By Yorgo Sarris
This is an opinion column.
On Thursday March 4, The New York Times published a report that the staff of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had undercounted deaths in a report on COVID’s toll on nursing homes in New York state. Most can remember the “early Quar” or “the long March” of COVID, when New York was at the heart of the pandemic: the photos of a mass pile of corpses in body bags and an empty Times Square. Governor Cuomo was at the heart of all this, holding his famous daily briefings, which were broadcast on every major news channel, seemingly for their entirety. There was not much else to do during lockdown other than watch television and tweet, so all eyes were on the governor. It’s true that attention goes to one who seeks it, and Cuomo craved it.
Under Governor Cuomo, New York saw a peak 1,000 deaths a day in the middle of April, a large majority in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But cases and deaths declined after lockdown measures and further mitigation of spread techniques. When the numbers were in decline, Governor Cuomo announced in his daily briefing “God did not do this.”
It was a thing of pride — he had saved New York. And throughout the whole time, Cuomo had been set up by the media to be the “anti-Trump.” He was serious about stopping the virus, he had a serious demeanor about it. He “trusted the experts” when former President Donald Trump’s relationship with Dr. Anthony Fauci seemed to be on thin ice. Media anchors, including his own brother Chris who interviewed him, dubbed him “a national leader” who “provided hope,” a “hero on the frontline” who could perhaps mount his own presidential campaign. But if you watched the briefings, you could tell Governor Cuomo had a certain arrogance. He claimed his administration had handled the COVID-19 pandemic better than any other governors, and worse, he wrote his own book all about his handling of the virus named “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” released in October 2020. I would imagine ghostwriters wrote a chunk of the book, but the real lesson is: never trust a person who can shell out a whole book in less than half a year about how well they’ve done. Cuomo was full of himself, full of hubris, full of pride.
The maxim “pride cometh before the fall” is true in Cuomo’s case. A whole cascade of sexual harassment allegations from women who have worked for and with the governor have surfaced. A report in New York showed that his administration sent over 9,000 COVID patients into nursing homes, and nearly a month ago a Cuomo aide admitted the administration hid data from federal investigators.
And now yesterday, the Times reported that the state’s July report scrubbed a large number of the death toll, while Cuomo was in the midst of writing his book. #CuomoCoverup was trending on Twitter, and his whole world was crashing down on him.
But his pride won’t let him resign. In response to the multiple women’s allegations including a photo of the Governor clasping his hands on one of their faces, Cuomo said, “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.”
But he knew. Time after time, we have seen men in places of authority who think they can cross the line and get away unscatched. Cuomo is not the first, nor will he be the last. However, he may be the only one who thinks he can not only still come out with his job, but perhaps more importantly to him, with the public’s admiration as well.
The public can not let this go away. Governor Cuomo put himself above the interests and right to know of the people of the state of New York. He has done a disservice to the family of those who died under his regime, not just in sending COVID-19 positive patients into nursing homes, but by not counting their deaths, so that he could sell more copies of his book.
Out of all the attributes we think about our leaders, humility is the last in the modern era. Humility may be seen as a weakness in leaders, in both circles. Former President Donald Trump was known to never admit he was wrong, and look at his fate: The first president to ever have a Senate impeachment trial while he was out of office. The downfall of the pride is eschatological, as the Virgin Mary would say in her “Magnificat” canticle, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.”
The disaster that is Andrew Cuomo should teach us all one lesson: admit when you are wrong. Cuomo’s pride and lies were revealed and exposed to the public; he never came clean nor reported the truth. Investigative journalists had to do that for him. Now, he echoes the soliloquy of Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII,” “farewell- a long farewell to all my greatness!”