Andrew Cuomo may be the most popular politician in the country. His approval ratings have hit all-time highs thanks to his Covid-19 response. Some Democrats have discussed him as a possible replacement for Joe Biden, due to Biden’s perceived weakness as a nominee. And there have even been some unfortunate tributes to Cuomo’s alleged sex appeal.
All of which is bizarre, because Cuomo should be one of the most loathed officials in America right now. ProPublica recently released a report outlining catastrophic missteps by Cuomo and the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, which probably resulted in many thousands of needless coronavirus cases. ProPublica offers some appalling numbers contrasting what happened in New York with the outbreak in California. By mid-May, New York City alone had almost 20,000 deaths, while in San Francisco there had been only 35, and New York state as a whole suffered 10 times as many deaths as California.
Federal failures played a role, of course, but this tragedy was absolutely due, in part, to decisions by the governor. Cuomo initially “reacted to De Blasio’s idea for closing down New York City with derision”, saying it “was dangerous” and “served only to scare people”. He said the “seasonal flu was a graver worry”. A spokesperson for Cuomo “refused to say if the governor had ever read the state’s pandemic plan”.
Later, Cuomo would blame the press, including the New York Times for failing to say “Be careful, there’s a virus in China that may be in the United States?” even though the Times wrote nearly 500 stories on the virus before the state acted. Experts told ProPublica that “had New York imposed its extreme social distancing measures a week or two earlier, the death toll might have been cut by half or more”.
But delay was not the only screw-up. Elderly prisoners have died of coronavirus because New York has failed to act on their medical parole requests. As Business Insider documented:
“Testing was slow. Nonprofit social-service agencies that serve the most vulnerable couldn’t get answers either. And medical experts like the former CDC director Tom Frieden said ‘so many deaths could have been prevented’ had New York issued its stay-at-home order just ‘days earlier’ than it did. On March 19, when New York’s schools had already been closed, Cuomo said ‘in many ways, the fear is more dangerous than the virus.’”
The governor has failed to take responsibility for the obvious failures, consistently blaming others and at one point even saying “governors don’t do pandemics”. (Actually, some governors just don’t read their state’s pandemic plans.) But much of the press has ignored this, focusing instead on Cuomo’s aesthetic presentation: his dramatic statements about “taking responsibility” (even when he obviously hasn’t), and his invisible good looks.
For too long, Democrats have measured their politicians by “whether they are better than Republicans”. This sets the bar very low indeed, and means that Democrats end up settling for incompetent and amoral leaders who betray progressive values.