CW: Sexual harassment.
A New York Times investigation published on March 4 revealed that an NYU Law professor was complicit in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cover-up of nursing home deaths. Linda Lacewell teaches an “Ethics in Government” course at NYU Law. She and two other top Cuomo aides tampered with the number of nursing home residents who had died due to COVID-19, excluding the residents who had died in hospitals, thus bolstering Cuomo’s reputation as a leader during the early months of the pandemic. According to recent reports, Cuomo’s top advisers coerced state health officials into underreporting nursing home deaths by the thousands.
A petition by NYU Law students has since been circulating, calling for Linda Lacewell to be barred from teaching at the university. Cuomo has yet to face the consequences for orchestrating this cover-up. While Cuomo has come under fire for numerous sexual harassment allegations and this latest scandal, upon closer inspection of his leadership during the pandemic, it is clear that the Governor has never had the interests or health of New Yorkers in mind.
The recent nursing home scandal is only one incident in Cuomo’s long history of disregarding the health of New Yorkers. In March 2020, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested imposing a shelter-in-place order after 923 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the city. In response, Cuomo dismissively stated that the move “cannot happen legally,” and that “No city in this state can quarantine itself without state approval, and I have no interest whatsoever, and no plan whatsoever, to quarantine any city.”
If Cuomo had taken the pandemic seriously and locked down New York when de Blasio first suggested it, 17,000 New Yorkers would still be alive today. In April 2020, when the COVID-19 death toll in New York City soared past 10,000, Cuomo cut $400 million in funding for the Medicaid program, including payments to hospitals and nursing homes. This is in spite of the fact that Medicaid expansion saves at least 19,000 lives annually. This decision to slash Medicaid funding during a pandemic followed the loss of more than 20,000 hospital beds over the last 20 years, exacerbating a disastrous situation. In his pandemic response, Cuomo has demonstrated he is willing to let thousands of New Yorkers die as long as his misdeeds remain secret — the only ethical recourse is for him to step down.
As Cuomo was working to slash the Medicaid budget, he was setting the groundwork for the recent nursing home scandal. On March 25, 2020, Cuomo issued the controversial mandate that prevented nursing homes from refusing to accept patients recovering from the coronavirus in their facilities. While policymakers don’t have the ideal amount of time to respond to any sudden crisis, a pandemic that implicates the lives of New Yorkers everywhere required the Cuomo administration to be even more vigilant. However, Cuomo and his team failed to talk to medical experts before issuing the directive. Jim Lytle, CEO of LeadingAge, a trade association for nonprofit nursing homes in New York, believed the initial policy to be “hospital-centric” and a “mistake.” It’s unsurprising, then, that Cuomo has previously expressed distrust of scientific expertise and has repeatedly opted to work with healthcare industry leaders instead. This decision was made despite early evidence showing that nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
The decision was ultimately reversed on May 10. However, the repeal came too late. 6,400 residents had already died in New York nursing homes and long-term care facilities. For comparison, the residents who died constitute 6% of New York nursing home residents, and experts have concluded that Cuomo’s policy substantially increased the magnitude of the COVID-19 death toll. These numbers were effectively concealed by the Cuomo administration until recent reports exposed their true extent. It is clear that Cuomo neither understands nor respects scientific expertise. If Democrats parade themselves as the party that stands for science, they must condemn their beloved New York governor who has repeatedly demonstrated he will not sustain this value. While cable news shows treated Cuomo like a living legend last summer, the governor was busy dismissing virus warnings, cutting hospital beds and Medicaid, and sending ill patients to facilities full of vulnerable people.
After Cuomo was accused by multiple aides of sexual harassment, numerous members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged him to resign. He refused. Despite the flagrant abuses of power that Cuomo exercised over his subordinates, he still denies all instances of wrongdoing. Instead of responding to the allegations, Cuomo claimed some were false, and that he was simply acting like an old-school politician.
The first woman to step forward was Lindsey Boylan, a former adviser, who recounted a traumatic experience in which the governor attempted to kiss her on the lips without her consent after a business meeting. Shortly after Boylan’s allegations, a number of other women made their experiences with Cuomo public. These allegations span from unwanted remaks about women’s appearances and their sex lives to one woman’s report of being groped under her shirt.
Contextualized against the backdrop of the burgeoning #Me Too movement, Cuomo’s sexual misconduct is inexcusable, especially under the ruse of behaving like an old-school politician. His lack of accountability sets a dangerous precedent for not only those holding political office, but for others in positions of power across the United States. If Cuomo refuses to resign, then governmental action must be taken to impeach him.
Before the scandals, Cuomo was lauded as an example of exemplary leadership. However, after recent events, Cuomo’s memoir “American Crisis” on how to govern during the pandemic has seen greatly diminished sales. Additionally, on March 9, his approval rating hit an all-time low, clocking in at a measly 38%. During a pandemic, the first responsibility of a state governor should be to keep as many of his constituents alive as possible — not to fuel personal vanity and accomplishment.
The challenges of this pandemic call for somebody who respects that scientific knowledge is necessary to address them. Cuomo has repeatedly shown he is not that leader. As he faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment, and criticism for his cover-up of the true COVID-19 death toll on nursing home residents, Gov. Cuomo’s refusal to resign indicates not only a failure to recognize his wrongdoings, but a failure to understand his job.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Mar. 29, 2021 e-print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]