Andrew Cuomo built his image as an anti-Trump COVID warrior with a big future. Then it all fell apart



When America’s COVID fear was first peaking, the public looked in an unlikely direction for national leadership.

Just north of the Capitol, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to make transparency and clear information his calling cards.

Cable news networks ran his hour-long press conferences live, every single day, for months on end.

On Mother’s Day, he video-called his mum during a live press conference and pundits gushed about his empathy.

His popularity soared with the public to the point where the hashtag #PresidentCuomo trended on Twitter. Journalists speculated he might be named as Joe Biden’s potential running mate.

And the praise lasted for months. Not long after the third devastating wave of infections crashed over New York, Mr Cuomo was awarded an Emmy for the way he turned a crisis into a moment of engaging, feel-good television.


Mr Cuomo emerged from the worst year of the pandemic looking like an anti-Trump leader, offering a calm, caring style in contrast to the man in the White House.

Now, the Governor is fighting to keep his job.

Cuomo accused of hiding New York’s true COVID death count

“It’s a fall from grace and it’s a self-inflicted wound,” said Leigh Gilmore, a professor at Ohio State University who’s written about the Cuomo scandals.

After making honesty the heart of his COVID response, Mr Cuomo is now under investigation for covering up thousands of deaths in nursing homes.

A patient in a stretcher is being loaded into the back of an ambulance by emergency workers.
Governor Cuomo ordered aged care facilities to accept recovering coronavirus patients to free up hospital beds, a move later blamed for the rapid spread of the disease in those homes.(AP: John Minchillo)

According to an Associated Press investigation, his administration made a decision on March 25 to send 40 per cent more patients to aged care facilities than was reported by health authorities.

The New York Times reported that his senior aides tried to cover up the damage of that decision — more than 9,000 deaths among nursing home residents — by removing statistics from a public report.

At least nine New York public health officials resigned after clashing with the Governor.

Three women are also accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment

Mr Cuomo is also facing detailed, on-the-record allegations of sexual harassment from three women, including two former staffers.

In December, his former staffer Lindsey Boylan took to Twitter to allege Mr Cuomo had made repeated sexual advances to her.


“@NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Many saw it, and watched. 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,” she said.

Now a candidate to be president of the borough of Manhattan, Ms Boylan became the first to lodge a legal complaint against her former boss in late February.

She alleges the Governor forcibly kissed her on the lips and asked her to play strip poker with him.

Days later another former staffer, Charlotte Bennett, also went public, telling the New York Times she believed she was also subject to sexual advances by the Governor.

A composite image of three women
Lindsey Boylan (left), Charlotte Bennett (centre) and Anna Ruchs have accused Mr Cuomo of inappropriate behaviour.(Twitter)

In an exclusive television interview with CBS News, Ms Bennett, who was Mr Cuomo’s executive assistant and a health policy adviser, said during a one-on-one meeting on June 5, 2020, the Governor asked multiple questions that led her to the conclusion “the Governor’s trying to sleep with me”.

“I thought he’s trying to sleep with me. The Governor’s trying to sleep with me and I’m deeply uncomfortable and I need to get out of this room as soon as possible,” she told CBS News.

“Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely.”

Another woman, Anna Ruch, came forward two days after Ms Bennett’s allegations.

Ms Ruch says she had never met Mr Cuomo when he allegedly placed his hand on her bare lower back at a September 2019 wedding and then, after she removed it, placed his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her.

Cuomo has played down the allegations, sparking more criticism

Andrew Cuomo holds a protective mask to his face.
New York, at one point the world’s coronavirus epicentre, has recorded more than 1.5 million cases and nearly 50,000 deaths.(Reuters: Mike Segar)

This week, the Governor was back on television delivering a coronavirus update, but his tone was decidedly downbeat and apologetic.

He said he would not resign in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against him, but he offered a fresh apology and vowed to “fully cooperate” with a review by the state’s Attorney-General.

“I feel awful about it and frankly I am embarrassed by it,” he said.

He added his behaviour towards the women was “unintentional” and he maintained he never touched anyone inappropriately.

Even so, he acknowledged it was “custom” for him to kiss and hug people when greeting them.

“I understand that sensitivities have changed and behaviour has changed and I get it, and I’m going to learn from it,” he said.

Both Ms Bennett and Ms Boylan have rejected Mr Cuomo’s public apology.

“It’s not an apology. It’s not an issue of my feelings. It’s an issue of his actions,” Ms Bennett said.

“The fact is that he was sexually harassing me and he has not apologised for sexually harassing me and he can’t even use my name.”

New York’s Attorney-General has launched an investigation into the allegations which will be made public.

Mr Cuomo has committed to fully complying with the inquiry.

The Governor’s political future looks precarious at best

Dr Gilmore, the professor who studies gender and sexual harassment, says the coinciding scandals pose a big threat to Mr Cuomo’s status as an American hero.

“He was a voice of calm and reason and I think the timing of the revelation of how he handled the deaths in nursing homes coupled with the revelations of sexual harassment allegations mark him pretty strongly,” she said.

“I think it’s disqualifying at the executive level because he has absolute power over people’s careers.”

The Governor’s critics point out he has a long track record of condemning sexual harassment.

In 2013, he introduced a Women’s Equality Act proposal that included banning “sexual harassment in every workplace”.

Later that year, he suggested two assemblymen be expelled for alleged sexual misconduct with staff.

When the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke in 2017, Mr Cuomo announced he would return donations from the media mogul, saying: “I have three daughters. I want to make sure at the end of the day, this world is a safer, better world for my three daughters.”

Some Democrats are calling on Cuomo to resign

Once the darling of the left, Mr Cuomo is leaving the Democrats scrambling to respond.

As This Week’s Ryan Cooper put it: “The #MeToo movement is running aground on the rocks of Democratic political convenience.”

A handful of Democrats have called on Mr Cuomo to resign.

New York’s two Democratic senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, strongly endorsed an attorney-general investigation but stopped short of calling Mr Cuomo to leave politics.

US President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have largely refrained from commenting, though Ms Pelosi did admit the allegations sound “credible”.

The #MeToo movement, which erupted nationwide in 2017 in part because of former US president Donald Trump’s election, has ended the careers of congressional members in both parties.

The downfall of Minnesota senator Al Franken set the tone for the Democratic Party’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment.

Some commentators argue the Democrats’ caution in waiting for the results of an independent investigation into Mr Cuomo’s actions stems from a political calculation.

Maybe the party paid too big a price by taking the higher moral ground over the Franken case in the age of Trump.

Dr Gilmore said it simply showed the #MeToo movement had evolved and matured. And she said she believed the Democrats were handling the situation appropriately.

“You’ll notice that there wasn’t a kind of instantaneous call for resignation. Instead, there was an insistence there be an independent investigation, which I think is a really important step for making processes in making these types of allegations more transparent and fair,” she said.


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