Anti-pandemic hero, the governor of New York sees his star fade

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In 2020 he was one of the stars of the fight against the pandemic in the United States, a voice bringing rationality and comfort as the Trump administration fueled confusion over the coronavirus.

• Read also: Andrew Cuomo facing impeachment?

But for three weeks, the praise for Andrew Cuomo, powerful Democratic governor of New York, in power in this state of some 20 million inhabitants for 10 years, has turned sour.

He, whose daily updates on the pandemic were followed throughout the country, and whom some urged to try his luck in the White House, is now criticized from all sides.

The state parliament, yet controlled by Democrats, is threatening to withdraw the expanded powers it was granted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

At issue: his management of the epidemic in retirement homes, where the number of deaths due to COVID-19 has long been underestimated by the governor’s services. A lawsuit brought in late January by state prosecutor Letitia James forced them to revise the numbers upwards – from 8,500 dead to more than 15,000.


Some accuse Mr. Cuomo of deliberately covering up the real toll for fear of a Trump administration investigation.

The governor admitted Monday, for the first time, that his services had “been slow” to clarify the balance sheet, fueling “skepticism and cynicism”, even if he rejected any accusation of cover-up.

The popularity rating of this former prosecutor and former housing minister of the government Bill Clinton accuses the blow: according to a poll Tuesday of the Siena College Research Institute, only a narrow majority of New Yorkers approve his work – 51% against 47% – while the difference was still 14 points in January (56% against 42%).

“His star is down sharply,” said Jacob Neiheisel, professor at the University of Buffalo in the north of the state. The nursing home scandal led to “reassessing many measures taken in the face of the pandemic”, while “so far he seemed to have done a good job, despite the death toll” in New York State – more than 46,000, the heaviest toll after California.

Trump as a foil

But the governor’s decline in popularity is also due to the end of the Trump presidency.

With Trump in power, the management of the pandemic by the federal government “was an absolute disaster”, forcing “Americans to turn to their local authorities,” said Sam Abrams, political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

Even though Mr. Cuomo – a figure in New York politics for 40 years and son of late Governor Mario Cuomo – was known before the pandemic to be “a bully, an arrogant,” said this analyst, “compared to Trump, he appeared like a statesman, a thoughtful, ambitious leader ”.

Now that the White House under Joe Biden has become reasonable again, the New York left, which no longer has Trump as a common enemy, “is turning against Cuomo,” he said.

“We are no longer, as last April, lacking information on COVID,” also underlines Lincoln Mitchell, professor at Columbia. “A lot of people I knew, even far from New York, were following Cuomo’s daily points back then. Today, even in New York or Washington, I no longer know anyone who looks at them ”.

Mr. Cuomo is not the only Democrat to pay the price for this return to rationality in the White House.

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California – a state where the pandemic, after having been relatively under control in the spring of 2020, has raged in recent weeks – has also seen his popularity fall, underlines Sam Abrams.

Not inclined to modesty, Andrew Cuomo, re-elected for a third four-year term in 2018, is also criticized for having published, in October, a book on “the lessons of leadership to be learned from the pandemic” (“Leadership lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic ”), even though it was far from over.

“It was absurd,” says Lincoln Mitchell.

At 63, is Andrew Cuomo losing his chances of re-election for a fourth term in 2022?

In a state as solidly democratic as New York, his troubles should especially encourage the left wing of the Democratic Party to challenge him in the primaries, underlines Jacob Neiheisel.

But Mr. Cuomo is not the type to run away from combat.

“His father had been elected three times before failing his fourth attempt. I think Andrew Cuomo wants to do better than his father, ”says Lincoln Mitchell.