“I have learned something as I have gotten older: Ultimately, the truth wins out.”
– Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic memoir is not the sort of book one reads twice.
It isn’t particularly interesting or well-written, and it felt strangely out of date when I picked it up last October, with New York’s hard-earned COVID-19 success already slipping away amid a deadly second wave of the virus.
But I returned to the book late last week, fueled by morbid curiosity.
How would “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” read now, in the wake of Cuomo’s stunning and precipitous fall from grace?
How would it read in the aftermath of two bombshell newspaper reports detailing how some of Cuomo’s top aides allegedly altered a state Department of Health study to omit the true number of New York nursing home residents killed by COVID-19?
Don’t worry – I didn’t re-read all of “American Crisis.”
Or even most of it.
But I can report that this ill-conceived memoir has not aged well.
“American Crisis” was always self-serving and mawkish, and there were always reasons to question Cuomo’s reasons for writing it.
But the scandals enveloping the governor’s administration paint an unflattering portrait of a governor so focused on myth-making that he sought to capitalize on his COVID-19 fame by turning the pandemic into a breathless thriller, with him as the protagonist.
The book now seems filled with half-truths and lies, and the section where Cuomo defends his handling of nursing homes is especially hard to stomach.
Painting criticism of his oversight of nursing homes as partisan attacks, he explains that a controversial DOH memo directing long-term care facilities to admit COVID positive patients had little impact on the state’s nursing home death toll, and that New York’s nursing homes performed better than facilities in other states.
“New York was number forty-six out of fifty in the nation when it came to percentage of deaths in nursing homes,” Cuomo writes. “There were only four states with a lower percentage of nursing home deaths, and New York had a much worse situation to manage. But this was all politics. No one wanted to hear the facts.”
Given what we now know about the lengths to which the Cuomo administration went to hide nursing home data, this is a remarkable sentence.
If anyone was playing politics with nursing homes, it was the governor, who knowingly and falsely claimed that New York had a lower percentage of nursing home deaths than almost every other state.
This was always baloney, and thanks to state Attorney General Letitia James, we now know that New York undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent, omitting the number of nursing home residents who contracted the disease in long-term care facilities, but died at local hospitals.
And while the full impact of the controversial DOH memo is still unclear, the think tank the Empire Center found that it was associated with a “statistically significant increase in resident deaths,” possibly more than 1,000. (More than 15,000 New York nursing home residents died of COVID-19.)
“I have talked to many people who have lost loved ones in nursing homes, and I could see the agony on their faces and hear it in their voices,” the governor writes. “It’s not so much that they were looking to blame anyone, they just needed to know what happened.”
They just needed to know what happened.
We’d be a lot better off if Cuomo had just been honest about what really happened in the state’s nursing homes.
In his book, Cuomo depicts himself as a leader committed to honesty, but his actions, revealed through news reports and other investigations, tell another story. They tell the story of a governor unwilling to admit his failings, and level with the public about what really happened.
Cuomo is right about one thing, though: ultimately, the truth does win out.
That’s what’s happening now, as one report after another tears down the myth of Andrew Cuomo, pandemic hero.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.
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