, it doesn’t help that Andrew Cuomo has been kneecapping New York hospitals and their workers during the decade he’s been in charge. The governor’s poor planning is one reason that New York hospitals are already overwhelmed, with health care workers at Mount Sinai West forced to wear trash bags due to lack of protective gear. Kious Kelly, a 48 year old assistant nursing manager at Mount Sinai, died on Tuesday from coronavirus complications. Some of his coworkers blamed the hospital as an institution, while others said that the supply issues have been going on for some time. A nurse told the New York Post that within the last year, even before the coronavirus hit, “‘we had to hide our own supplies and go to other units looking for stuff because even the supply room would have nothing most of the time.’” While Cuomo obviously can’t be held solely responsible for Mount Sinai’s supply problems, his healthcare cuts certainly bear some of the blame.
There also remains the open question of whether Cuomo’s supposed best action—the “stay at home” order he issued—even happened in time. New York’s coronavirus case numbers have been sky-high; 100 people died on March 26th. (Update 04/08/2020: 731 people died on 4/7/2020). You could of course dispassionately argue that during a highly contagious global pandemic, we would expect that the largest and most densely-populated city in any given country would have the most cases, and the most fatalities. On March 12th, as coronavirus burned through New Rochelle just north of the Bronx, the number of coronavirus cases in NYC jumped to 95, and de Blasio declared a state of emergency, I started self-quarantining (I work from home, so it’s not much different than my regular life). But Cuomo only issued the “stay at home” order, closing all nonessential businesses throughout the state and encouraging people to stay indoors if they can—on March 20th. The order didn’t even go into effect until the 22nd, the same day as my terrifying grocery run. (Update 04/08/2020: According to Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, former head of the CDC and also a former commissioner of the NYC health department, “if the state and city had adopted widespread social-distancing measures a week or two earlier, including closing schools, stores and restaurants, then the estimated death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50 to 80 percent.” )
As it is, essential businesses in New York include not just grocery stores, but also construction workers building luxury apartments, which frequently go unsold anyway. Even the otherwise worshipful New York Times has had some tepid words for Cuomo about his delay:
The governor’s actions have not always been at the forefront: He waited several days last week, as the count of confirmed cases continued to rise, before instituting an order to close nonessential businesses and ask residents to stay at home, even as Gov. Gavin Newsom of California had already done so.
The Times pins the blame on Cuomo’s legendary quarrel with de Blasio, saying that the question of issuing an order “degenerated into a semantics debate.” Was mid-pandemic the right time to have a stupid semantics debate with Bill de Blasio? I guess it depends on whether Cuomo felt like de Blasio started it first. Now, let’s be fair: There’s plenty of reason to blame both Cuomo and de Blasio and, to paraphrase the original Ghostbusters, treating public officials like dirt is every New Yorker’s God-given right.
It’s notable that the recent flurry of distinctly un-New York hagiography over Cuomo has less to do with his actions—which have been decent at best, and hideously cruel at worst—and more about his attitude. We hear a lot about his “steady and calm leadership,” and his daily “public updates [that are] assertive and reassuring, calming and urgent.” I don’t want to dismiss the emotional significance of these daily briefings: They make people feel safer, and that really is important in these awful days. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted, “No matter what you think of his politics, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is modeling crisis leadership right now. Fact-based, blunt, knowledgeable, firm and calm. He is clear the responsibility lies with him and that there is a plan, that there will be pain but we must all share in it.” While Trump has denied responsibility for the crisis, even though his personal inattentiveness and inaction are largely to blame for the unchecked scale of the coronavirus’ spread, Cuomo has said, “I accept full responsibility. If someone is unhappy, if somebody wants to blame someone, or complain about someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision.”
But the fact is that Cuomo hasn’t taken responsibility for his many errors, and what’s worse is that no one seems to care.
In a sexually repressed but infinitely depraved piece for the New York Times called “Andrew Cuomo is the Control Freak We Need Right Now,” Ben Smith praises Cuomo’s authoritarian strength. He comments admiringly on Cuomo’s “capacity to bend the bureaucracy to his will,” and how, “without inspiring much love…[Cuomo] wins elections by grinding opponents into dust before they can make it to the ballot box. He governs by transaction, not inspiration, as a dispenser of favors and destroyer of insurgents’ dreams, the purest master of the machine since Lyndon Johnson in his prime.” Piling scorn on Cuomo’s enemies, Smith writes that, “the people most passionate about politics these days—the New Left and the Trump-led right—dislike him because he governs as both a social liberal and a friend of business. Many moderate and liberal politicians, who ought in theory to like Mr. Cuomo, simply fear him.” Smith, as is typical of the writers of these slavering essays, speaks more about Cuomo’s “leadership” and his powerful presence than his actual actions. However, Smith does state, without inflection, that one of Cuomo’s impressively decisive decisions during the coronavirus outbreak has been to “put state prisoners to work making hand sanitizer.” There’s no judgment here, no mention of the condition of the prisoners or the prisons, no whisper of the fact that they aren’t actually making the hand sanitizer in the first place, and definitely no use of the accurate phrase “slave labor.” Yet Ben Smith scorns the “New Left” who fail to appreciate Cuomo, as though we are being unreasonable for wanting social and economic progress—both at the same time—and also for thinking that human beings shouldn’t be locked up in cages especially during the outbreak of a killer virus. Are we greedy? Are we impractical? Do we fail to love Cuomo as he deserves?
I might be accused, as leftists often are, of expecting politicians to be perfect. I don’t. This is a horrible, unprecedented disaster that has stretched the flaws in our social fabric to the limit, and the governor of a U.S. state—even if he were a good person, which Cuomo is not—wouldn’t be able to magically save the lives of all his citizens, or cancel the infection rate of this hideously contagious disease. (Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, however, does seem to be doing a fairly good job, and if you simply must lust after a governor, he also has decent politics and is objectively a total babe.) It’s also true that New York is testing aggressively in comparison to other states, which is another reason our infection rate is so high (though it’s likely even higher than the stated numbers, as many people with mild or asymptomatic cases are not getting tested at all, including some friends of mine.)
But the fact is that Cuomo, at multiple times in the past including literally last week, has failed to use his authority wisely. He’s a good showman, but his commitments are as superficial as his outfits. He rarely takes responsibility for his actions, doesn’t accept criticism, and is devoted to railroading opposition either openly or behind closed doors. As New York Magazine reports:
De Blasio grew exasperated…going on NY1 in 2015 and accusing Cuomo of waging a “vendetta” against anyone who dared disagree with him. “With all due respect, maybe what the mayor was witnessing is something different,” a former Cuomo adviser says. “Which is ‘We hate you until we need you, and then we love you.’ Which is not hard to understand, and right then, we were in the ‘We hate you’ phase. But there will come a point in time when we need you, and then we’ll love you.’”
Have we come to the point in time where we need Cuomo? Do we have no choice now but to love him?
Is He Hot Or Are We Just Desperate
I don’t watch cable news, so even before the quarantine I’ve sometimes had the experience of living in a locked-in dystopian novel. I’ll just be going about my business when lots of people suddenly start saying something incredibly stupid, all at the same time. I can try to argue with them using facts and documented events (for example, Cuomo’s whole history). But even liberals who pride themselves on their love of facts and documented events will simply reply with something like, “Andrew Cuomo is American’s governor. I trust him.” How to explain this mysterious infection of unreason, of willful ignorance, in liberals—not conservatives—who will say they’re never ill, there’s nothing wrong, they feel fine, they know and care about the facts! You can trace the virus back to its sources: fawning essays in legacy publications, and TV news networks, and the feedback loop between the two. Fox may be Trump’s propaganda network but let’s be honest about what MSNBC and CNN have become (and to some degree have been for a while). As the New York Times gushes, “[Cuomo’s] briefings—articulate, consistent and often tinged with empathy—have become must-see television. On Tuesday, his address was carried live on all four networks in New York and a raft of cable news stations, including CNN, MSNBC and even Fox News.” These press briefings are rarely presented with the honest framing or context needed to explain who this suddenly lauded state official really is or what he’s actually done in his career. No further information is necessary; Cuomo is the hero of the moment, and we all need a hero right now, or rather we shouldn’t question why we think we need a hero. For liberals, the moment Cuomo brusquely critiqued Trump on TV he became a champion of the #Resistance and a sex symbol, the new Robert Mueller, the strongman we can trust up until the day he too inevitably disappoints, and is swept under the rug like so many other forgotten statues, functionally identical to the last one.
Unless, as Desus Nice fears, we make Cuomo president instead. In response to activist Wendy Brandes, who tweeted, “[Cuomo’s] the same as he’s always been, but someone needs to sound decisive now and Americans are complete fools for charismatic savior types,” Desus replied, “the bar is so low literally oj simpson could be president of this country if he gave like 3 good speeches.”
The bar is indeed extremely low. As Ben Smith of the New York Times proudly points out, “Mr. Cuomo holds news conferences filled with facts and (accurate) numbers almost every day. He explains systems and challenges and decision-making with a command that Mr. Trump lacks. He even models social distancing by having speakers stay six feet apart from one another.”
Facts! Accurate numbers! Correct behavior! It’s a liberal wet dream. Cuomo, for the moment, has managed to look the part. He’s handling the crisis better than Trump (again, extremely low bar), so his record doesn’t matter, either his past actions or his shitty present ones. Cuomo is popular because he is on TV, because he looks like the kind of guy who ought to be on TV. He’s wearing short sleeves; he seems tough, but sometimes he speaks—with relatable sympathy—about his daughters. He’s the divorced dad hero of an action movie, a mostly useless and unpleasant asshole who gets to step up when the situation calls for it, just in time to prove to his family and his ex that he knew what he was doing all along. For some people, this is enough. All they want is someone who fills the role. Of course, if all you want is for someone to successfully play the role of hero and governor and then possibly president, maybe you should have elected an actor after all. It’s a shame that despite Cynthia Nixon’s excellent policies and documented activist commitments, Miranda from Sex and the City wasn’t the right kind of character.
There are certain ways we want a governor—or president—to look on TV. They have to talk about their plans, and Getting Things Done, and pragmatism, and tell stories about “a woman I met in Topeka, who works out of a mine shaft and has a heart valve condition and five adopted frog-children, and she said to me…” Candidates need a certain kind of cadence, like the one that Buttigieg stole and filled with completely empty nonsense-words and yet still won 26 delegates. They have to sound presidential, which basically means sounding like presidents in disaster movies. They have to reassure America in a very calm voice. They have to project strength, and display “leadership,” which means they are in charge, and you are not. They don’t necessarily have to be white, or male, though clearly it’s an advantage most of the time. What’s really important is that they have to project a particular kind of reassuring dad or mom energy. They need to make you think “if I vote for this person, I can switch my brain off and let them handle it.” Trump, ironically the ultimate president on TV, obsessed with his ratings and his coverage, is still not a “TV president.” This is half of why many liberals object to him (and half of why his fans trollishly like him). Unless he’s praising the military, Trump rarely looks or acts the part. Bernie Sanders, with his working-class Jewish accent, never does.
I get that people are frightened. I am completely fucking terrified every second of the day. I understand that, right now, any reassuring figure on the TV seems nice. But on the other hand, I feel like maybe it’s a bad idea to encourage authoritarians who love attention, get embroiled in petty vendettas, fundamentally despise you, and believe better things are only possible if rich people sign off on them first. Andrew Cuomo seems like the dad who will tell you what to do; Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, feels like the ethnic grandpa who will yell at the people who aren’t doing enough for you, and insists that you yourself can do more. I appreciate why one is more comforting than the other right now, but—and this is hard to hear—you actually aren’t doing enough.
Instead of lulling yourself into the false hope that Cuomo or anyone else will provide for your needs over those of rich people, you can take action. A great way to battle that sense of helplessness is to look into your local organizations and mutual aid groups; whether you need help or can give it, these organizations deserve your money and your time. (I linked a few good ones in the previous sentence, but if you like here’s a master list of all the mutual aid networks in North America). The federal government—and Cuomo—are debating sending people back to work in a few weeks, well before it’s safe. But this doesn’t have to happen if we agree not to go; that is, if we embark on a general strike or take other large-scale collective action. The economy doesn’t work without us; we’re stronger than the bosses right now. There’s a lot we can do to help each other. We’re not alone.
We’re definitely living in unprecedented times, and we’ll never return to “normal.” Whatever future is headed our way, it won’t resemble the past. You’re totally allowed to have nostalgia for that of course; I can’t blame you for a moment. But please don’t worship a daddy figure who says he’s going to stand up to the bullies and fix everything. One, because it isn’t true—Andrew Cuomo is also a fucking bully, and has been for years—and because you’re a grown adult, and it’s time to take charge of your life. We’re in this together, which means we aren’t here to be passively led, or saved, by the nearest guy we decide is cute just because we’re horny and scared. We have to be our own sexy heroes and heroines. We have to save ourselves, together.
Cover photo Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council announcement, credit Zack Seward.