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Foss: Cuomo becomes a star amid coronavirus response. Why?

Foss: Cuomo becomes a star amid coronavirus response. Why?

Foss: Cuomo becomes a star amid coronavirus response. Why?
Gov. Cuomo Thursday
Photographer: Governor's Office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting high marks from New Yorkers for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

His daily press briefings have been a source of important factual information, no-nonsense talk and unexpected warmth. 

Even as the situation in New York City has become increasingly grim, Cuomo has projected competence, resolve and calm. Given the natural tendency to rally around leaders during times of crisis, it’s no surprise New Yorkers have embraced their governor. 

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What’s surprising is the enthusiastic national reception Cuomo has received. 

All of a sudden, people all over the country are paying attention to the governor. They’re watching his press briefings and his interviews with his brother on CNN. There’s even a “Draft Cuomo” movement that seeks to make the governor the Democratic nominee this fall. 

It’s a curious phenomenon -- especially when you consider that other governors have also performed well under duress. 

In fact, you can argue that some states were quicker to implement strict social distancing policies and have thus done a better job of controlling their COVID-19 outbreaks than New York, now home of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country, if not the world. 

California governor Gavin Newsom, Washington governor Jay Inslee and Ohio governor Mike DeWine have all looked pretty good, but only Cuomo has emerged as a superstar. 

Why? 

I suspect location and media exposure have a lot to do with it, but I decided to ask friends and acquaintances who live out of state what they think of Cuomo’s overall performance in hope of learning more. 

I got a lot of replies, many of them quite positive, and they made one thing apparent: People throughout the country are following the situation in New York, and our governor’s words and actions, very closely. 

Here’s a sample of the responses: 

From my former kindergarten teacher in New Hampshire: “Very impressed. I wish he could be on the ballot in November for president.” 

An old classmate who now lives in Pennsylvania: “While I’m happy he’s very aggressively trying to help New Yorkers, those of us in closely neighboring states have been very upset at how long the state kept open schools and non-essential businesses. [New York City] especially was open and far too lax. NJ is just as guilty if not more. We had far less cases in PA but shut down much earlier.” 

From a woman who used to babysit for me when I was a kid and now lives in Connecticut: “[My husband] has said he’s campaigning now for 2024. I agree, but I appreciate him dealing in facts and not in rhetoric. Positive opinion over here in Hartford.” 

From a college classmate in Chicago: “My take is that while he’s better than Trump, that’s a really low bar. Positing with bottles of hand sanitizer made by prison labor -- a week or so before the completely predictable outbreak at Rikers started to worsen -- was horrible.” 

From an old friend in Alabama: “This is what leadership looks like.” 

From my college roommate in Denver: “I just wanna see [Cuomo] and Trump in a fist fight. And it’s getting close.”

As for myself, I feel pretty good about Cuomo’s leadership right now -- I’d give him a B or B-plus -- but there’s still plenty to criticize. 

We’re at the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a long, grueling march to a new normal, and the governor’s early missteps will be more apparent when it’s over. 

He has been an effective advocate for a state in desperate need of supplies and support, but the classmate who criticized him for keeping schools and non-essential businesses open too long isn’t wrong.

New York City’s exploding COVID-19 caseload and stressed hospital system suggests that these actions should have come earlier, and that valuable time was wasted as Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio downplayed the threat of the virus. 

In some states, orders to shelter in place, close schools and shut down nonessential businesses came earlier than they did in New York.

As an article on the news site Slate observed, “... it’s become clearer and clearer that Cuomo’s initial response to the crisis lagged behind that of some of his fellow Democratic governors -- most notably Washington’s Jay Inslee and California’s Gavin Newsom. Newsom and Inslee both reacted more swiftly and forcefully to the crisis in ways that are saving lives on the West Coast, yet it’s Cuomo who is being hailed as a possible future president and strong national leader.” 

It's true.

Voters from all over the country are responding to Cuomo in a way I never expected to see, under circumstances I never anticipated. 

If the presidential election was held tomorrow and Cuomo’s name was on the ballot, I bet quite a few people would vote for him, because the governor is having a moment. 

I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s real and it’s turned Cuomo into a well-respected national figure at the most unlikely and uncertain of times.

 

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