Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo behaved much differently in private than during his highly publicized press conferences at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Politico reported Friday.
Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace in August following charges he sexually harassed numerous women, appeared confident and composed during his daily briefings. However, the former governor comes across in the Politico story as a volatile, image-focused micro-manager who led an administration in chaos.
The media outlet relied on interviews with several former state Department of Health officials, and many government documents released this month for its report. The information also included a legislative impeachment investigation report and transcripts released by the state attorney general’s office.
The Politico story came four days after the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee released a report that found “overwhelming evidence” that Cuomo sexually harassed women and that he ordered state workers to help produce his book on pandemic leadership during work hours.
Cuomo is facing renewed scrutiny over his response to the pandemic, including allegations that he downplayed COVID deaths while writing a pandemic memoir that netted him more than $5 million, Politico said.
The governor’s daily press conferences, which enhanced Cuomo’s image nationally, became the highest priority for his staff.
“[The daily briefings] diverted people’s attention to service the press conference instead of servicing the running of the state,” a former DOH staffer told Politico. “It became more about the press conference and about the issue that he was talking about at the press conference.”
Politico said Cuomo suggested that DOH deploy half its roughly 5,000 employees to check restaurants for their compliance with the state’s mask-wearing and capacity limit rules.
Although they did not push back, officials quickly sent out about 50 agency staffers instructed to share photos of their enforcement actions on Twitter. It was one of many demands based on politics, not science, according to officials.
“That’s why a lot of people left,” Democrat assembly member Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee and the longest-serving state legislator, told Politico.
“It’s not that they felt overworked. It’s that they felt that they were not being allowed to do their jobs in a professional manner.”
One obstacle for DOH staffers was that direct approval from the governor’s inner circle was required for certain tasks. A system created “to override bureaucratic delays and manage inventory during the early days of the pandemic” evolved to “reinforce an image of tightly concentrated power held only by the individuals Cuomo trusted,” Politico said.
When Cuomo began working on his book in the summer of 2020, that endeavor became a top priority, too.
The state assembly’s Judiciary Committee report said senior aides and members of Cuomo’s COVID task force “spent significant time working on the book” while the state battled the pandemic.
Witnesses told state lawmakers that the same senior Cuomo aide — Melissa DeRosa — who was the point person for the book made decisions about the reporting of COVID deaths in nursing homes in the July 6 DOH report.
“[Cuomo] reviewed and edited the draft DOH Report on multiple occasions, and made edits to strengthen the defense of the March 25 directive,” the report stated.