At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the nation saw a side to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that belied his reputation in New York as a curt, dismissive, controlling, bullying sort of politician.
Cuomo’s morning briefings quickly became must-watch TV across America, as the “Luv Guv” soothed a dazed and confused nation craving leadership in the midst of this new and terrifying health crisis.
Where the Trump administration appeared rudderless and in denial, Cuomo came across as “New York tough,” giving us straight talk and comfort, complementing his detailed statistics and PowerPoint slides and charts with folksy charm, common-sense advice and hope.
America ate it up. Most importantly, New Yorkers tuned in and listened.
Once the epicenter of the virus, our state became a model for how to manage the crisis.
As other parts of the nation saw dangerous spikes in infections, the curve in New York flattened just as Cuomo predicted it would, because people heeded his advice to socially distance and wear their masks.
He was not without flaws in his handling of the crisis. His policy missteps — such as transferring former covid patients from hospitals back into nursing homes, his initial reluctance to close schools, his fractured roll-out of the economic reopening and his threat to use the National Guard to commandeer PPEs and ventilators from upstate hospitals — were serious and substantial.
But while they dinged his reputation, they didn’t destroy it. His approval ratings remain remarkably high.
New York cruised through the summer on a wave of relatively low infection numbers while the parts of America that took a different path than New York did saw their cases and deaths soar.
But now the predicted winter covid wave is here, and even New York is seeing cases and deaths rise. And the governor is getting more push-back to his directives.
His latest stumble involves his order last week limiting home gatherings to 10 people on the eve of the Thanksgiving and Christmas family holidays.
People will put up with a lot during a crisis. But telling them what they can do in the privacy of their own homes goes a step beyond reasonable for most.
Even though he’s right that medium-sized gatherings such as these are ripe for spreading the virus, his return to his basic bullying and controlling instincts are failing him when it matters most.
Even several sheriffs and other police agencies in the state are refusing to follow his directive (We’ll talk about that tomorrow.), undermining the reasoning behind his concern about gatherings.
The seeming randomness with which he ordered restaurants, bars and gyms last week to close at 10 p.m., without offering a solid basis for the specific closure time, further undercut his message.
His once nurturing daily press conferences have been replaced largely by press releases and irregular conference calls with reporters in which he doesn’t answer a lot of their questions.
He still hasn’t provided accurate statistics about nursing home deaths, an issue he perpetuates with his silence.
And last week, he let himself get sucked into a spitting match with a politically wounded President Trump, giving the lame-duck president an opportunity before a national audience to falsely imply Cuomo was opposed to New Yorkers receiving the covid vaccine.
If the state is going to survive the next wave of the pandemic, the governor needs to find a way back to effective messaging.
Maybe the daily updates about “the boyfriend” and the adorable sibling rivalry with his news-anchor brother Chris have run their course. But he still can use the same type of approach that once worked so well for him and the state to help New Yorkers get the crisis under control.
Instead of using his power to make it against the law to hold family gatherings and implying SWAT teams were going to bust in and break up our Thanksgiving dinners, he might revert back to his more effective charm-and-information offensive to send a message that New Yorkers will respect instead of resent.
The governor needs to return to the tactics that helped New York get control of the virus at its peak, with restrictions based on science and the latest trends instead of the governor’s instincts and near-absolute authority.
The pandemic will get worse before it gets better. That’s all the more reason we need to again trust our leaders to guide us.
Gov. Cuomo once led us through this crisis with facts, confidence, competence and compassion.
We need him to do that again.