It’s possible that Andrew Cuomo’s inappropriate behavior around women decades his junior will cause him to stop being judged by Guiliani 9/11 standards — that is, getting fawning coverage for simulating the appearance of minimally competent leadership while his various massive policy fuckups are ignored. Our Western New York correspondent Murc is here to explain Cuomo’s scandalous handling of the many unnecessary deaths that occurred in New York nursing homes. –SL
Given the big political scandal of the week is going to be Rat-Faced Andy getting his paws all over people without their consent, I felt it was worth reviewing that this is the second should-be-career-ending scandal that he’s been involved in since the New Year, behind his shady-ass nursing home COVID death stat juking.
That’s been under-discussed in this space, and I think under-discussed in general (although TPM has a great rundown, not even blocked behind Prime, if you want something a bit more professional than my own bloviating) so it seems worth getting into. Fair warning; this is an extremely fiddly and extremely New York sort of scandal, involving a whole lot of “it was the cover-up, not the crime” and old-school political arm twisting and back-stabbing.
Last March, when the pandemic was just getting into full swing, Cuomo issued a directive barring nursing homes from refusing admittance or re-admittance of residents because they were positive, or extremely likely to be positive, for COVID-19. The order was issued at the height of very real worries that New York City’s hospital system was going to implode, back when we had medical professionals coming up from all across the country (before their own states got walloped upside the head; remember, there was a period when COVID was seen by many as a big city, even a specifically New York City, problem) to help out up here. It was intended to free up vital hospital beds and keep things at least minimally functional by moving patients out to their own nursing homes, which it was felt would, or should, have the ability to care for them properly and prevent further contagion.
This turned out, as many patient advocates had warned it would, to be a big mistake. The directive was rescinded in early May; not just rescinded, but straight-up reversed; rather than being compelled to accept patients, nursing homes were now prohibited from doing so without a negative COVID test.
Now, none of that was great, and it’s part-and-parcel of Cuomo’s general ‘rona-related fuckups. But if this was all that had happened, it could perhaps be forgivable; nobody knew what the what was going on in late March, and Cuomo was staring at a potentially apocalyptic swamping of the hospital system in NYC. Fucking up in that context when your intention is to try and save lives is somewhat defensible. At absolute worst, this would be a mere footnote, a half-a-paragraph item in the book-length accounting of Cuomo mistakes that would extend all through the rest of 2020 and into the present day. (Movie theaters, you ass? Really?)
But Rat-Faced Andy gonna Rat-Faced Andy, so the order reversal is really only where this gets started.
The numbers for the nursing homes made the directive forcing COVID patients back into them look… really bad. So, of course, those numbers had to be made to look less bad. Everything was done to make nursing home deaths and the true numbers of those moved from hospitals back into nursing homes look smaller than they actually were. The primary vehicle for this was counting only those who actually died on nursing home property as a death there, a highly restrictive measure used by very few other states. If there was enough time to get someone to a hospital before they died, it was on the hospital, not the home. When these methods proved insufficient, Cuomo resorted to simply… not releasing numbers, claiming that going after them was part of a politically motivated witch hunt. Cuomo would refer to this practice defensively as having created “the void” in a February 15th press conference:
“When we didn’t provide information it allowed press, people, cynics, politicians to fill the void. When you don’t correct this information you allow it to continue and we created the void.”
This didn’t go entirely unnoticed; the press smelled something fishy regarding nursing home numbers and what the state had done and known as long ago as last summer. Cuomo and his press surrogates were asked about it more than once during his daily grandstanding “look at me, I’m doing so much better than Trump at fighting the virus” press conferences. But this was largely page ten, below the fold sort of stuff. It didn’t get any national traction at all…
… until Letitia James, New York State, AG, released a scathing preliminary report on the undercounting late January.
Tish James, it is to be noted, does not fuck around. She had spent months and months very carefully assembling the goods before making them public. Unlike the governor of her state, she is thorough and does not make hasty decisions she then double-downs on in an effort to cover her ass. The report was accompanied by a press release that had an extremely quotable money graf:
“Among those findings were that a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the New York State Department of Health’s (DOH) published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.”
That shot probably parted Cuomo’s hair.
You can find a more precise breakdown of what was undercounted, when, and how here; major kudos on this story have to go to Manhattan-based AP Reporter Bernard Condon, who has been on this for ages, back when sussing it out required lots of mind-numbing record-combing.
And here’s where we move into the full-on freak out.
During a conference call between Cuomo and a number of other New York lawmakers, one of the governor’s top aides, Melissa DeRosa, admittedly candidly (accidentally?) that the state had indeed been withholding numbers deliberately. The reason cited is out of fear of providing ammunition to a Trump DOJ probe into the matter that they felt was purely a political hit job on New York State in general.
(I have to admit this makes some sense to me. This was Bill Barr’s DOJ; very little it did at that level can be regarded as legitimate and not politically motivated.)
This call leaked almost as soon as it was over. Cuomo’s next move: threats. Specifically, he called up one of the lawmakers on the call, State Assemblyman Ron King (NY-40), and… well, I’ll let the Assemblyman tell it:
“Gov. Cuomo called me directly on Thursday to threaten my career if I did not cover up for Melissa [DeRosa] and what she said. He tried to pressure me to issue a statement, and it was a very traumatizing experience,” Kim said. Cuomo proceeded to tell the assemblyman that “we’re in this business together and we don’t cross certain lines and he said I hadn’t seen his wrath and that he can destroy me,” according to Kim.
Kim’s wife told CNN that she had overheard parts of Kim’s phone call with Cuomo last week, and described the governor as “loud” and “angry.” She said she heard Cuomo say, “Who do you think you are?” as well as the words, “my wrath,” and that immediately after the phone call, her husband told her: “The governor threatened to destroy my life.”
Cuomo denies this all flatly. Says it never happened. Because I am not an AP Reporter, or an Attorney General, I may say what is obvious: this is a lie. Cuomo is lying. Like a rat would. It’s not even a good lie. It’s the kind of angry, belligerent lie that a child with his hand in the cookie jar tells, full of righteous fury that you’d dare to make such accusations.
This entire mess led to a bipartisan group of New York lawmakers to call for Cuomo’s sweeping, immense emergency powers to be revoked. That’s faded into the background a little bit, but is still a real possibility.
That brings us up to… last week. Which, of course, is when the slow-drip stories about Cuomo not being able to keep his paws to himself really started to gain traction. Probably not the way he wanted the nursing home stuff to get pushed out of the news involving him and his administration!
It really can’t be overstated; this is a disaster of Cuomo’s own making. The initial fuckup, in the grand scheme of things, was not that huge! It could have just gone on the big pile of other COVID fuckups and that would’ve been the end of it, because god knows his PR machine has been infuriatingly effective at promoting his image as being one of the best governors in this regard instead of replacement-level at best.
But instead he did a cover-up, and then he did MORE cover-ups, and then his own Attorney General called him out on it, and then he was reduced to yelling at Assemblymen on the phone to have his back… an Assemblyman who, however afraid he might be of Cuomo, clearly isn’t afraid enough to not immediately go to the press with it.
This, by itself, ought to have been enough to give us Governor Hochul. Instead we live in a world where this in combination with his general sleazy, borderline assault, horny old man sexual aggressiveness, may not result in anything of consequence happening to him.
But I live in hope my state will live up to its better angels rather than, as we so often do, succumb to our worst demons.