Foss: How will history view Cuomo?

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Categories: News, Opinion

In the early days of the pandemic, I took a photograph of a hand-painted banner hanging from a house in Albany’s Mansion neighborhood. 

“Thank You!!!” the banner proclaimed. “Healthcare workers, 1st responders, essential businesses & Gov. Cuomo.” 

The banner was recently acquired by the New York State Museum, where it’s displayed in the front lobby and visible from the street. 

An information card posted in the front window quotes the banner’s creator, who says she made it because she was “overwhelmed with gratefulness for all of those working on the frontlines and for the governor for keeping a sense of calm during a highly anxious period.” 

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Thank You

The banner spoke for a lot of people – including me. 

At the time, I felt pretty good about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership, which seemed firm, hands-on and refreshingly competent. 

An April Siena College Research Institute poll found that Cuomo had a sky-high favorability rating of 77 percent among New York registered voters. His daily press briefings became must-see viewing for people all over the country, and he was discussed as a possible presidential contender.  

In recent weeks, though, something’s changed. 

The latest Siena poll shows that while Cuomo still enjoys support from a majority of New Yorkers, his favorability rating has dropped 11 points since last month, to 66 percent. 

It’s a noteworthy slide, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it drop even further next month. 

As we get further away from the shock and horror that gripped the state in March and April, Cuomo’s performance will come in for more scrutiny – and more criticism. 

His daily press briefings have become more adversarial, as reporters press him on the subject of nursing home deaths, and whether his administration did as much as it could have to protect vulnerable residents, the state’s overburdened unemployment system and other tough topics. 

Just 44 percent of Siena poll respondents said they feel Cuomo has addressed the needs of nursing homes, and the governor’s increasing defensiveness on the subject suggests it’s a sore spot. 

“I had a much higher opinion of Governor Cuomo’s handling of the virus until he refused to take responsibility for what happened in the nursing homes,” one reader, from Saratoga County, told me. 

Another issue that’s ripe for reassessment is the state’s initial response to COVID-19. 

New York has the highest death toll of any state in the country, and it’s worth asking why. 

Surely, New York City’s density and reliance on public transportation are a part of it. 

But we need to consider other factors, such as the crucial decisions made back in March. 

Damning articles by The New Yorker magazine and the investigative news site ProPublica faulted New York for not issuing statewide shutdown orders earlier, as California did. A study from Columbia University found that the lives of 17,500 New Yorkers might have been saved had the lockdown been implemented on March 15, rather than March 22. 

This is a finding that ought to haunt New Yorkers, and prompt a deeper, more nuanced consideration of the governor’s leadership at a time of crisis. I would still argue that there are some things that Cuomo has done well. But he has also made mistakes, and it’s important to recognize that. 

The governor’s flaws were also fully on display this week, in the bungled transition to phase 2 of the reopening of the economy. 

Five upstate regions, including the Mohawk Valley, believed they had the OK to move to phase 2 on Friday, but Cuomo created mass confusion on Thursday, when he said that actually, no, phase 2 wouldn’t be starting after all. Cuomo walked back the delay at his press briefing on Friday and the counties that were expected to move to phase 2 have done so.

But the damage to the governor’s credibility was done. 


Upstate officials and businesses were outraged, and the delay raised larger questions about whether the Cuomo administration is communicating effectively with local officials and why the guidance for businesses scheduled to reopen in phase 2 wasn’t released until Friday morning. 

The whole debacle suggests that the governor should devote more time and energy to making sure reopening goes smoothly. Right now, local officials are hungry for information from the state – and they’re not getting it. 

That’s a problem, and it’s got to be fixed. 

 

Cuomo’s favorability rating is still fairly high, which suggests most New Yorkers aren’t judging his handling of COVID-19 too harshly. 

As to how history will judge it, that’s another question entirely. 

I suspect the final verdict will be far more critical, but only time will tell. 

 Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. 

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