“The short memories of the American voters is what keeps our politicians in office.”
So observed the great humorist Will Rogers, and it’s a quote that remains relevant and sharp, as astute an explanation for why even the most scandal-plagued pols can cruise to re-election as ever there was.
Certainly, it’s worth bearing in mind as Gov. Andrew Cuomo weathers the most politically damaging stretch of his gubernatorial career.
Will voters remember the governor’s botched handling of nursing homes during the pandemic when they head to the polls in the fall of 2022?
Or will it have become a faded and distant memory, a troubling-but-mostly-forgotten footnote as Cuomo cruises to a fourth term?
With the nursing home controversy dominating the news, it’s hard to imagine that voters will have forgotten about it by the 2022 Democratic primary for governor, or general election.
The calls to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers have only grown louder over the past week. Republicans are calling for impeachment. Federal prosecutors have launched an investigation into the state’s response to COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Even the governor’s style of leadership has come in for scrutiny, as politicians and aides share stories of being bullied and berated by Cuomo, known for governing through intimidation, threats and fear.
Last week Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat from Queens who has been highly critical of Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes, shared how the governor called him on the phone, shouted at him and threatened to “destroy him.”
Stories like this – and there are plenty of them – ought to make Cuomo’s road to a fourth term much harder.
So should the governor’s stonewalling of the release of an accurate tally of COVID-19 nursing home deaths, and Cuomo’s baffling refusal to provide the information until a judge ordered him to do so.
If the election were this fall, perhaps these scandals would torpedo Cuomo’s bid for four more years.
But the election is 16 months away – a lifetime in politics.
Will voters remember?
They might, but right now I’m skeptical, and here’s why:
A Morning Consult poll taken in the aftermath of a bombshell New York Post story detailing how Cuomo’s top aide acknowledged withholding nursing home data from legislators does show that Cuomo’s approval rating has slipped since the damning article was written.
On Feb. 11, 63 percent of New York voters approved of Cuomo’s job performance; by Feb. 21, approval had dropped to 57 percent.
That’s not nothing, and it suggests the nursing home scandal has penetrated the public consciousness in a way previous Cuomo scandals, such as the conviction of former top aide Joe Percoco in a big-rigging scheme, did not.
But the bigger takeaway might be that the nursing home scandal has left Cuomo vulnerable like never before, and a solid majority of voters still approves of his job performance.
Could that change?
Right now, I’m doubtful.
For one thing, beating Cuomo at the ballot box requires a strong opponent, either from a Democrat in the party primary, or from a Republican in the general election.
Could a viable contender emerge and topple the governor as he seeks the fourth term that eluded his father, former governor Mario Cuomo?
It’s certainly possible.
But I keep going back to that Will Rogers quote.
Voters have short memories, and scandals, while damaging, can be overcome.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.