Andrew Cuomo: The rise and the reckoning

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It’s like a slow-motion car crash where the unthinkable becomes the inevitable. Welcome to the saga of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, scion of street-seasoned champion Mario Cuomo, a Democratic icon long known for ground-breaking achievements and heart-moving prose. Instead of following his dad’s rise to the top, Andrew is now hurtling for a reckoning he can neither control nor stop. 

This is no random accident — but rather one long in the making, with devastating collateral impact. 

As the allegations against Cuomo escalate, we’re left feeling as if this is not accidental misfortune but personal and purposeful.

The core allegations:

  • Cuomo and his team, fearing the worst, covered this up for more than six months — until a court order and members of his own Party demanded answers. The answer came when the Governor’s right-hand confidante, Melissa DeRosa, admitted on a conference call that they hid the data, knowing the truth would not set them free but set them up for political execution. Her excuse: “We froze” — worried it could “be used against us” by investigators. Thousands of people needlessly die, and they’re concerned about how this may sully their image?
  • Cuomo, feeling cornered by a growing scandal, threatens a Democratic Assemblyman from Queens, Ron Kim, to clam up or else. Kim said Cuomo, apparently screaming loud enough to wake the dead (for whom he was responsible), told Kim he’d not yet seen Cuomo’s wrath — “I will destroy you.” Despite reported fears of retribution, several Democrats in the Assembly moved to strip Cuomo of emergency COVID powers.
  • A high-ranking female employee claims Cuomo harassed her with lecherous kissing, unwanted touching, an invitation that she play “strip poker” with him on a private flight. The accuser went one step further, saying other women were being abused, bullied into submission, silence, or both. Team Cuomo’s response: It never happened. Now a second Cuomo aide has stepped forward with a similarly unnerving allegation, suggesting Cuomo’s lecherous conduct with subordinate women is not isolated but rather a pattern of conscious behavior.

Threatening. Deceiving. Harassing. Bullying. This is a Greek tragedy with an Italian surname. So where did this all come from? How could COVID’s “briefer in chief,” one of the “sexiest men” alive, and three-term governor, fall so quickly — and so publicly?

The answers may lie as much in a centuries-old classic about war, as they do the Cuomo family picture album.

Start with family. Raised in a gritty middle class Italian family who owned a small neighborhood grocery store, Andrew Cuomo’s ambition soared in parallel to his father’s. In short order, Andrew became Mario Cuomo’s chief enforcer, and became obsessed with settling scores. It required hurting others’ feelings as much as soothing them.

Yet for someone once described as a misanthrope (one who dislikes humankind), Cuomo never allowed the burden of regret to slow him down. Instead, he was empowered by it, convinced that winning always necessitates some level of collateral damage.

In this regard, New York’s three-term Governor is a living embodiment of Sun Tzu’s 5th Century B.C. paean to leadership, “The Art of War,”  making the allegations against him fully predictable. As one who liked to “crunch his enemies,” Cuomo has taken nearly every Tzu lesson to heart by ignoring his own. Here are four:

  • Win quickly and declare it quickly — Cuomo proclaimed New York had “beaten” COVID last fall; then the second surge hit.
  • Use flexibility to control changing circumstance — blame the GOP, Trump, anyone to outflank any truth that threatens the leader.
  • Inspire the troops by regaling them — driven by media adulation, and outsized ego, Cuomo scored a top theatrical award for his news conference performances while hiding the truth about what he had done to cost New Yorkers their lives.
  • Finesse the strong and crush the weak — that’s been Andrew Cuomo’s playbook from day one; just ask Ron Kim, or Lindsey Boylan, or the nine New York public health officials who resigned.

So can Andrew Cuomo survive all this, his past, his present, and invariably his future? Can a leader driven to win at all costs, who’s creating enemies at a clip eclipsing Richard Nixon, who has a “prove it if you can” attitude about the allegations — a la Gary Hart — weather this storm to ascend again, win again, lead again?

Given the lives he’s ruined and the damage he’s caused, why would anyone be rooting for that?

Adam Goodman, a national Republican media strategist and columnist, is the first Edward R. Murrow senior fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3

Tags Andrew Cuomo Andrew Cuomo's response to nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic cover up Cuomo family Cuomo scandal New York nursing home deaths sexual harassment allegations

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