Well, well, well, if it isn't the consequences of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's own actions catching up with him. Today, the New York governor announced his resignation after a solid 18 months of consecutive and overlapping scandals involving his flubbing of the state's early COVID response and his alleged pattern of sexually harassing female employees. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over as governor two weeks from now.
The resignation comes on the heels of an explosive report by state Attorney General Letitia James which indicated that the governor sexually harassed 11 women, nine of whom are or were state employees, while creating a hostile work environment and retaliating against one of the women who came forward.
That these women can experience some form of vindication, however delayed, is a win. But this is also a vindication, however indirect and long-awaited, for the family members of those who died in April and May 2020 in New York state nursing homes as a result of the governor's horrible early-pandemic guidance that required such residential facilities to admit elderly folks coming from hospitals regardless of whether they'd tested positive or negative for an active COVID infection. Had these people been tested and isolated, as we knew was the appropriate protocol even then, some not-insignificant number might not have died and COVID might not have spread like wildfire through these residential facilities, killing more than 15,000 elderly people—the majority of whom fell sick and died over the course of just a few weeks. Worse still, Cuomo's team covered up the true nursing home death toll, failing to count about 4,000 deaths, telling on themselves and implicitly admitting via a bald attempt at corruption that the total death toll was an embarrassing stain on their record.
As my own reporting at Reason shows—and as folks at places like National Review and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post also made clear—Cuomo engaged in similar malfeasance with his guidance to residential homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He diverted scarce COVID tests to VIPs and family members early in the pandemic and played court jester with his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, joking about their Italian schnozzes and who Mom likes the best, at a time when 20 million New Yorkers were grappling with limited testing availability, financial insecurity due to state-ordered business closures, and the inability to see their elderly or infirm loved ones.
The incompetence would have been funny had it not been so heart-rending for the family members who lost their loved ones due to the cosmic misfortune of being New York residents; as one family member of two people who died in a residential facility told me back in March, he wishes he'd moved his loved ones to a different state. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Cuomo felt it appropriate to publish a mid-pandemic memoir on how to be a good leader. When reports surfaced that he'd used people on state payrolls to work on a book that he got several million dollars for, nobody in his orbit ever thought to greet those reports with a posture of humility. No, his office made fan art and Cuomo kept counting up his book proceeds.
It's great that these chickens have finally come home to roost, and surely Californians in the thick of their own gubernatorial recall initiative will be watching with envy as New Yorkers rid themselves of executive blight. But it's also worth remembering that media cheerleaders played a significant role in propping up Cuomo and failing to take him to task for his manifold failings. Folks like Fox's Janice Dean, who started sounding alarms in May 2020, were regularly pilloried for their efforts to get mainstream news reporters to see the light; The New York Times finally began to report substantively and thoroughly on the nursing-home death scandal in February 2021, nine months after Dean first did; in the meantime, reporters at Fox, National Review, the Albany Times-Union, the Newark Star-Ledger, and, yes, Reason, sounded the alarm to very little mainstream acknowledgement.
This is a reminder that the partisan blinders of the press too often serve to help those in power hide from accountability. A fierce, oppositional press comprised of people from different ideological traditions serves as a useful check on bad politicians.
"Government is still the best vehicle for making positive social change," said a downtrodden Cuomo in his outgoing presser today. He can repeat this mantra as many times as he'd like, reassuring himself that his tenure helming the government was a net-positive for New Yorkers. But the family members of those who died, and the women who allegedly had to endure his lecherous advances, would probably like a word with him.
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