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Cuomo, coronavirus’ golden governor, threatens to tarnish his own image



Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo | Office of the Governor of New York

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo | Office of the Governor of New York

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s uncontrollable impulse to publicly shame New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is threatening to damage his well-crafted image as a model of managerial competence in a nation under siege.

In normal times, the venomous Cuomo-de Blasio relationship is the most entertaining and enduring psychodrama in New York politics. The act grows wearisome, if not dangerous, when the stakes are so high.

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With some 700 New Yorkers dying a day, refrigerated morgues overflowing outside public hospitals and crematories running around the clock, Cuomo’s inability to refrain from kneeing the mayor at the epicenter of a global pandemic threatens to rattle the confidence Cuomo has cultivated during the crisis.

“I was definitely pleased with the way he initially seemed to put his ego and pettiness aside when coronavirus first hit New York,” said Christina Greer, a Fordham University professor who had been a frequent critic of Cuomo before the pandemic. “And obviously [last] weekend to see him go back to the back-biting with the mayor was just such a disappointment.”

Greer was referring to a recent Cuomo aside that briefly punctured the projection of unity the governor is so fond of evoking.

De Blasio, who is responsible for 1.1 million students, said he would keep New York City’s public schools closed for the remainder of the school year. The governor issued a response for the ages: De Blasio’s decision was merely his “opinion.” Thanks to an executive order he had signed, the decision was the governor’s, his office said, and anyway, he wanted to ensure that New York state’s school closures were coordinated with the rest of the region’s.

The dissonance sparked confusion among millions of New Yorkers with school-age children and prompted an avoidable blame game.

Cuomo was similarly dismissive when de Blasio floated the idea of having New Yorkers shelter in place, only to institute just that policy — several days and an unknown number of infections later.

The dissension recurred Friday, when Cuomo dismissed de Blasio’s tentative plans to keep city beaches and pools closed this summer.

“Local governments, I get their concerns, we all have to cooperate and yes we’ll make decisions and we’ll make them collectively but they have to be uniform on a state level,” Cuomo said. “I then have to turn around and coordinate with New Jersey and Connecticut and Massachusetts and Delaware. What I do on my beaches matters to New Jersey and matters to Connecticut.”

To some New Yorkers, who’ve been watching the erstwhile friends play this unflattering game for six years and counting, the dispute elicited a feeling of weariness and regret.

“A challenging thing about leadership in a time of crisis is that on the one hand, it appears to call for big, reassuring personalities, and on the other hand, it’s not about you,” said City Council Member Brad Lander, of Brooklyn. “What’s necessary in addition to being a big, reassuring personality is building an infrastructure of effective government collaboration that can be responsive to the crisis.”

Coronavirus has proven a profound tragedy for New York state. As of Sunday afternoon, the disease had killed 13,869 New Yorkers, more than five times as many as killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Cuomo’s commanding response has made him an object of national fascination. Rolling Stone ran a photo of him on its cover. Etsy stores sold Cuomo prayer candles. “Many Americans experience moments of being at least Andrew-curious, if not fully Cuomo-sexual,” said Stephen Colbert. Howard Stern described the governor’s demeanor as a “turn on” and lamented that he was not running for the highest office in the land.

“See, this is leadership,” said Stern, during a recent interview with Cuomo. “I want to say to my audience, this guy gets it. You can’t have every nudnik running around who’s in office making his own rules. … You’re getting it done. You should have run for president.”

Prior to the disease’s arrival, Cuomo was boxed out of the presidential race and navigating a renewed progressive movement in state politics — not a place the governor has historically found to be his comfort zone.

His legendary control-freakishness was often regarded as a political liability, one that alienated colleagues with a streak of independence and — perhaps most conspicuously — impeded him from truly resurrecting the city’s struggling subway system. In January, he iced out subways chief Andy Byford, the beloved leader he’d brought in to save the nation’s biggest transit system, amid infighting over who was in control of running the trains.

But when the coronavirus struck, a muscular Cuomo jumped into a vacuum of national leadership, launching daily press briefings that became case studies in the optics of disaster management.

“The fact that we don’t have a federal government capable of leading the country is the instantiating problem here — and the opportunity as well,” Lander said. “If Hillary Clinton were president, Andrew Cuomo would not be having the same moment that he is.”

Cuomo has shown himself capable of sublimating his disdain for others for the greater good.

He has tussled with President Donald Trump over the president’s authority to impose new measures on New York. But as coronavirus was ramping up, he often sought to avoid contention with a president who suggested state aid would depend on gubernatorial gratitude.

“I think he handled the Trump assertion very nicely, for example,” said Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz political scientist, referring to Trump’s assertion that only he had the authority to reopen the states. “Turning the other cheek after a little bit of a sharp reaction was just right.”

But Cuomo has been less able to restrain himself when it comes to de Blasio.

The lack of effective communication between the two threatens to have real consequences. Cuomo hasn’t been sharing New York City coronavirus data with de Blasio in a timely fashion. De Blasio barely alerted the governor to his school shutdown plans.

“Everyone has to row in the same direction,” said Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi. “People have their own thoughts, they have their own suggestions, they have their own opinions, we talk to all of our partners constantly. But there are laws, and especially when it comes to a response, it’s a state-level response. That’s not anybody’s feelings. That’s the Constitution.”

Yet for all Cuomo’s derision, the mayor has profound institutional relevance.

“We have 11 public hospitals for which the mayor hires the boss,” Lander said. “You can think about this region in a lot of ways, but at the moment given the Covid crisis, one way to think about it is, it’s tri-state region with the city of New York as its beating heart. … Anybody with eyes to see would say, we would want a relationship with the city of New York and its chief executive.”

Source: politico.com
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