Andrew Cuomo Got His Coronavirus-Celebrity Wish

On March 2, 2020, Andrew Cuomo held a press briefing to address the first confirmed case of coronavirus in New York State. Flanked by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and various hospital executives and state health officials, the governor explained the situation. A 39-year-old health care worker who had been working in Iran tested positive the night before and showed mild symptoms; everyone she had come into contact with on her flight and upon her return home would now be informed.

Cuomo ended these opening remarks with an infusion of family. “My last point is this,” he said. “Late last night my daughter called me, and I could hear in her voice that she was anxious. She had seen on the news that a person tested positive. And my daughter said, ‘What’s this?’ And I could hear in her voice she was nervous, and my daughter said, ‘Don’t tell me to relax. Tell me why I should be relaxed.’”

At that stage in New York, confusion and fear were bubbling, but life on the outside looked normal enough. Businesses and restaurants were open and subways were full. In the months to come, the state would lead the way in the chaos that engulfed the country. Cuomo held 111 consecutive daily press briefings about the health crisis. Cable-news networks televised his addresses across the country, and the governor’s invocations of personal life—initially, at least, a standard enough variety of politician fare—became the conspicuous hallmarks of his public presentation. “New York tough,” he often indicated, was both the government’s approach and the man’s credo.

“I want to make sure I tell the people of New York what I told my daughter,” Cuomo said in his first press briefing. “In this situation the facts defeat fear, because the reality is reassuring. It is deep-breath time.”

Sticking to this method, Cuomo made headlines for months and his approval ratings soared. As the health crisis escalated, so did his own profile. Presidential murmurs swirled. “He was so sexy. Come on, who doesn’t want a superhero with a New York accent to fight the bad guys and defend you?” the Hollywood producer Corin Nelson told Variety in October. “I wish he could be our president—or my personal president.” Decades into Cuomo’s political career, he assumed a new position as an ostensible counterpoint to Donald Trump, and reached a new stratum of pop-culture recognition.

As steep as the ascent was, the fall, a year on from that first briefing, has been more precipitous. After a recent series of increasingly damaging revelations, the TV star became a late-night punch line. The New York Post reported on February 11 that the governor’s top aide admitted that his office had been withholding data about nursing home deaths. State legislators have since stripped him of his emergency powers, and a federal investigation is underway. New York assemblyman Ron Kim has said that Cuomo called with a threat to “destroy” him if he didn’t help cover up the cover-up. On Thursday both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported that in June, top Cuomo aides rewrote a report by state health officials to remove the number of nursing home residents who died during the pandemic—more than 9,000 by that point.

While Cuomo tried to quash that set of criticisms, five women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. Four former staffers have said over the past two weeks that the governor acted inappropriately, and last week another woman told the Times that Cuomo made her feel “uncomfortable and embarrassed” when he placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her at a 2019 wedding. Calls for his resignation and the coordination of impeachment efforts immediately followed; as of this writing, Cuomo has apologized, saying that he didn’t intend any offense but that he won’t step down. Cuomo’s personal character, which he’s just spent a year touting, would now be the source of any potential removal.

Starting last March, the Cuomo show began each day with a late-morning segment in which he regaled viewers with just-the-facts PowerPoint presentations and a determined lightness. He projected a steady hand, but he also cracked wise about his mother and dating life and issued an endless stream of references to his Queens and Italian-American roots. This wasn’t just a governor presiding over a historic crisis response, Cuomo seemed to be suggesting; it was someone who could just as well be your dad or uncle. At night he sat for interviews with his brother, the CNN anchor Chris, that played in the same key regardless of what was going on with the pandemic. They’d tease each other about their idiosyncrasies—they’re brothers, remember? Get it?—and on one occasion, Chris asked, wide-eyed, if big bro was considering that presidential run.

The arrangement took a somewhat bizarre turn in April after Chris contracted the coronavirus. His fever brought on hallucinations of their father, Mario, who was also governor of New York, and Chris said during one of these interviews that Andrew appeared too. “You came to me in a dream,” Chris told his brother on television. “You had on a very interesting ballet outfit, and you were dancing in the dream, and you were waving a wand and saying, ‘I wish I could wave my wand and make this go away,’ and then you spun around and danced away.”

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