Opinion | Why Is Andrew Cuomo Holding On? Blame New York’s Politics of Masochism.
And yet, it is far from clear that any of this will reduce Unaccountable Andy. Current surveys reveal that Cuomo’s constituents mainly still have his back: Half of New york city’s citizens desire him to remain in workplace, while smaller sized shares state it’s time for him to go. Democrats are a lot more encouraging, with approximately two-thirds stating he shouldn’t resign.
This is even more confounding when you think about how regularly Cuomo has actually governed New york city versus the revealed dreams of his own celebration, especially its ascendant progressive wing and its most singing supporters in New york city City — from the billions in public aids he provided to Jeff Bezos in an effort to entice an Amazon head office to Queens, to his resistance to raising taxes on the state’s most affluent locals. A few of the guv’s consultants in Albany have close household ties to effective state lobbyists, or close political ties to the Republican politician Celebration. For several years, his closest fans in the state legislature were a caucus of conservative, morally challenged Democrats. And for all that he enjoy playing the male in charge, when dealt with with a collapsing train system in New york city City and harmed rail tunnels under the Hudson River, Cuomo has actually declared, dubiously, to have little or no authority.
So, what is it that nevertheless keeps Cuomo the Lesser popular amongst his constituents? The response appears to be partially his unflagging control of the political story, in addition to a Praetorian Guard of effective unique interests he has actually cultivated throughout the years. However there is something much deeper too: the disposition of citizens here to worth strength — or more properly, widespread, continuous hostility — over whatever, in spite of a history that reveals you don’t require to be a jerk to be a great guv of New york city.
Andrew Cuomo has always displayed a bulldog-like tenacity in shaping the story he wants to tell. In campaign season and out, New Yorkers are bombarded with television ads telling us what great things Cuomo is doing. It is this relentless messaging that reportedly accounts for some of the “toxic” and “hostile” work environment in his office — the frenzied pace, the aides hauled back from vacations and children’s birthday parties even to transcribe television interviews, wearing themselves out not in the service of the people but in burnishing the image of Dear Leader.
When things go bad, there is always some sleight of hand to distract us. By no possible measure has New York’s response to the pandemic been a good one. The state has suffered the second highest rate of Covid deaths in the country. Yet Cuomo’s daily press briefings on the virus last year resulted in nationwide accolades, along with a book contract and an Emmy Award. (“The first Emmy ever for controlling the narrative,” as longtime Cuomo critic John Kaehny, the executive director of the public watchdog group Reinvent Albany, put it to me.) “Why We Are Crushing on Andrew Cuomo Right Now,” read a headline in Vogue last March. “Help, I Think I’m In Love With Andrew Cuomo???” a Jezebel writer confessed.
Another reason Cuomo has managed to hold on is his sheer power. Undoubtedly, the most risible thing that Cuomo — a man who has been at or near the center of state and national politics since he was a teenager — has said in this, his season of discontent, was, “I am not part of the political club.” The fact is that Andrew Cuomo is the political club — at this point, pretty much the only political club still operating in state politics. He sits at the center of a cozy network of corporate donors, state authorities, public-sector unions, business associations, Black churches and pretty much every other major political player in New York. The result is a state government that continually yields big plans and poor results, with little consequence. Hospitals and nursing homes went along with the Cuomo administration’s botched plan to transfer dying Covid patients from one to the other — after the governor pushed through a bill immunizing the nursing homes from potential malpractice.
To their credit, some New Yorkers have publicly revised their opinions of Cuomo amid the recent scandals. Yet majorities of citizens still approve of the way he is handling the coronavirus pandemic and the allegations against him. No doubt, this is due in part to the fact that we New Yorkers have made working endless hours in a toxic environment into a badge of honor. Beyond this bent toward office masochism, though, I fear there’s another explanation: New Yorkers don’t think we can do any better.
Call it PTSD from the government dysfunction of the 1970s, Stockholm Syndrome or a weird sort of vanity. But the prevailing belief in recent decades, even among a few of the bluest of liberals I know, seems to be that we are so tough and unruly that only someone with the personality of a bridge troll can rule over us.
We applauded Cuomo’s regular abuse of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as if we were at a prize fight, rather than watching two supposed adults tend to our nation’s greatest city. We have persisted in this mentality even as we watched the political carapaces of such former New York tough guys as Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani crack wide open like so many overturned beetles on the national stage. The suspicion grows that we are not so much truly tough at all as insular and voyeuristic in our pleasures, given over to cheap displays of bravado rather than real strength of character. “If you don’t want people to be mean to you, you shouldn’t go into politics,” “Cuomo may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard,” “Who else can run this place?” and “At least he gets things done” are some of the psychic shrugs I have heard of late — and for years now — from those I know who are among Cuomo’s legion of apologists.
The saddest part about New Yorkers’ loyalty to Cuomo is that it traces how we individuals of this state have lost faith in our own ability to run a democracy. Cuomo might like the nostalgia he conjures when he drives over a bridge named for his father in a car used by FDR, such men used to be more the rule than the exception. For much of the state’s 20th-century history, New Yorkers managed to choose probably the best run of governors in the nation, Democrats and Republicans: Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes, Al Smith, FDR, Herbert Lehman, Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, Hugh Carey and Cuomo the Greater. These were all serious individuals who got things done. They were also men of distinction, who usually managed to rule without abuse or fraud.
They reined in corporate power and built the civil service (TR); regulated utilities, fought child labor and started workmen’s compensation (Hughes); reorganized the state’s entire government, built its first park system and fought for women’s rights in the workplace (Smith); fought for environmental conservation and started New york city’s first welfare state in the teeth of the Great Depression (FDR); implemented a state minimum wage, unemployment insurance and the right to form unions (Lehman); passed the first state law against employment discrimination by race, started the state university system and the New York State Thruway, and oversaw a vast program of postwar reconstruction (Dewey); led in the fight for civil rights and brought massive new spending to education, environmental protection and infrastructure (Rockefeller); and pulled New York City out of its fiscal crisis and rebuilt much of the state’s financial system and physical plant (Carey and Mario Cuomo).
They also made mistakes and had their personal foibles. But none of them pretended he needed to rule by abusing or humiliating people. They worked to make allies, not shields, relied on inspiration more than fear and built for the people, persistently widening circles of freedom and opportunity. Now, the turmoil of recent decades — crime, economic downturns, 9/11 — and some weak or ineffectual leaders in the White House and Gracie Mansion seem to have left all too many New Yorkers apt to turn to the iron fist.
The uncomfortable question for liberals is: When does this become Trumpism — albeit on a much less threatening scale? When do progressive New Yorkers admit that Cuomo is a man from whom many of them will accept any level of sexual harassment and bullying, any amount of corruption, any amount of incompetence, because they like his public persona? How exactly does this differ from Trump worship?
A former, long time associate of Mario Cuomo’s recently compared his old boss to Andrew by invoking Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.
“Mario was a complicated man with many fine qualities,” the associate told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity given the long memories and long knives in New york city politics, though, “he could be secretive and bullying, intolerant of dissent and determined to crush his enemies. It wasn’t the virtues of compassion, intellectual inquiry and soaring eloquence that Mario possessed which showed up on Andrew, but exaggerated versions of the disfiguring sins — ruthlessness, suspiciousness, arrogant belief in the righteousness of whatever he did, the need to dominate.”
Today’s New Yorkers, it seems, would rather have actually the awful photo in the closet.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.