In the 12 months since Governor Andrew Cuomo held his first briefing on the first case of COVID-19 in New York, his star rose to national heights. He was a guest on national talk shows, seen as a model for how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic correctly compared to President Donald Trump’s administration.
But now he’s fighting for his political life amid a series of escalating controversies engulfing his administration.
It was on March 3 of last year that Cuomo spoke to New Yorkers about the first case of COVID in New York — surrounding himself in his New York City office with top officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“First we’re going to speak about the situation last night where a person tested positive for the coronavirus,” Cuomo said.
A week later, Cuomo was moving toward a broad shut down of the state’s economy, and would soon be granted sweeping powers to respond to the crisis.
And he gave this warning: “Nursing homes are the most problematic setting for us with this disease. So we are hyper cautious.”
The state would soon require nursing homes to take in COVID positive patients, a policy that has come under scrutiny. New York health officials would later blame asymptomatic spread of the virus in the facilities going unchecked as the leading cause of the fatalities.
But the lack of firm data provided by the state became an issue for state lawmakers in the spring and summer. A fuller picture would not be revealed until January, after a bombshell attorney general report and a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Empire Center, a right-leaning think tank in Albany.
Even as Cuomo’s briefings drew national praise, questions would soon arise in New York over the governor’s handling of nursing home deaths — and just how many residents in long-term care facilities had died.
The administration has since acknowledged more than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and long term care facilities have died — nearly twice the official state tally. In the meantime, family members like Janice Dean have called attention to the issue.
“The thing that got me the most was seeing Cuomo with his brother on CNN, joking around in May, when body bags were being piled up,” said Dean, a meteorologist with Fox News.
Dean would soon would become a prominent figure among family members who lost relatives in nursing homes. As Cuomo’s star rose, Dean’s nursing home resident in-laws died of COVID-19 after contracting the virus. The governor’s appearance with his brother was her breaking point, she said in an interview.
“That’s when I got angry,” Dean said. “That’s when I decided it was time for me to tell my story and try to represent other families that were looking for answers.”
Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, too, has lost a loved one to COVID. After a top aide acknowledged the state withheld nursing home data last year and Kim was publicly critical of the governor, Cuomo called the lawmaker to berate him.
“It wasn’t the bullying I was scared of,” Kim said. “It was the possibility of him escaping accountability.”
After Kim went public with the call, allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior and a bullying work environment in Cuomo’s office emerged. That has led to bipartisan calls for Cuomo’s resignation; Assembly Democrats are moving toward impeachment.
“I think it’s a series of small events over the last 10 months, including the endless calls by the families,” he said.
Cuomo has insisted he has done nothing inappropriate and will not resign.