Editorial: Who cares, Mr. Cuomo? Your constituents do

Few people saw their star rise higher at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic than New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

At a time when the federal government downplayed the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. Cuomo seized the spotlight with daily media briefings that were broadcast live on social media (and sometimes television) to an audience that stretched far beyond the governor’s jurisdiction.

The briefings provided comfort to a worried population desperately seeking information and leadership. Mr. Cuomo’s plan for New York, one guided by science, made him a darling of the pandemic for the half of America still interested in that sort of thing.

Critics of the governor —and everyone knows he has his share — have shot back at the glowing praise Mr. Cuomo has received this year, suggesting it’s undeserved. They’ve argued that the governor has not been held accountable for his misfires during the pandemic. They’ve questioned how the leader of a state that once had the biggest COVID-19 problem of all, a place where 1.4 million residents have been infected and more than 43,000 have died, could be treated as if he’s beyond reproach. 

New York, like everywhere else in the country, wasn’t prepared for the coronavirus. By simply admitting that and working to develop a cohesive strategy to combat the virus within his state — rather than downplaying it and leaving individual municipalities to fend for themselves as the federal government often did — Mr. Cuomo was viewed by many residents who tuned in religiously for his briefings as an almost a godlike figure. 

He’s not a God. He’s human and, worse yet, a politician with a book deal. Somewhere along the line, Mr. Cuomo’s ability to admit that his administration has made mistakes in preparing and responding to the virus has worn off. 

This week, when he dismissed an attorney general’s report that the state failed to fully disclose nursing home deaths with a “who cares?” response, he proved the critics right: The transparency and leadership he’s often praised for has its limits. If it’s in his best interest politically to twist numbers, he will.

Of course, state lawmakers on the other side of the aisle pounced on the opportunity to discredit the governor and health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker this week. Our own state Senator, Anthony Palumbo, called on the health commissioner to resign, because apparently “cancel culture” is OK when it’s the other guys screwing up. Keep in mind that while Dr. Zucker was leading the state’s fight against COVID-19, Mr. Palumbo took part in one press event to declare the virus an act of terror by China and another to rally to reopen catering halls around the same time the one closest to where he lives hosted a superspreader wedding that required discipline from the state and county.

We’d take the senator’s calls more seriously if he and other GOP lawmakers had spent the past year making the case for how they would have managed the nursing home and hospital capacity issue better or introduced serious solutions so it never happens again.

Mr. Cuomo was wrong to say “who cares?” Yes, the same number of people died, but the AG’s report makes it clear the situation was more dire than the initial statistics suggested and the way his administration reported the deaths lacked appropriate transparency.

The governor erred when he arrogantly dismissed the report as no big deal, just as he did when he published a book on leading through a crisis while the residents of his state continue to struggle with the virus.

A true leader admits when he’s made a mistake.

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