ALBANY — For days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been preaching a message of sacrifice during the holidays, warning New Yorkers that Thanksgiving gatherings could be dangerous as virus cases spike across the nation, and beseeching them to reconsider their plans to help stem the rising tide.
So it was surprising when Cuomo announced Monday afternoon that he had invited his 89-year-old mother, Matilda, and two of his daughters to celebrate a very Cuomo Thanksgiving with him this week in Albany.
The news of the family dinner came during a radio interview in an offhand answer to a question about the upcoming holiday.
“My mom is going to come up and two of my girls,” the governor said on WAMC, adding, “The plans change. But that’s my plan.”
Cuomo’s plans would quickly change again, but not soon enough to avoid a barrage of condemnation from his most frequent critics.
“His arrogance and hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, an upstate Republican who was recently reelected to a fourth term, wrote on Twitter. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
The criticism hinted at a substantial backlash to Cuomo’s image as a heroic figure after helping New York emerge from the pandemic; earlier Monday, the governor was awarded the “International Emmy Founders Award” for his more than 100 televised briefings at the height of the pandemic, an award that also sparked eye rolls among his critics.
The New York Republican Party was particularly unsparing, saying, “Andrew Cuomo doesn’t need an Emmy, he needs a reality check.”
“Gov. Cuomo definitely deserves an award for best actor in the fictional storylines that he’s created declaring himself a great leader,” said Nick Langworthy, the Republican Party chair in New York.
Last month, Cuomo was also questioned in some quarters for writing a memoir about the coronavirus’s darkest days, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” despite the fact that New York leads all states in deaths, with more than 33,000, and is now experiencing the onset of a second wave.
Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, is hardly alone in the heightened scrutiny of public figures, particularly for not abiding by the same coronavirus rules they have implored their constituents to follow.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California was chastised after he attended a lobbyist’s private birthday dinner at a Napa Valley restaurant in which guests mingled in close quarters without masks.
In New York City, leaders from the Brooklyn Democratic Party faced backlash last week after attending a private indoor party where few wore masks, sparking cries of hypocrisy. A few days later, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is running to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio, packed an Upper West Side restaurant with donors for a private fundraiser.
On Monday, before his comments about his Thanksgiving plans, Cuomo said New York City’s mayoral candidates “should be setting the highest standards and they certainly shouldn’t be breaking the law.”
In his remarks during his news conference in Manhattan, the governor had also made an impassioned plea to his state’s residents that this was “not a normal Thanksgiving,” seemingly criticizing some companies for romanticizing the holiday.
“All beautiful pictures of Thanksgiving in the storybook setting,” he said, ever so wistfully. “The way we wish it could be.”
Cuomo added that he had decided not to spend the holiday with his daughter Mariah, currently in Chicago, because of the risks involved in her traveling to Albany. He added that he hoped other New Yorkers would use the holiday to honor a range of people affected by the pandemic, including health care and other essential workers, as well as those who had lost loved ones in the pandemic.
“Why don’t we really honor that this Thanksgiving?” the governor said. “And saying yes, we’re going to be alone physically but we are spiritually together celebrating in a way that is even deeper than just the proximate location of sitting next to someone.”
By Monday evening, Cuomo had rethought his Thanksgiving plans. His office described Cuomo’s initial words as a well-meaning fib told — via the radio — to his mother, noting that had he couched his statement by saying “plans change.” The governor would no longer be having Thanksgiving dinner with his mother and two of his daughters.
“Given the current circumstances with COVID, he will have to work through Thanksgiving and will not be seeing them,” said Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor. “Don’t tell his mom — she doesn’t know yet.”
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